Monday, November 30, 2009

Japanese Colleagues Visit Ackerman


A group of 13 colleagues from the Academy of Counselors in Japan, along with several Academy faculty members and translators, visited the Ackerman Institute for training in mid-November. The Academy of Counselors has participated in Ackerman's international training program for many years.

Dr. Richard Brown Presents “Breath-Mind-Body” at Alumnae/i Meeting


Dr. Richard P. Brown (second from left) with Alumnae/i Association vice president
Candice Goldberg, president Brenda Shrobe and faculty liaison David Kezur

An enthusiastic capacity crowd filled the Ackerman Institute Library on Friday, November 20th for a two-hour lecture/workshop on “Breath-Mind-Body” presented by Dr. Richard P. Brown, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. The author of How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga in Mental Health Care, Dr. Brown teaches Aikido (4th Dan), yoga and meditation, and integrates psychopharmacology and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) in his work.

While using various breathing techniques in therapy requires a significant amount of expertise and practice, Dr. Brown told the audience that their participation in the workshop would serve as a good introduction. He said that clients come to therapy very stressed and the therapist often absorbs a lot of that stress. Audience members offered several definitions of stress, including “a tightening feeling” and “a refusal to accept what is.” Dr. Brown defined stress as “any change that happens” and, he added, “change happens all the time.”

Our systems are good at buffering us against change, Dr. Brown explained. The human stress response system consists of two parts: activation and inhibition. Most people are in stress overdrive, he continued, and only recharge once in a while. People can learn to turn the stress down and recharge to achieve balance.

The simplest way to accomplish this is through breathing, Dr. Brown said. He added that yoga is even more effective at recharging the system and qiquong even more effective than yoga, but these other techniques require an investment of time that may not be available. Breathing techniques are more readily accessible.

Focusing on breathing, Dr. Brown noted that a normal person takes 15 to 18 breaths per minute. If a person is able to slow that down to five to six breaths per minute, their heart and brain systems will quickly begin to resemble those of a baby (no stress).

The human body likes comfort and regulation, Dr. Brown said. The mind, however, likes action and stimulation and the heart likes connection. As a result, people are often going in three very different directions at the same time and only rarely are all these directions synchronized.

Dr. Brown commented that our minds are not usually totally in the present; part of the mind is often in the future (resulting in worry) or the past (resulting in regret). Movement, breathing and meditation in sequence can relieve stress and also contribute to general good health. Dr. Brown said that breathing, meditation, yoga, herbs and nutrients can play a key role in the treatment not only of stress, but also of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, mass trauma, schizophrenia, cognitive disorders, traumatic brain injury, attention deficit disorder and other conditions.

During the second hour of his presentation, Dr. Brown led the group in a series of breathing and movement exercises.

After the lecture, many of the participants expressed their enthusiasm for the subject and presenter.

“I wanted to learn how to approach bringing breathing techniques into my work and get some tools and tips about how to stay centered myself,” one participant said. “This lecture really helped with both.”

Dr. Brown will return to the Ackerman Institute on Friday, April 16, 2010 to lead a full day (10 am to 4 pm) workshop: BREATHWORK AND MEDITATION FOR THERAPISTS: Integrate Stress-Reduction Techniques into your Practice. The tuition for this workshop is $125; participants can earn five CE credits. For more information or to register contact Suna Elmas at 212 879-4900, ext 111 or email training@ackerman.org.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Women's Ministry of Malaysia Visits Ackerman


Two deputies from the Women's Ministry of Malaysia visited the Ackerman Institute on April 2nd. The deputies discussed mental health issues in their country with Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute.

Visitors from Argentina

Argentinian colleagues with Catherine Lewis, far left,
Director of Community and International Training

Thirteen colleagues from Argentina came to the Ackerman Institute for two weeks of training from April 27th to May 8th. Faculty member Mary Kim Brewster and her husband, Blair Brewster, Secretary of the Ackerman Board of Directors, graciously hosted a dinner at their home in Brooklyn for the group. Faculty member Judith Stern Peck also hosted a dinner for the group.

Alumnae/i Association Wrap-Up

The Ackerman Alumnae/i Association presented its final program of the 2008-09 academic year on Friday, June 12. The program was a lecture by Martha Edwards, PhD, and Gillian Walker, LCSW, on Working with Affect: A Work in Progress.

In an introduction to the topic, Dr. Edwards explained that for many years, she considered thought and emotion separate entities. A discussion with her own therapist led her to a “huge revelation” that “every thought has a feeling.” As a result, she learned to integrate thought and feeling.

Ms. Walker said she generally disliked going to workshops, but was persuaded to attend one a few years ago that was led by Diana Fosha, author of The Transformational Power of Affect. Ms. Walker said the work done by Ms. Fosha was “the most loving work I’d ever seen with patients.” She added that working with affect is “utterly challenging, fascinating, transformative.”

Dr. Edwards then explained that the word emotion means to set in motion. Affect, she explained, helps people move and is wired in them. It is, she added, “what makes us feel alive.”

In working with affect, Dr. Edwards said, it is helpful to conceptualize a triangle of conflict with affect at the bottom. Her goal, she said, is to help her patients drop down into core affect. Often, this is difficult to accomplish because as the patient gets closer, s/he often is overcome with anxiety and institutes defenses. The solution for the therapist is to slow the entire process down. It is essential to help patients feel safe so they can drop down.

