Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ackerman Honors 17 Extern Graduates


Family and friends filled the Ackerman library on July 24th when the Institute hosted its 2008 graduation ceremony. Seventeen externs took part in the celebration commemorating each trainee’s completion of the Ackerman Institute Core Curriculum. Trainees who complete the full Core Curriculum enroll in the Foundations in Family Therapy course and then participate in Live Clinical Supervision and the Clinical Externship in Family Therapy. Upon completion of the Clinical Externship, each trainee receives a certificate at graduation and an invitation to join the Ackerman Alumnae/i Association.

This year’s graduating class was divided into three groups: Rachel Berezin, Andrea Blumenthal, Scott Hirose, Anita Mambo and Bonnie Siegel, supervised by Evan Imber-Black, PhD; Dana Greco, Jodi Harrison, Andrew Koncz, Keren Ludwig, Margaret T. Ngunang and Sarah Robinson, supervised by Miguel Hernandez, LCSW; and Wendy Bond, Kimberly Hope Andron, Karen Murphy, Genevieve Shineman, Orly Toren-Gabay and Jan Weiss, supervised by Fiona True, LMSW.

Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute, welcomed the graduates and their guests.

“Completing the Ackerman training program is not an easy task,” Ms. Braverman said. “It requires hard work, dedication and a major commitment of time over a period of years. I am so proud of all of you and I know your families and friends share that pride.”

Ms. Braverman also congratulated the externs’ families and friends.

“At Ackerman, we believe that families are the greatest resource available to individuals coping with the complexities of modern life. We know that individuals’ problems are best solved within the context of family, and we also know that individuals’ achievements also happen within the contexts of families and communities that support those accomplishments,” she explained.

Marcia Sheinberg, Director of Training, characterized the graduates as “an impressive group.”

“You have opened your hearts and your minds to expand your ability to help people,” she said. “You have done so based on a belief in the principles and practices of a relational perspective. While most of the mental health community continues to conceptualize problems as located in individuals whose context may or may not facilitate their well-being, you believe that the essence of one’s health is in the context of connection.”

“As a profession we are facing challenging times,” Ms. Sheinberg continued. “Never has the fork in the road been clearer and the consequences for our field, not to mention the world been greater. As you continue in your careers you will be both ambassadors of the Ackerman approach to human suffering and an advocate for the principles we ascribe, which values all perspective even those which we choose to challenge.”

Each of the three supervisors also congratulated the students. Evan Imber-Black said her externs had shown her they possessed the “authenticity, warmth and empathy” needed to be successful therapists.” She called on the externs to fulfill an ancient Hebrew imperative to “repair the world.”

Miguel Hernandez told his students that their dedication and hard work filled him with the same kind of pride parents feel in their children’s accomplishments.

“You are no longer my students,” he said as he presented each of his externs with flowers. “You are now my colleagues.”

Fiona True said she often uses the metaphor of a pond in family therapy, but that her extern group had really sailed on an ocean. There were storms, she noted, but the externs made their ship seaworthy and took it to an “incredible place.” She congratulated her students for their shared commitment to learn and grow, their dedication to the families they treated and their great intellectual curiosity.

Many of the students then spoke briefly, thanking the faculty and staff at Ackerman, as well as their own families and friends for their love and support.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ackerman Announces New Board Leadership


A new slate of officers was elected at the June 10th annual meeting of the Ackerman Institute Board of Directors. Gregory T. Rogers became the new Chair of the Board, transitioning responsibility from Jane Donaldson. Linda Dishy is the new vice chair, and Blair Brewster will serve as the new Secretary. John O’Neill and Al Feliu will continue as Treasurer and Legal Counsel, respectively.

Greg Rogers joined the Ackerman Institute Board in 2006 after participating in Ackerman’s Family Foundations and Live Clinical courses. He is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in Economics and Organizational Behavior, and earned an MBA in International Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is the Founder and current President of RayLign Advisory, a Greenwich, CT based family consulting firm with a focus on facilitating effective financial decisions in the context of family relationships. In addition, Greg is Founder and President of the RayLign Foundation, as well as advisory member of the Fairfield County Community Foundation, and board member of the Connecticut Council for Economic Education.

“Jane Donaldson, the current Board of Directors and a tremendous Faculty and Staff have put Ackerman on an extremely positive trajectory,” says Mr. Rogers. “I very much look forward to helping further apply Ackerman’s special capabilities toward strengthening families and communities worldwide.”

The Board also welcomed two new members, Diana Benzaquen and John Tyers. Ms. Benzaquen is the Vice President and Director at Brown Harris Stevens, the real estate brokerage firm. Mr. Tyers recently joined Merrill Lynch as Vice President of Broadcort, a leading provider of financial clearing services to investment advisory firms.

