Dr. Jeff Randall knew he wanted to be a clinical psychologist since he was 8 years old. Maybe it had to do with growing up in Manning, S.C., as the youngest in an extended family of 10 children. Maybe it had to do with his grandfather being a Methodist minister. Maybe it had to do with watching his mother, who was in a wheelchair because of debilitating arthritis, employ all the resources available to her to raise her children.
Years later, Jeff still speaks with conviction and passion on just about any topic that comes up. His tiny office is stacked with books, and he clearly loves the act of learning, whether it’s the latest education theory or South Carolina’s state dance, the shag. (He can tell you the best shoes for shagging and the best modern songs with a 4/4 beat for dancing to.)
Jeff was specializing in anxiety in adolescents at the University of Pittsburgh, when he received a phone call from a former professor who asked, “What are you doing for poor underserved children?” Jeff recalled the part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” in which he asks African-Americans to go back to the South “knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”
So Jeff accepted a position at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he researches and practices multisystemic therapy, a treatment approach that addresses chronic juvenile justice issues — including truancy, addiction and violence — by examining the five systems that affect behavior: the individual, the parents, the school, the community and the peers.
“This was my way of giving back,” he says. “And I can also relate. If a client offers me a drink in a mayonnaise jar because that is all they have, that doesn’t faze me because I grew up in a house like that.”
Instead of parents or caregivers dropping their child off at a therapist’s office, the multisystemic therapy approach calls for therapists to visit the child’s house to help identify the practical needs that can help families better provide for their children and help children make positive choices.
“We try to help families put together a structure,” Jeff says.
These days, Jeff works with other therapists to develop programs across the country based on the multisystemic approach.
“We’re trying to make the world a better place,” he says. “Our real mission is to restore families.”