Dr. Susan Ellen Swim: An Icon in the Field of Marriage and Family Therapy


Dr. Susan Rose Ellen Swim


I don’t even know how to explain without tears how powerful Dr. Swim is with her ability to deconstruct labels and dissolve pains of those who have been troubled in life. She has taught me the power of hopeful words and never giving up on people becoming the best versions of themselves.  She has this magic with using heart and her horses in the therapy session to bring mindfulness, calmness, a non-judgmental presence, harmony, and peace.

Dr. Swim will be interviewed to let readers get a more personal understanding of who she is, why she does what she does, and how we can learn from her expertise of the Recovery Model.

Let the InterVIEW begin:

  1. What motivated you to create such a powerful Collaborative Recovery Model in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy? 

    In the early 80’s Harry/Harold (Armen) Goolishian, Harlene (Harlena) Anderson, Tom Anderson, Lynn Hoffman, Ken Gergen, Johns Shorter and we are passionate faculty at HGI we’re a think tank of how to help clients heal from trauma and not be pathologies deemed by the DSM and Medical Model. We along with hundreds of colleagues viewed traditional individual therapy, psychiatrist, and psychologists as creating chronic populations in their well-intentioned ideas of how to help people. We never saw our clients or consultant (as we called them then (trying to avoid the deficiency and pathology of clients)…as people broken or sick. We believed ALL could heal and symptoms were from relational trauma not from a broken piece inside a Person. Narrative and SFT we’re trying to do the same but had too many cookie cutter ideas rather it is an easy process of one person talking to another and co-discovering and Co-creating individually tailored what they wanted to see happen. In the early eighties as today, I with witnessed massive healing regardless of symptoms or the labels the DSM would assign to them. Harry’s last Paper before his death was on the Dis-Diseasing of America, an attempt to show how the DSM, psychologists, and psychiatrist created sickness and “madness” I think the quote From Wittgenstein was we created a world of madness and fifth in heartfelt attempts to help. Harry always said our clients showed us how to heal and transform our clients. With the creation of NISAPI, it was a natural evolution of what I was taught and experienced. We added the recovery model and community engagement. Inthe recovery model all is geared towards helping recovery this goes beyond therapy. If a person has no food how can therapy help? With our first clients at NISAPI, it was very apparent all in the client’s community needed to be included. This included social workers, other practitioners, lawyers, schools, family members or friends. All clients and their families needed individual and family therapy and all voices in the “problem systems” to be heard and honored. It’s like taking a ten-year-old and seeing them once a week. As a therapist you may think you make tremendous progress but if you don’t have the buy-in of parents, schools, etc what is accomplished? The community of support (or the problem system) must be included. Our first client that you know that had all her children returned after not seeing them for three years taught us this. We saw the children, the estranged parent’s, the foster children and their children, the social workers and lawyers. All children were returned in 2011. The family reunified, the parents married again, and the children who wanted to be drug dealers are finishing college. This kind of transformation regardless of symptoms or situations transforms thus out 98% success reflected in our research. On a whim, I decided to do this on a horse ranch Wednesday’s and Saturday’s with my master and Ph.D. students from Loma Linda. From the first client, you could see a therapeutic relationship that never occurred in office therapy. There was immediate mutual trust, authentic, sacred and genuine conversations, and relational connections that led to individualized change without cookie-cutter techniques.  I say the horses legitimize is as a therapist for if you can trust someone who cares for loving horses you give therapists a chance.

  2. What made you decide to pursue your Doctorate after you finished becoming a Registered Nurse? 

    Hospitals neglect the individual person and their emotional needs in favor of trying to physically heal. As the head of an ICU at a major medical hospital, I had a client come thank me. Most clients released never can speak for their too sick. Here a woman I had to pack with a Clorox solution that gave insurmountable pain despite the morphine came to thank me for saving her life. She would pray to God as I packed her wounds. I quit the next day and miraculously was accepted even though late registration was over. I happened to meet the dean and he invited me to the program.

  3. How did you discover the power of using horses and therapy ?  

    Most people are in awe of a 1000lb animal who gives and receives love. It was miraculous to see how they reached out and loved clients who saw parents murdered, were sodomized, had been discarded. Loving on a horse while talking about sodomy and how your damaged cuts the pain and immediately changes the narratives to hope and plans of actions to heal. You never have to talk much about the past because the present and future is full of goodness and hope.