Ackerman One-Day Conference Focuses on New Immigrants

Dr. Evan Imber-Black (left) with Dr. Celia Falicov

Celia Falicov, PhD, an internationally known family therapy author, teacher and clinician presented a comprehensive view of “New Immigrants in Therapy: Transnational Journeys” at the Ackerman Institute’s one-day conference on June 6th. More than 150 professionals and students attended the event, which was held at the Hunter College School of Social Work.

Celia Falicov is Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. Her book, Latino Families in Therapy: A Guide to Multicultural Practice, provides a new model for both trainees and experienced therapists.

Speaking from her experience and using a series of videotapes of sessions with her own clients, Dr. Falicov explained how today’s new technologies, including cell phones, emails, skype and other devices enable new immigrants to maintain close ties with their countries of origin and families there. Even in poorer, underdeveloped countries, cyber cafes support communication.

“What a difference it makes to have that kind of immediacy,” Dr. Falicov noted.

Today, she said, it is possible for immigrants to live “with two hearts instead of a broken heart.”

In addition to technological changes, immigration, itself, has changed considerably from the past. Dr. Falicov said that today’s economic immigrants are very different from the refugees who came to the U.S. decades ago. One big change is that the ratio of women to men immigrants has doubled. In addition, it is common today for immigrants to come to the US without their children. Leaving children behind in the country of origin with grandparents or other caregivers means that there are many new types of separations and reunions that occur.

Dr. Falicov discussed three contexts for working with new immigrants: relational, community and cultural/sociopolitical.

Relational context is the one most familiar to therapists, Dr. Falicov said. She explained that new immigrants most often have a very large relational system at work. The long distance family can act as a resource, providing a collectivist system of care for children. The children involved often develop multiple attachments. In some families in which the caretakers are supportive of the absent parents, this can work well, but in other families, grandparents and other caregivers may be critical of the parents and add to the estrangement children already feel.

Dr. Falicov said that trauma can be part of separation or reunification: during separations, parents, especially solo mothers, often presented with symptoms of depression; during reunifications, it was often the children who were depressed. Mothers who have been apart from their children often need to be re-established in the family hierarchy. This can be a problem in families in which there is ambiguity between the parent and caretaker. When parents and children reunite, Dr. Falicov said, it is important to make meaning out of the separation to repair the bond between them and restore a shared family story.

“This part is very challenging,” Dr. Falicov noted. She recommended that therapists employ a number of techniques, including creating a catching up life narrative, using genograms or family trees to clarify relationships and roles, celebrating family rituals and creating a special ceremony built around a certificate of legitimization that all the family members sign.

The community context includes one of the greatest losses immigrants suffer - the loss of social capital, Dr. Falicov said. She pointed out that while there are many community-based programs that can help immigrants, these programs tended to be geared more toward refugees than today’s economic immigrants (people who come to the U.S. for jobs rather than to escape persecution). Groups do exist for both, Dr. Falicov noted, and can be especially helpful to people with no access to therapy. She recommended that family therapists learn from community-based initiatives.

The final context, the cultural and sociopolitical, focuses on how the community views the immigrant. Dr. Falicov said it was important to determine if the community acted as a source of stress or support.

Following Dr. Falicov’s morning presentation, she was joined by two guest panelists, Robert C. Smith, PhD, an Associate Professor of Sociology specializing in Immigration Studies and Public Affairs at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and Carola Suárez-Orozco, Professor of Applied Psychology at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, where she co-directs Immigration Studies.

Ms. Suárez-Orozco told the audience about a recently completed five-year longitudinal study of 400 children from immigrant families that showed that 85 percent of the children had been separated from their parents from six months to ten years. The percentage varied in different ethnic communities, but “it happens in a lot of kids’ lives,” she said. Ms. Suárez-Orozco said the study did not reveal much anger or anxiety in the children, but did find a significant amount of depression.

“The way the separation was handled made quite a difference,” she observed.

In many cases, she explained, the parents did not talk about why they were leaving to the children. Instead, they simply left. This type of separation most often was traumatic and had a bad effect on the children. In families in which parents created a separation narrative to explain why they were leaving, there was substantially less depression.

One other factor that played a key role was the way in which the caregiver handled the narrative, Ms. Suárez-Orozco continued. Caregivers who supported and reinforced the separation narrative initiated by the parents helped decrease depression in the children. Ms. Suárez-Orozko also said that the issue of immigration and separation was not unique to the United States, but an international issue.

Dr. Smith commented that one of the phenomena he observed in immigrant parents was a kid of suspension of life. Often the separation was so lengthy that the children grew up before reunification of the family took place. As a result, Dr. Smith said, parents and children who reunite often feel that they are strangers to each other. In some families, parents are viewed as “fairy godmother” figures because they only visit once in a while and usually bring gifts. The children may expect this type of relationship even after the family is reunited.

Lengthy separations also alter the roles of the family members. Children who have been raised by grandparents or other caregivers may feel they don’t have to obey parents they hardly know.

