Family therapy will play an ever-larger role in Americans' attempts to cope with stress and maintain loving relationships, according to sociologist John Curtis.

"I think it's definitely a trend," says Curtis, who supervises a special marriage and family therapy program for graduate students at Valdosta State College.Curtis says he believes more and more Americans will turn to family therapists, rather than individual counselors, to resolve problems because "when you treat people in isolation and they go back to their family environment that has never changed, it's hard for them to change."

He says today's families are unprepared for a life in which both parents work.

"I think we cherish the idea of a family, and we want our families to be quality families," he says. "We've become so busy they aren't, and we need help to re-establish quality living."

Curtis says Valdosta State's program, designed to meet the standards of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, is one of nine such programs in the country but the only one in the South.

The 50-week course is open to students who have a master's degree in sociology with a concentration on counseling and family therapy. Besides classroom work, each student spends 12 hours a week in supervised contact with clients from various social services organizations.

Graduates of the program need additional supervised field experience and to pass a state exam to become licensed family therapists.

Louis Levy, head of the sociology department, says many social problems, such as drug abuse and runaway children, are linked to the family, and it's important to consider the entire system rather than just a troubled individual.

"Family therapy, some say, is one of the most suitable treatment models for many of the social problems we face today," he says. "It goes back to crime . . . problems in school, problems with developing peer relations. Sometimes you look back and find the family relations haven't been that good."

Curtis says the family should fulfill a need for love and nourishment, but instead it has become a "fast-food dispensing center and a place to get clean clothes."