Myrna (Micki) L. Friedlander is best characterized as a brilliant, warm, and delightful individual whose greatest contributions to the profession have brought family therapy into mainstream counseling psychology. Beginning with the first family therapy articles to ever be published in Journal of Counseling Psychology in 1984 and 1985, and culminating in 2006 with her book, Therapeutic Alliances in Couple and Family Therapy: An Empirically Informed Guide to Practice, Friedlander has contributed much to our understanding of family communication and change. Throughout her career, she has focused on therapist-client discourse and its implications for effective treatment, particularly in family therapy. Her elegant integration of science and practice throughout her career epitomizes the essence of a true scientist-practitioner.
Reflecting upon her career, Friedlander characterizes it as more serendipitous than planned. She credits the course her professional life has taken to her interest in language, her relationships with supportive mentors and colleagues, and the impetus of the women’s movement. Her academic career began at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where she earned a B.A. in French. She taught French to low-income at-risk children in inner-city Boston, when after 5 years she concluded that she was having a greater impact on her students by talking with them about their problems than by teaching them French.
A chance meeting with a high school friend who was enrolled in a master’s degree program in crisis resource teaching prompted her to consider a graduate degree in a helping profession. Friedlander decided to move to Washington, D.C., where she enrolled in George Washington University (GWU). Once again, a chance meeting, this time with the dean of GWU’s college of education, led her to enroll in a graduate counseling course to try it out. Finding counseling a good match with her interests, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in counseling. It was at GWU that Friedlander met her first mentor, Janet Heddesheimer.
As a new doctoral student at Ohio State University (OSU), Friedlander was assigned Ted Kaul as her advisor. Initially skeptical about the “science” of psychotherapy, Friedlander questioned how one could “study” psychotherapy, an “art” that was traditionally the domain of women (i.e., helping people with emotional problems) until a man (Freud) came along and “legitimized” the therapeutic process by calling it a scientific endeavor. These inquisitive thoughts set the stage for an article she would write in 1992, “Psychotherapeutic Processes: About the Art, About the Science.” Ironically, Friedlander has now been studying the “science” of psychotherapy for over 25 years, trying to show that the “art” can be identified, understood, and taught to students.
In graduate school, Friedlander was initially attracted to Stanley Strong’s concept of psychotherapy as a social system, in which change is brought about by specific processes of interpersonal persuasion. She was particularly influenced by sociolinguistic applications to the study of therapy by Harold Pepinsky, a distinguished faculty member at OSU. When Friedlander began her dissertation in 1979, several OSU faculty (including Lyle Schmidt, Ted Kaul, and Don Dell) had concluded that Strong’s theoretical model needed experimental validation with actual clients in treatment. This conclusion led to her decision to pursue a dissertation using role induction as a persuasive method of enhancing therapeutic effectiveness.
While completing her predoctoral internship at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York, Friedlander received a call from her advisor, Ted Kaul, alerting her to a job opening at the University at Albany (UAlbany), where there was a doctoral program newly accredited by the APA. Although it was early in her internship year and she really enjoyed clinical work, she decided to apply for the position and try out academia. The decision to accept that position became a pivotal point in her life; it led to a long, productive career as an academic psychologist at UAlbany. At the invitation of another mentor, Reuben Silver, she also served for 19 years (1984-2003) as adjunct clinical assistant professor at Albany Medical College of Union University in the Department of Psychiatry. Friedlander has also maintained a small private practice since 1983 and meets regularly with a peer supervision group.
In her early years at UAlbany, Friedlander found herself, together with colleague Susan Phillips, to be one of only two female counseling psychology faculty members. While navigating new territory for women in counseling psychology, the two became close friends, colleagues, and coauthors. Friedlander also found mentoring support from two other fellow colleagues, Richard Haase and Monte Bruch.
As a professor in the APA-accredited counseling psychology program at UAlbany, Friedlander has served as director of training for the past 7 years. She finds this role to be one of the most gratifying aspects of her work. She truly enjoys supervising and mentoring students, watching them mature, and seeing them transition through graduate school and into clinical and academic positions. Her warmth and sage advice are widely felt by her former students.
Collaborations and Publications
A serendipitous meeting at an APA poster session initiated a long-term professional relationship with Laurie Heatherington, who shared many of Friedlander’s interests in family and gender issues. Their work together on relational control led them to meet Valentin Escudero, professor of psychology and director of the family therapy intervention master’s degree program at the University of La Coruna, Spain. Escudero’s subsequent invitation to Friedlander and Heatherington to serve as keynote speakers at a conference in Spain marked the beginning of another significant collegial relationship, including a graduate exchange program between La Coruna and UAlbany. Together, Friedlander, Escudero, and Heatherington authored a book that Friedlander refers to as “the crowning joy of my scholarship,” Therapeutic Alliances in Couple and Family Therapy: An Empirically Informed Guide to Practice. In this book, Friedlander, Escudero, and Heatherington focus on the interchange between and among family members and the therapist, focusing on the use of language to facilitate the healing of families. The authors use their conceptual model, System for Observing Family Therapy Alliances (SOFTA), to integrate theory, research, and practice. They use their measuring instruments to demonstrate how positive and negative behaviors on the part of both clients and therapists can either strengthen or weaken the therapeutic alliance.
