Aaron Maleare made his first visit to ACU’s campus in May 2018 — as a participant in the graduation ceremony for his online degree program. When he began ACU Online’s Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program in August of 2015, Aaron and wife Vanessa were living in Ontario, Canada. Aaron had leveraged his Master of Theological Studies from Lipscomb University into a two-year work contract with a rural church, a role that found him acting as “the associate minister or associate pastor— kind of the everything else guy,” he shares.
Aaron always thought he’d end up in ministry and perhaps follow that with a midlife career change into academia. He earned his undergraduate degree in theology from Lipscomb as well. But Aaron credits that pastoral position in a rural Ontario church, and wife Vanessa, who he met and married while at Lipscomb, with changing his perspective on what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Discovering His Calling in Marriage and Family Therapy
A large part of Aaron’s role in Ontario found him acting as a stand-in parent or older brother to teenage students attending a year-round residential high school five minutes from his house. Helping kids from all over the world adjust to being so far from home planted a seed in his heart.
“But then, maybe a year and a half into the job, a local kid that I met with sometimes had some run-ins with the law and was part of the juvenile justice system in Canada,” Aaron remembers. He worked closely with the young man’s frightened family that was struggling with the unknown fate of the teen.
“Working with him and his family, helping them have some kind of peace about it — it’s almost like a spark of inspiration just hit me. Like, this is what I really enjoy doing. This is the part of the job that I love. How can I do more of this?”
Aaron realized he didn’t want to do ministry, “and I wasn’t particularly good at it. I was a lot better with the people.” Aaron didn’t feel well suited for the behind-the-scenes event planning and administrative tasks his role required. Vanessa provided the final impetus, giving voice to her husband’s own feelings: “You know, you’re a lot better with the people. Why don’t you look at marriage and family therapy?” And Aaron did just that.
Choosing ACU Online for His MMFT Degree
Aaron had been through a master’s program before in a traditional setting, but this time around he really needed flexibility. He, Vanessa, and their two sons were preparing to leave Ontario, and he had no clue where they would land.
Aaron consulted a friend who was a marriage and family therapist in Tennessee. His friend had participated in ACU’s Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program and really enjoyed it, offering “such high praise for the faculty and the program.” He made Aaron aware of the online MMFT option.
ACU’s responsiveness in getting right back to Aaron with enrollment information and helping him work through the international aspect “helped seal that this was a really great fit for what I needed.”
Additionally, knowing that ACU’s values supported Aaron’s passion for being a healing force in people’s lives “made it easier to have a kind of shared vocabulary in the way that we envision the world.” Aaron states that being in a community of people who care deeply for others “not just because the profession can pay well and not just because it’s a good job, but because we have felt united in this calling that we wanted to make the world a better place” was a “really, really good feeling.”
Aaron’s Experience as an Online MMFT Student
With the Maleare family settled in Austin and his classmates scattered all over the country, Aaron really appreciated the program’s videoconferences. When it was time for the field experience, the program’s professors “help you find a local supervisor and a place where you can start practicing your therapy and skills,” Aaron explains.
He found the internship experience with ACU Online’s MMFT program to be more “robust and intense” than that offered by other programs. Students are required to deliver 500 hours of actual therapy to people over the course of the year, about half of that to families and couples. “I knew I was going to get a lot more practice, a lot more skill, and a lot more hands-on training doing this program,” Aaron states.
Part of the program involves recording some of your sessions and presenting it to your colleagues and professors for grading and critiquing. Aaron found the instructor feedback and positive atmosphere invaluable for building his confidence.
He directly credits this aspect of the program with motivating him to become involved with Austin’s local Marriage and Family Therapy Association chapter in early 2018 while still a student. Aaron plans to stay involved, “because it’s the best way to get connected with other professionals, and I really like being able to help those that are up and coming in the field.”
Putting It All into Practice
When asked about his job prospects, Aaron replies: “Fantastic! One of the places I was interning offered me a full-time job.” Aaron’s license to practice arrived a month ago, so he’s busy procuring his business license, designing his website, and promoting his own private practice. He’ll remain with the organization where he interned as an independent contractor.
Aaron expresses gratitude for Vanessa’s willingness to work full-time in her own ministry career while he stayed home with their two sons, 11-year-old Shaye and 5-year-old Rory, earning his MMFT. When asked if a doctorate is in his future, Aaron admits he’s considered it. But with two energetic boys at home and a private therapy practice about to launch, he plans to wait a while.
What does “being successful” in his new career mean to Aaron? “It’s going to feel good knowing that I’m doing something that matters — that when I go to work, I’m helping somebody’s life get a little bit better.”
Do you share Aaron’s commitment to making a difference in the lives of families? Learn more about ACU’s online Master of Marriage and Family Therapy.