“The most difficult reunifications seem to happen among teen immigrants,” Dr. Smith said. He added that the alienation these adolescents feel sometimes leads them to join gangs when they are reunified with parents in this country.

Dr. Smith agreed with Ms. Suárez-Orozco that the way parents handle their leaving has a big impact on the children’s emotional and mental health. He said he saw a difference in gender scripts. Men are more likely to just leave with no explanation, he explained, but the children get much angrier at mothers who leave with or without explanation because there is a greater expectation that mothers will not leave their children.

“The technology is very helpful,” Dr. Smith concluded, “but there is a tremendous amount of missed opportunities.”

The conference included case consultations at lunchtime with Ackerman faculty members Mary Kim Brewster, PhD, Jean Malpas, MSW, and Laurie Kaplan, LCSW.

The conference concluded with a discussion of the advantages and pitfalls of cultural retention and long distance family and community connections in treatment decisions and advice about how to integrate all the parts of the model in treatment planning, goals, and implementation.
The one-day conference was chaired by Evan Imber-Black, PhD. The conference committee included Mary Kim Brewster, Elana Katz, LCSW, Lisa Lavelle, LCSW, Jean Malpas and Fiona True, LCSW. The conference was co-sponsored by the Hunter College School of Social Wo

Ackerman Honors Diversity Program Graduates

The Ackerman Institute recognized six students who completed the Diversity and Social Work Training Program this year at a presentation in the Library held on May 7th.

The six students are Dorimar Morales, Eddie Danner and Erika Sosa, from the Hunter College School of Social Work, and Adrianne Fiala, Jacqueline Juarez and Daniela Nunez from the NYU School of Social Work.

Laurie Kaplan, Co-Director of the Program, noted that 2008 marked the 16th year of the Diversity and Social Work Training Program, which was initiated to bring more students of color into the field. The focus of the Program is on personal as well as professional development, and the group process incorporated into the Program often mirrors what students see when they work with families, she remarked

“This kind of program is very important in terms of what it brings to society,” Sippio Small, Co-Director of the Program, said. Mr. Small added that “the important thing in a democracy is to question” and that the Ackerman Institute had always encouraged its trainees to ask many questions.

The Ackerman Institute initiated the Diversity and Social Work Training Program in 1992 as a result of the vision and generosity of Arthur Maslow, former Chair of the Ackerman Board of directors and current Trustee Emeritus. The Program was the country’s first initiative designed specifically to address the critical need for a significantly increased number of professionals of color in family therapy services in community-based social service agencies. Currently, only four percent of family therapists across the nation are people of color although it is expected that the number of minority families in the U.S. will reach 48 percent of the population by 2050. the Program offers social work students of color the opportunity to intern at Ackerman and enroll in a postgraduate training program with scholarship support.

Each student spoke briefly about his/her experience at Ackerman and presented a case. Eddie Danner’s life story demonstrated that at one time, he might have been a client at Ackerman. He was raised by a single mother, was later separated from her, and as a teenager, was drawn to street life in Harlem. Completing the Ackerman program represents a “personal triumph” he said, and he expressed his gratitude to his colleagues and the staff. “We support one another,” he said.

Jacqueline Juarez commented on how a therapist can relate strongly to a family in treatment because often the family’s issues are similar to those in the therapist’s own life. She said she had a definite connection to the family she saw because fighting was a key issue, and as a child she had refereed family fights.

Dorimar Morales said she thought the term “person of color” was a phrase coined by the dominant culture to lump all kinds of people together. Ms. Morales said she identifies in a variety of ways – as a woman, a Latina, a black and as a person from a Puerto Rican culture that is extremely diverse. In therapy sessions, she added, she identified most strongly as an immigrant although Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are not considered immigrants. As a result of her own anxiety about communicating with clients in English, Ms. Morales helped create a document called Diversity Conversation Guidelines that poses a series of questions for therapists to ask clients. The Guidelines help open communications and decrease anxiety.

Erika Sosa told the audience that her work at Ackerman intersected with her own life as her experience in losing her father was amplified by her work with a family who also experienced a loss. She said she and her co-therapist had not always agreed about how to treat their family, but that their different points of view made them a stronger team and allowed them to grow as individuals.

Adrienne Fiala observed that “beliefs influence behavior” and that she had learned how important it was not to let her beliefs influence the family she treated. She also noted that it was important to remember that different people take different meanings from the same action.

The last student to present, Daniela Nunez, said that the parent/child relationship she saw in her client related to the relationship between her and her co-therapist. The experience helped her learn to open up eventually and has altered hew way of thinking and feeling.

Many audience members expressed great appreciation for the students’ honesty in discussing their lives and their work at Ackerman.

“This is such crucial stuff,” NYU professor Allison Aldridge commented, “and so incredibly moving.”