Friedlander collaborated with two other distinguished researchers, Nick Ladany (a former doctoral student of Friedlander) of Lehigh University and M. Lee Nelson of University of Wisconsin-Madison, to author Critical Events in Psychotherapy Supervision: An Interpersonal Approach. Together, they closely analyzed transcripts of dialogues to show how problems in group therapy can be identified, explored, and turned into opportunities for growth. This book offers a practical model of supervision and provides empirically based information within a framework of interpersonal relatedness.
Friedlander adopted a daughter as a “gift” to herself once she earned tenure. Given that her daughter was from Paraguay, Friedlander became attentive to children’s ethnic identity development long before this was at the forefront of counseling psychology. As she learned more about the process, she wrote three theoretical articles on ethnic identity and international adoption: “Ethnic Identity Development of Internationally Adopted Children and Adolescents: Implications for Family Therapists,” “Adoption: Misunderstood, Mythologized, Maligned,” and “Bicultural Identification: Experiences of Internationally Adopted Children and Their Parents.”
Friedlander has authored numerous other book chapters, articles, clinical training manuals for family therapy, and measurement instruments, including the Differentiation of Self Inventory with former student Elizabeth Skowron. Friedlander also has made numerous noteworthy professional presentations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and abroad in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Scotland.
Awards and Distinctions
Friedlander has earned numerous prestigious awards and distinctions. In addition to being named fellow of two APA divisions, Division 17 (Counseling Psychology) and Division 29 (Psychotherapy), she was awarded the Cambridge (U.K.) Diploma of Achievement in Education in recognition of her distinctive contributions to counseling psychology. She also was awarded the title of Distinguished Psychologist by the Psychological Association of Northeastern New York (2001) and was a recipient of the University at Albany Award for Excellence in Research (2000). In 1991, Friedlander was named a fellow of the American Psychological Society and of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology.
Friedlander has held many leadership positions in national professional associations. She has been exceptionally active as a member of APA Division 17 (Counseling Psychology), serving as communication specialist, division newsletter editor, vice chair of the Section for the Promotion of Psychotherapy Science, member of the Advisory Council of the Science Vice Presidency, member of a special task force on integrating practice and science, and member of several committees (including the Program Committee, Awards Committee, and Fellowship Committee) and special interest groups (Marital and Family Therapy and Qualitative Research Methods). Friedlander has served on the editorial boards of Journal of Counseling Psychology; The Counseling Psychologist; Journal of Marital and Family Therapy; Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, and Training; and Psychotherapy Research.
For Friedlander, teaching, mentoring, supervising students, and making a difference in individuals’ and families’ lives are the most meaningful and gratifying aspects of her career. Undoubtedly, Micki Friedlander’s contributions go well beyond the pages in her books; they touch the lives of so many people.
- Friedlander, M. L. (1995). On the process of studying the process of change in family therapy. In L. T. Hoshmand & J. Martin, Research as praxis: Lessons from programmatic research in therapeutic psychology (pp. 171-197). New York: Teachers College Press.
- Friedlander, M. L. (1999). Ethnic identity development of internationally adopted children and adolescents: Implications for family therapists. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 25, 43-60.
- Friedlander, M. L. (2003). Adoption: Misunderstood, mythologized, maligned. The Counseling Psychologist, 31, 745-752.
- Friedlander, M. L., Escudero, V., & Guzman, M. (2001). International exchanges in family therapy: Training, research, and practice in Spain and the U.S. The Counseling Psychologist, 30, 314-329.
- Friedlander, M. L., Escudero, V., & Heatherington, L. (2006). Therapeutic alliances with couples and families: An empirically-informed guide to practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Friedlander, M. L., & Highlen, P. S. (1984). A spatial view of the interpersonal structure of family interviews: Similarities and differences across counselors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31, 477-487.
- Friedlander, M. L., Highlen, P. S., & Lassiter, W. (1985). Content analytic comparison of four expert counselors’ approaches to family treatment: Ackerman, Bowen, Jackson, and Whitaker. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32, 171-180.
- Friedlander, M. L., Larney, L., Skau, M., Hotaling, M., Cutting, M., & Schwam, M. (2000). Bicultural identification: Experiences of internationally adopted children and their parents. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47, 1-12.
- Ladany, N., Friedlander, M. L., & Nelson, M. L. (2005). Critical events in psychotherapy supervision: An interpersonal approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Skowron, E. A., & Friedlander, M. L. (1998). The Differentiation of Self Inventory: Development and initial validation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 235-246.