Marriage and Family Therapy program helps attorneys find a gentler, family-friendly approach to divorce mediation

“I enjoy it a lot when we mediate together,” said Smith, a native of South Africa who holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin Madison and Albany Law School. “He’s really good at moving things forward, where there’s an impasse. He uses a lot of techniques he’s learned from Fairfield.”

Becker said he appreciates Smith’s insights during their shared sessions. “Loren and I are wired differently and that makes for a better team. It’s like having another set of eyes.”

That comes in handy. While many assume “only rich people” go to mediation, Becker said he sees people from all walks of life from across Connecticut. The average couple meets for six to 12, 90-minute sessions. In the beginning, the couple sets goals for each meeting, so the talks are focused, whether the issue is childrearing, finances, or dividing property.

Every family is different: Some require conflict resolution; others, simply a caring ear and gentle guidance. A major component is the ability to talk to both people at once and read body language. “You have to have good peripheral vision,” Becker said. “And all three of you need to be present with the conflict and not be afraid of it.”

The MFT Advisory Board members will likely spend much more time together as the program moves into an exciting new phase this year: In January, Fairfield opened the Kathryn P. Koslow Center for Marriage and Family Therapy, a state-of-the-art facility that will provide excellent training for students and sliding-scale services for the greater community.

Located in Southwell Hall near the Round Hill Road gate, the new center came about in large part because of a $500,000 gift from Kathryn Koslow ’05, a student in the program. Koslow, who is a member of the GSEAP Advisory Board, supported the renovation and has launched a $125,000, five-year challenge grant to support the program’s work on an annual basis. She will match up to $25,000 in donations each year for the next five years.

“Our faculty and students are so grateful to Kathy Koslow,” said Dean Susan Franzosa. “GSEAP’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program has grown in stature since its founding in the 1980s and is regarded as one of the finest in Connecticut. Now, with Kathy’s generous support, it will be able to reach more students, help us expand our collaborative research efforts, and serve a greater number of families in need.”

The new facility augments the program’s strong clinical training component by providing a professional space for MFT students to gain clinical experience on site. Such training is a major part of the program, which prepares graduate students to be eligible for licensure.

“Currently, students do the bulk of their clinical training at off-campus sites,” said Dr. Rona Preli, chair of the MFT department. The new center “enables us to expand our hours of service and offer more on-campus clinical experiences to our students.”

The new center also supports the University’s Jesuit mission to be of service to the community: It is open full time, but will continue its sliding scale fee structure to help underserved populations.

For Becker and Smith, the new center offers more opportunities for alumni as well. The two hope to add to the curriculum by teaching a course in mediation.

“I want to bring forgiveness into the realm,” Smith said, reflecting on how the family therapy process can work in complement with divorce. “And gratitude for what each (spouse) has gotten from the other. I look to a way of consciously parting instead of just divorcing.”

Becker agreed, saying divorce mediation often brings a positive close to a contentious situation. “You’re taking responsibility for people being able to agree, which is important. Often there are children involved,” he said. “I can go home at night and know I’ve added something to the world.”

Every once in a while, he does too good of a job. One young couple he counseled got all the way to the courthouse in Stamford, divorce papers in hand, and then called him to say they didn’t want to go through with it. “They asked me, ‘what do we do now?’” he said, “I told them to turn around, get in the car, and go home.”

To contribute to the Koslow challenge grant or to make a pledge or gift in support of the program, contact Jessica Colligan ’03, manager, Constituent Relations, at or (203) 254-4000, ext. 3473.

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