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Featuring Dr. Narumi Taniguchi

Narumi Taniguchi

Meet Dr. Narumi Taniguchi - the new director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program.

Can you tell us about your background? Where are your degrees from? What is your area of research interest?

I am originally from Japan. I have a bachelor’s degree in Education from Kobe University. When I was trying to decide what to do with my life after graduating from university, my uncle, who was one of the first school counsellors in Japan, gave me a book. It was written by Jay Haley, one of the pioneers of family therapy, and translated into Japanese. This book basically changed my life. As a daughter, I was not even expected to go to university. After reading this book, I not only decided to go to graduate school, but I also decided to study in another country. I had never even traveled abroad. I didn’t speak much English. I was the first one in my family to go to university; nobody in my family knew anything about graduate school. All I knew was that I wanted to be a family therapist. Also, I knew somehow that if I was going to study about families, I needed to learn about the culture within which the families exist.

My Master’s degree is in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from Syracuse University in New York. After earning my M.A., I went back to Japan and worked as a family therapist at a mental health clinic for a few years. There I realized I wanted to be involved in therapist training. I went back to the States, and earned a Ph.D. in MFT from Texas Tech University. I spent many years in West Texas, where many people have never met Asians. After Texas, my first job as a core faculty was in San Diego, California, teaching and supervising Master’s and Doctoral students in a large couple and family therapy program. I then decided to move to yet another country – Canada. This time, I taught undergraduate students in Applied Human Sciences at Concordia University. After three years in Montreal, I was offered the fantastic opportunity to direct the MMFT program at University of Winnipeg. I have had many wonderful adventures working all over North America, and I am looking forward to making Winnipeg my home for a long time.

My research interests are relationship dynamics, psychotherapy processes, and therapist training. I am interested in looking at these areas from a social justice perspective. In the field of mental health, theories and practices are based on individualism and focused on white, middle-class, heterosexual populations. Through my research, I am interested in exploring more diverse, collectivist theories and practices in order to better address the needs of a wide range of couples and families, including interracial, Indigenous, LGBTTQ, or newcomer couples and families – just to name a few.

What kind of clinical experience do you have as a marriage and family therapist?

I have worked with clients in a variety of settings in North America and Japan for 20 years. In Japan, I worked in a private psychiatric clinic and provided psychotherapy services to individuals, couples, and families while assuming administrative responsibilities as an assistant director of the mental health counselling division. In the U.S., I worked as a therapist at an in-home/in-school program for high-risk families in the Latino community, a criminal justice services program providing substance abuse counselling, and a state-licensed outpatient psychiatric clinic that served low-income families from diverse backgrounds. As an AAMFT (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy) approved supervisor, I have provided supervision to over one hundred MFT supervisees at different levels and mentored 40 supervisors who were in the process of obtaining AAMFT approved supervisor designation.

Are you still active with research and if so, what are you currently working on?

I am currently working on three projects. One is exploring the process by which US Caucasian military men decide to marry Japanese women. I believe an expansion of the study to include people of other races will contribute to our understanding of ambiguous sexism and unconscious racism operating in intermarriages. Another research is examining the supervisory working alliance, supervisor characteristics, supervisors’ multicultural competency, and how these factors predict the supervision outcomes of post-Masters MFT supervisees. The third project focuses on re-examining some of the core values and concepts that prevail in the field of mental health from a multicultural and social justice perspective. 

After a few months of being the Director of the MMFT Program, can you tell us about future plans or your vision for MMFT?

The MMFT program has recently joined the Faculty of Education, which will provide new opportunities for collaboration with members of the University community. We will be able to benefit from the vast knowledge base, scope and diversity of experiences of faculty and staff here. This program has so much to offer, and I would like to see it more connected to the University and more visible within the community. I would also like to see the program continue to expand its collaborations with organizations that serve Indigenous people, refugees and newcomers.

Having graduated from two rigorous MFT programs and taught in one for a number of years, I can say that the quality of training that the U of W MMFT program provides is phenomenal.  In the US, where MFT licensure exists, students are expected to practice under supervision for a couple of years after obtaining a Master’s degree. Here in Manitoba, where there is no MFT license, students are expected function as competent therapists upon graduation. The program is carrying the huge responsibility of graduating our students at this high level. The fact that the MMFT program has virtually 100% employment rate and that more and more employers in Winnipeg and neighboring cities specify the MMFT degree as one of the preferred degree qualifications are strong evidence of our program’s high-quality education and training. I believe that we have the best MFT program in the country. I would like to raise the program’s profile locally and nationally.

What do you enjoy most about the program?

The MMFT program is a community of passionate and dedicated faculty members, supervisors, staff members, and students who are committed serving the community at large and making a difference. I see that every day, and it’s pretty fantastic. I find it inspiring. I enjoy feeling a sense of belonging in this community, which has been very welcoming.

The MMFT program is in close partnership with the Aurora Family Therapy Centre, which serves diverse groups including refugees and newcomers and aims to make therapy affordable for clients, regardless of their income. Practicum students at Aurora work with families, couples and individuals on a wide range of issues, and they are trained by supervisors to consider the social context that their clients are dealing with. The work is challenging, and it trains students to bring a multi-faceted approach to their practice. Students are enthusiastic about their work. They often come up with ideas to better serve clients, and the Aurora staff supports them in making the ideas happen.

What drew you to Winnipeg, other than the increase of responsibility as faculty? What about Winnipeg drew you here?

I visited Winnipeg several times last year and learned about the city’s challenges as it grows and changes. Indigenous people, newcomers and visible minorities make up a growing segment of Winnipeg’s population. There is tremendous opportunity for MFTs to have a positive impact with couples, families and communities.  I am thrilled to lead a program that trains therapists who wish to be involved in this kind of work.

I really like living in Winnipeg. It is big enough that there is a thriving arts, culture and food scene. And it is small enough that you feel like you can make a difference. I like that the city is built around the rivers – bodies of water that are constantly moving and bringing change. It’s a great metaphor. Winnipeg is definitely cold, but after 15 years in Texas and California, I enjoy having four distinct seasons.

What would you say is your favorite thing so far about the University of Winnipeg?

The University of Winnipeg is a terrific school. There is a sense of community on campus and it really seems that people are proud to be here – whether they are students, faculty or staff. I am impressed with the efforts that are being made to build a community that is part of the city, bringing life, economic investment and positive change to the downtown core. There is so much potential in and around downtown Winnipeg, and the University has made a commitment to using the power of its people and the energy of its community to connect with the people of this city. Social justice is taken seriously here – I see it in class content, campus group initiatives and administrative policy.