CFLE Spotlight: Shirley May Harmon Hanson, RN, Ph.D., CFLE, LMFT

/ CFLE Network, Fall 2018
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Shirley May Harmon Hanson

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A significant number of CFLEs have been certified for 20, 25 and even 30+ years! These CFLEs have a wealth of experience and knowledge and we thought it only fitting to give them a little recognition while also benefiting from their wisdom. So, from time to time we will ask a featured CFLE to complete a selection of questions/ statements (in bold in the list below) covering both their professional and personal lives and will share some of the best responses in this column. In this issue we spotlight Shirley May Harmon Hanson.

My professional career began in 1960 when I earned my nursing degree (BSN) from Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA). I practiced clinical nursing in many locations over time, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. It was while completing my master’s degree (MSN) in 1965 in community health/public health from the University of Washington (UW) that I became convinced that my life’s work would be focused on practicing with and teaching about families and health. Since I had started teaching at the university level, I went back to earn my Ph.D. also from the UW (psychology and education) followed by postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT).

My teaching career was usually in Schools of Nursing at Seattle University, University of Washington, Washington State University, University of Pennsylvania, and Oregon Health Sciences University. I was also involved in developing and/or teaching in Marriage & Family Therapy/Counseling at Portland State University, George Fox University, and the University of Oregon/Northwest Christian College. I had opportunity to travel and speak worldwide and served as visiting professor including South Korea and Australia.

My research areas of interest included child/adolescent/family mental health, men in families, single-parent families, family assessment, and family health nursing. These interests led to research studies and many articles and books on these topics from 1970 through 2018.

Yes, I had a personal life during these many professional years. My late husband, Larry Hanson, was a college teacher, and he passed away in 2003. We had two children together: Derek and Gwen. My son and daughter are married to Kim and Joe, respectively, and I am grateful to have three wonderful grandsons (Jadon, Asher, and Skyler).  

Most importantly for this Network is to expound on the importance of NCFR in my professional life from 1979 to the present. One of my mentors from UW recommended I check out NCFR. I went to my first NCFR meeting in November 1979, and I felt that I had arrived at the interdisciplinary professional group that focused on family theory, practice, policy, and research. NCFR was the right fit for my academic career. Although I remained involved in nursing and MFT organizations throughout my career, NCFR and CFLE became my family and the source of professional strength over many years. I am grateful for the interchange of information with so many of the NCFR family scholars across the years in all the disciplines represented within NCFR.

I served in NCFR as an active member from 1979 to the present (2018), secretary for the NCFR Board, and initiated the family nursing, men in families, and single parenthood focus groups. From the family nursing focus group, I was instrumental in helping develop the Families and Health Section, which today is an active and vital part of NCFR. I am honored to be a NCFR fellow.

I wrote my first book on family assessment and intervention as an outcome of my NCFR membership/inspiration, to be followed by two books on men in families with Fred Bozett, who I met at NCFR. The single parenthood book also included members of NCFR. Finally, I developed a textbook Family Health Care Nursing: Theory, Practice, and Research (FNT), which is now in its sixth edition. This textbook has been translated into several languages and sold across the world. Because FNT is an edited book, many scholars across the United States, Canada, and the world are now involved. Dr. Joanna Kaakinen headed up the last couple of editions. Our own Dr. Debbie Coehlo has been on the editorial team.

I first became a CFLE in 1988 and have watched the development of this important branch within NCFR. Our leader, Dawn Cassidy, has been an inspiration to me personally, not to mention her influence on the whole organization of NCFR. I am proud to call myself a Certified Family Life Educator.

The perfect weekend includes being productive at home or with my work on Saturday and being with friends and family on Sunday. This includes going to my church.

I would not change the way I worked with families in my career. I worked with families in the best of times and the worst of times. I was privileged to be part of their physical and mental health team at home and in offices and institutions.

The best advice I can give someone just getting into Family Life work is to understand the influence of your own family on the work you choose to do. This may involve doing some individual and/or family therapy that anyone would benefit from.

I think it is important for people to have an understanding of their own “issues” and how these have an impact on the families with whom they work. 

My favorite books and movies have changed with time. As a young girl, I loved books about Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames. As a college professor, I did a lot of reading pertaining to whatever I was teaching or writing at the time. My latest read is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.

Most people may be surprised to know that I collected parent/child/family statues in my life. People may not be surprised to know that I also collected nurse doll statues, a collection that I recently gave to the School of Nursing at my first alma mater, Pacific Lutheran University.

CFLE is important to me because it identifies me with the other people working with families in different ways from how I do.

Never underestimate the value of health, love, friendship, and faith in a higher being.

The world would be a better place if more people could forgive themselves and others.

Wise sayings or mottos that guide me are “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

The best thing about working with families is broadening my understanding on the many ways that individuals can come together to become a family.

The most frustrating thing about my job was not always having access to the whole family as a unit of care or analysis while knowing that anything I did for the individual affected the entire family.

The most rewarding part of my job has been working with families of all ages, ethnic groups, and cultures across the world and in all configurations.

The best way to encourage employees is to treat them with respect and to be genuinely interested in who they are as people.

I feel most peaceful when people accept and appreciate who I am and what I have to offer.

Young human and animal babies can always make me laugh or smile. I can laugh very easily at myself and with those who surround me.

I played the following musical instruments in my lifetime: piano, organ, clarinet, and oboe. I have loved to sing all my life.

In my younger years, I played tennis, racketball, basketball, and softball, and I ran. I loved to downhill and cross-country ski.

The legacy I would like to leave behind is to find a balance between work and play earlier in one’s professional life, a feat that many of us struggle with over our lifetime.