When it comes to supporting the master’s programs they completed at their universities, few recent graduates do it more generously than Chris Matthews.
Matthews, aiming to build a personal brand of national scope, wrote Finding Your Relationship Fix: The Four Reasons Couples Seek Counseling (Gatekeeper Press, 2020), which “outlines the most common reasons couples go to therapy and demonstrates how these issues are treated in counseling.” He is developing a companion course for the book. He earned a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT) from Pfeiffer University, in 2016. Since then, his support of the MMFT program has taken many forms:
He launched the Chris Matthews Marriage and Family Therapist Annual Scholarship, which provides $1,000 each semester for a male student in the MMFT program. The scholarship, which was first awarded during the current academic year, aims to support men who are looking past “feelings of isolation” to pursue a career in the female-dominated field of marriage and family therapy. It also calls for Matthews to mentor the scholarship’s recipient.
- Matthews and other MMFT grads have worked as actor clients in mock therapy sessions that current students in the MMFT program lead as part of their training.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic ends, Matthews will employ two MMFT students as interns each semester at Relationship Counseling Group, LLC, one of two Charlotte-based therapeutic and mental health practices where he’s the founding owner and clinical director. The other practice is Behavioral Health Intervention Center, LLC.
He has referred three students to the MMFT program, students “who have been so impressed with Chris’ work that they wanted to be (like) Chris, and they have come to our program to become therapists themselves,” said Dr. Susan Wilkie, the program’s director.
Matthews sends people of modest means to the Charlotte-based Pfeiffer Institute for Marriage and Family Therapy; there, for a nominal fee, they participate as clients in a therapy clinic where MMFT students train under the supervision of professors.
“Look at all that Chris is contributing to Pfeiffer,” Wilkie said. “We have been there since 2006. He’s one of the first students who have offered so much to us.”
Matthews sees his support as a way of giving back.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Pfeiffer’s programs,” he said. He added that he also earned a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Pfeiffer, in 2012. The MS helped him “establish a business foundation” for his two practices.
Darius McClain of Charlotte, who’s scheduled to earn his MMFT in spring 2022, is the current recipient of Matthews’ scholarship. He hopes to follow in Matthews’ therapy footsteps – working not with couples and families but “with young men who don’t have the proper resources or role models to make it in this world.” He also wants to counter negative images of how men treat women.
McClain said that the scholarship makes him feel “a bit more inspired, simply because I know there aren’t many men in this field. I do recognize how much of a difference men in this field can make.” The scholarship money has helped McClain defray tuition costs and buy more textbooks. “I would like to have my own collection of textbooks,” rather than having to rent them, he said.
As McClain’s mentor, Matthews makes contact with him about once a week. That “gives me weekly inspiration,” McClain said. “He understands what I’m going through. It’s good having that role model.”
Matthews also gives back to Pfeiffer by setting an example that will inspire its current MMFT students. He is a persuasive apologist for Pfeiffer’s approach to therapy, deftly using metaphorical language to make his points in lucid, layman-friendly terms. At its most basic level, the approach rests on strengthening the “family system” by using “different modalities based on what presenting issues or problems the client brings in.” The process “is like a golfer who uses different clubs depending on where a ball lands on a course,” Matthews said.
The goal isn’t so much to treat symptoms of relationship dysfunction, which Matthews likens to patching a leak in a roof. Rather, it’s to redo the roof because “the system is the entire roof.”
Matthews talked up his current work and future plans this past October as the featured speaker for “Diversity and Inclusivity Dialogue,” a monthly presentation for MMFT students. He had become a coveted series speaker, having written Finding Your Relationship Fix and having begun to develop a companion course for the book. The book and course are among the building blocks for what he hopes to become in the future, namely MFT’s answer to what Gary Chapman has accomplished in his Five Love Languages industry of books, podcasts, courses and public-speaking engagements.
Kenyah Mickens-Smith ’19 MFT of Charlotte first heard of these aspirations when, as an undergraduate major in psychology at UNC Charlotte, she began interning for Matthews at his Behavioral Health Intervention Center. (Since September she’s been working in substance abuse counseling and marriage and family therapy.)
Mickens-Smith ended up enrolling in Pfeiffer’s MMFT program shortly after she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She had gotten a “referral” in the form of a letter of recommendation from Matthews. She also had a clearer idea of her career goals, having decided that MFT would be her route, not school counseling, which she had also been considering.
“When Chris would talk to me about his courses and the things he was working on, (MFT) sounded more interesting to me,” Mickens-Smith said. “Hearing about his experiences solidified what I wanted to do.”
Ultimately, Matthews would like his personal brand to evolve to the point where he’s known across the country for hosting national conferences and retreats on bettering marriage and family relationships.
“At the end of the day, there's no real course on how to be married or how to be a parent,” he said. “I want my life to be the answer to that question. I want to be able to have tools and resources that answer the question of how to have a healthy marriage and how to be a healthy parent.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.