  4. Your approach is very non-traditional, you do therapy outside versus in the office. Why is that? What inspired you to go against the mainstream therapy approach?

    My love of my clients and knowing the healing that occurs as well as preventing clients from becoming chronic labels and broken people. I cannot express how many people (clinicians) have not understood and have tried to discredit our work despite our books, articles, and research. Thank God for the Taos Institute and our hundreds of colleagues for their support.

  5. What do you want people to know and remember you as forever? 

    I loved each eye I looked into. Tom said eyes are windows to our souls. I believed in each person and can remember all. I gave up being appreciated by “the mainstream” for the disenfranchised and hopeless. My life has been devoted to healing the unhealable. Our next step is family life coaching centers indigenous to where our clients live. By coaching, families can learn to resolve present issues, have new loving goals and prevent the tragedies that are occurring akin to the present news.

  6. What are the most important core values you instill in your trainees and interns when they collaborate with you and you supervise them? 

    A huge heart and compassion, selflessness, authenticity, process ethics, and courage.

  7. What self-care tips do you suggest our readers practice if they are having a bad day, month, or year?

    Love yourself and others and ultimately trust in God.

  8. Where do you see the field of Marriage and Family Therapy going in the next five years?

    I’m worried very worriedly about our field, especially in CA. Learners acquire hours before graduating and before their ready to see clients. We have too many programs. Many MFT’s have not healed themselves to see clients. Here in CA they get a chapter on postmodern therapies and learn individual theories to treat families. They learn what the late Lynn Hoffman said to look for the thing in the bushes. This means you look for what is wrong, convince someone their sick and then give advise to deal but not cure the sickness. As postmodern therapist and theorist we do not see nor concentrate on sickness and inadequacies but the strengths and agency everyone has but can be taken away in therapy.

  9. What’s your life motto? Or positive quote that you live by?

    Your clients will remember you forever with gratitude but it is a co-evolved process, we are not God nor magicians. We are only people journeying with our clients, try above all not to harm.




Read more about Dr. Susan Ellen Swim Here:

Dr. Swim has been on faculty at the Houston Galveston Institute since the early eighties.  She moved to Southern California from Houston in 2002 and continues to participate as faculty.  She retired in June 2011 from faculty at the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California  where she specialized in teaching and supervision from a strength based and client involved  social constructionist viewpoint. Currently, Now I See a Person Institute is her full time endeavor.

She founded Now I See a Person Institute–Naturalistic Psychotherapy using Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model. This model of therapy is used for all populations and diagnoses. Now I See a Person Institute is a nonprofit organization for graduate and post graduate training and clinical services. Students from various universities come to learn and study under Dr. Swim.

At Now I See a Person Institute, Dr. Swim provides workshops and two certificate programs.  She offers International Certificate in Collaborative Therapies and certificate in Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model, developmental series on Collaborative Therapy both providing CEU’s. In 2013 she will launch an online developmental course on Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model.  At Now I See a Person Institute she also provides organizational development, life coaching, wrap around and recovery services.

With Now I See a Person Institute she is able to pursue her lifelong passion of training interns and trainees in a model of collaborative therapy that she has developed and researched over several years, Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model. Within Community Engagement are the premises that therapy is collaborative and self tailored to the needs of each individual. Here clients are “seen” as people and not diagnostic labels. Clients are “seen” within a safe environment and where they are not afraid to speak the unspoken.  Dr. Swim within her thirty year career has treated all mental health issues and holds expertise in these areas.

She is Editor Emeritus for the Journal of Systemic Therapies, on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Qualitative Research, and an Associate Reviewer for International Journal of Collaborative Practices. Her academic interests are teaching traditional courses while incorporating a social constructionist backdrop. She helped cultivate the on-line HGI-Taos Institute distance learning and continues to facilitate this on-line.

She continues presenting at state, national, and international conferences on Collaborative Language Systems for Individual, Marriage and Family Therapy, Supervision, Teaching and Research. Among her various interests are: academic teaching; qualitative research and publications on supervision, teaching, and clinical practice centering upon a social  constructionist perspective.- Retrieved from: http://nowiseeaperson.com/


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s