Ms. Debbie Manigat is a doctoral student in the Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Nova Southeastern University. She is a traditional doctoral-level Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
When Debbie started her doctoral program, she immediately learned about the MFP from Dr. Christine Beliard, director of the Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy program. Dr. Beliard, an AAMFT SAMHSA MFP alumna, presented several times during Debbie’s orientation and classes, sharing her MFP experiences as a doctoral student. Mr. Jermaine Lowery, director of the AAMFT MFP, was also invited to speak with doctoral- and master-level students. Mr. Lowery answered questions and helped students better understand the MFP requirements, benefits, and research opportunities and encouraged them to apply.
Debbie described how the MFP has enriched her academic and professional career in many ways, “The MFP program is incredible. I have found my voice and am learning how to share my subject matter expertise more intentionally. From the AAMFT MFP Leadership Institute, I learned that there are so many master’s and doctoral-level family therapists that are unique and brilliant leaders! I am elated and very grateful to learn, grow, and change this world with each of them. My overall experience at the Leadership Symposium was one of inspiration, challenge, and hopefulness. I was inspired to see so many leaders of color in the MFT field at the training, because the field of psychology is represented by only 5% therapists of color. In brief, I was challenged in the experience by this concept of ‘who has the power and what to do with it.’ I was hopeful to learn from my peers research and the possibility of working together to transform our communities and the nation for systemic mental health support and services.”
As a current MFP fellow, Debbie is conducting two research projects. The first seeks to understand views on mental wellness in spiritual care settings by observing attitudes and gaining insight from church pastors and/or leadership as well as to provide a space to train professionals in integrating clinical and faith-based services, reducing the stigma of mental health in communities of faith, and bringing a cultural understanding of social development to spiritual settings. The second research project focuses on discovering mental health and wellness attitudes and perceptions of African American youth and empowering providers to be culturally responsive, with an emphasis on adapting clinical prevention models. Debbie also integrates her current knowledge into the community. “I lead the Your Life Matters or #LifeMatters social change initiative for bringing attention to mental health and suicide prevention in underserved communities. I have served as a panelist for the inaugural Your Health is Your Wealth event for the Broward Chapter of the Urban League Young Professionals as well as their Young Professionals Annual Retreat in Fort Lauderdale. Additionally, I have created and host the annual Dinner with Doctors and Mental Health Masterclass events in partnership with the Urban League of Palm Beach County Young Professionals.”
Debbie’s post-MFP career goals include opening a community mental health center (CMHC) focused on providing minority populations (African American, Haitian, Bahamian, Jamaican, Hispanic, Native American, etc.) access to quality and culturally responsive mental health care and wellness services. She shared, “Addressing social determinants of health and understanding epigenetics to unlock the impact of generational/historical trauma are integral to the work I seek to lead through my future CMHC. As I build, I plan to ground my clinical practice on family therapy in infant mental health (IMH) using the lens of IMH diversity informed tenets and Satir Family Therapy.” Debbie also plans to publish articles and books on best practices, lessons learned, as well as share research on the science of hope, cultural humility, and supporting resiliency through healing adverse childhood experiences. She would also love to host a talk show on these issues because, “I believe professionals in our field have to connect the work we do with the media in order to help increase positive messages of awareness and reduce the stigma.”
When asked what advice she would offer prospective MFP fellows, Debbie shared, “Apply! Don't let this opportunity pass you by. You never know who you may meet or what you may change in mindset and practice.” Debbie was proud to share, “I am the first person in my family to graduate from college and now, I can add that I am the first doctor thanks to the AAMFT MFP fellowship. This is a priceless experience.”