Strengthening Family Relationships Through Therapy & Education

Family Science Impact: Q&A with NCFR Member Rachel Sullivan, LMFT, CFLE-P
/ NCFR Report, Winter 2021

Family Science Impact
highlights how NCFR members are making a difference through their Family Science career and showcases their career journeys. See more about the many careers and professions of Family Science.

Rachel Sullivan, LMFT, CFLE-P
Rachel Sullivan, LMFT, CFLE-P

Name: Rachel Sullivan, LMFT, CFLE-P

Current Job Title: Owner and Founder, Solid Ground Counseling Center (Madison, Alabama)

Tell us a bit about your current work and why it’s important.

My primary role is a marriage and family therapist (MFT). I see clients three days a week, and I see a mix of individuals, couples, and families. At the end of the day, I’m really helping to strengthen relationships, and I’m working to help people be okay with them. A motto for me is “forward momentum” — always being in motion to incorporate what we’ve learned and experienced into where we want to be in the future.

For me, MFT work and training helps us see how everything we do is impacted by something else we’re involved in. It’s important to help people understand that whatever they’re struggling with is bigger than them. It’s helping people make those connections between the pieces of life that are intertwined. It helps normalize how we feel when life is impacting us.

What was your professional path to your current role? What shaped or influenced that path?

Long story short, I’m a mom in a blended family. When I met my now-husband while we were in the military, he had two kids. I was 20 and I knew nothing about parenting or life, really; I was just trying to figure that out. My associate’s degree was in paralegal studies, but I switched fields and earned my bachelor’s degree in child and family development. A big part of choosing that degree was trying to better understand our family, and I used what I learned to help us have a healthier foundation.

I realized at that point that I wanted to work with families, I just didn’t know how. The last class of my bachelor’s degree was a marriage and family therapy class, and that was where everything fell into place.

After that, I found my online MFT degree program. To complete my graduate internship, I established a mental health program within a local nonprofit and provided free counseling there, which solidified my desire to bring affordable, comprehensive mental health care and education to the community.

As I researched area agencies during my internship, I realized that working under someone else wasn’t where I was supposed to be. So, it was awesome to launch my own practice — Solid Ground Counseling Center — in 2018 and offer more tailored services to meet people where they are. In 2019, I partnered with a local veteran-owned organization that rehabilitated an apartment complex, where I provided free in-home counseling with residents. Last year, I launched a counseling scholarship program through my practice; I partner with the nonprofit SAM Foundation, which contributes to the session fee for scholarship clients.

While I learned about the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) credential during my bachelor’s program, I put that on hold during my master’s program. I earned my CFLE in 2020 to pair therapy and education.

How do you use Family Science or Family Life Education knowledge or skills in your current work?

One of the big things is helping people make connections. We can talk about linking things from early childhood in the therapy world, which I love because I think we can provide a lot of freedom when we help people understand where something originated.

Then we can layer Family Life Education onto that. I’m able to offer information like premarital counseling, helping couples talk about the hard stuff like family planning, differences in finances, and spirituality. Then when they do hit those life junctures and need help in the therapeutic realm, I’m equipped to do that as well.

For me, the two exist so beautifully together. Therapy is a lot about healing what has already happened, and Family Life Education is about providing information that helps you normalize what’s to come.

What is most rewarding or makes you proudest about the impact of your work?

I love when clients can start making those core type of changes that propel them to a healthier place. But truthfully, the thing I’m most proud of is the work that we’ve done in our own family. Our kids have sacrificed a ton for me to get where I’m at. Knowing that they back what I do has been amazing because they’re able to cheer me on. I’m proud that they’re able to see how the work we’ve done as a family is worth it, and that every day when I have to leave, they know I’m leaving so somebody else can have the same benefit in their house that we’ve been able to create in ours.

What do you wish you would have known sooner along your education or career path?

Trust what you keep coming back to. At the end of the day, nobody goes into Family Science because they want to make $2 million a year. Family work is long and can be grueling, and often people don’t see the value of it. But that doesn’t stop us from doing it. Everyone I talk to who is in Family Science somewhere is passionate about humanity.

So as people are coming into these professions, my advice is to trust their gut about what they’re supposed to do. Everybody’s work is going to look different, and it’s all necessary and important. Be okay with not fitting into somebody else’s shoes, so that you can contribute the unique thing that you’re supposed to contribute.

What do you want the world to know about your work, or about Family Science or Family Life Education?

I want to help our communities see the importance of understanding and normalizing the transitions that families go through. If we could help people understand that and get information out there more readily about what to expect, I think we could decrease stress and turmoil.

We make choices based on the best information that we have in the moment. But I think there’s a lot more information out there for families that just isn’t as readily available as it could be. My hope is that we’ll be able to normalize talking about those family things that people go through and have more classes in communities, and that it’s not taboo because people are understanding the value of learning something that they don’t know. I dream about what that world would look like.