Ms.Walker demonstrated how the use of a genogram can help a therapist find explanations for the exclusion of affect. She added that the therapist is an attachment figure and working with affect is about repairing attachment. When you work with couples, she explained, you start the repair and then return it to them and they repair each other.

The other lectures presented this year were:

Understanding the Nature of the Risk: Building Support for Children and Families in Distress with Pedro A. Noguera, PhD, professor, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University; Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Urban Education; and Co-Director, Institute for the study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings, on October 23, 2008.

Back by Popular Demand: Case consultations with Ackerman Faculty with Mary Kim Brewster, PhD, Fiona True, LMSW, and Dee Watts Jones, PhD, on January 23, 2009.

Family Therapy with One Person: Coaching Individual Clients Toward Change in Family Relationships with Richard Johnson, PhD, LCSW, Director of Training, Jewish Child Care Association and professor, Columbia University School of Social Work, on March 6, 2009.

David Kezur, faculty liaison for the Association, announced in May that Brenda Shrobe and Candice Goldberg agreed to continue to serve President and Vice President of the Alumnae/i Association for an additional year while the search continued for new officers. A resolution proposing the suspension of the term limits, as stated in the By-Laws of the Association, was voted on at the June 12th meeting.

“This past year has very successful for the Alumnae/I Association program,” Brenda Shrobe said. “Membership continues to grow and the attendance at our meetings is significant. Candice and I are both delighted to serve for an extra year.”

In Memoriam: Marcia Stern

The Ackerman Institute for the Family was deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Marcia Stern on Tuesday, March 17, 2009. Dr. Stern passed away at her home in Arizona after a courageous battle against brain cancer.

“Marcia Stern was a highly respected and beloved colleague who devoted many years to the Ackerman Institute,” Lois Braverman, President of Ackerman, said. “She will be greatly missed, not only by our faculty and students, but also by the many teachers, parents and children who benefitted from her work through the years.”

As a psychologist, family therapist, and international workshop leader, Dr. Stern’s professional life was dedicated to helping children develop critically important social and emotional skills. Dr. Stern was the developer and director of Competent Kids/Caring Classrooms (CKCC), a primary prevention program for grades K-5. CKCC is a lively, interactive program that uses innovative tools, didactic instruction, puppets and original characters, music, movement, role playing, class discussion, and modeling by teachers and peers to promote children’s social-emotional competence and academic achievement. CKCC achieves this outcome by teaching children social-emotional competencies while simultaneously building caring connections within the school, and between home and school.

“Marcia knew children like no one else,” her close friend and colleague, Martha Edwards, Director of the Center for the Developing Child and Family, said. “ Her decades of experience as a teacher, guidance counselor, and school psychologist were ‘in her bones’ as she sat with children who struggled at home or in school. To this practical wisdom, she added an amazingly broad understanding of child development and neurobiology. With all of this as a foundation, she brought her wonderful spirit of playfulness, creativity and versatility that children (and their parents) found irresistible.”

Following Dr. Stern’s passing in March, the Ackerman Institute established the Marcia Stern Fund to honor her memory and continue her work. The Marcia Stern Fund will provide awards for training opportunities for educators to learn about children and their families. To date, the Fund has received more than $6,000 in gifts.

Donations to the Marcia Stern Fund are welcome. To contribute, please send your check, payable to the Ackerman Institute for the Family and with the Marcia Stern Fund written on the memo line, to Development Office, Ackerman Institute for the Family, 149 East 78th Street, New York, NY 10075.

You also may make your contribution online by going to Giving Opportunities on the Ackerman Institute website and clicking on the Marcia Stern Fund in the box titled Type of Donation.

Remembering Olga Silverstein


On February 24, 2009, the field of family therapy lost a giant and the Ackerman Institute lost a great and inspirational colleague when Olga Silverstein died at the age of 87.

Family, friends and colleagues gathered in the Ackerman library on March 25th to share their memories of Ms. Silverstein and to celebrate her life and work.

Evan Imber-Black, who served as moderator of the memorial service, recalled being inspired by Ms. Silverstein at the beginning of her own career.

“I saw Olga on tape and thought I want to be able to do that someday,” Ms. Imber-Black said. Later on, she found herself presenting at a conference with Ms. Silverstein, who provided her with a plan for her talk. “I didn’t use the plan and for 25 years, Olga stayed mad at me,” Ms. Imber-Black commented.

Almost every speaker remembered Olga Silverstein as a woman with an enormous sense of humor and fun, as well as her strong opinions. But above all, she was remembered as an extraordinarily perceptive and gifted therapist.

Ms. Imber-Black concluded her remarks with a memory that she felt really defined Ms. Silverstein. Ms. Imber-Black and Ms. Silverstein, along with several other people, were visiting a garden where they were given honey water to offer to hummingbirds flying around them. While everyone else thrashed their arms back and forth in an attempt to bring the honey water to the birds, Ms. Silverstein sat still, held out the honey water and waited for the hummingbirds to come to her. “That’s who she was,” Ms. Imber-Black said.

Peggy Papp described Ms. Silverstein as her “closest and dearest friend for 30 years. She was like a sister, like the Rock of Gibralter.” Ms. Papp then presented a slide show series of humorous drawings illustrating her adventures through the years with Ms. Silverstein. The drawings clearly demonstrated both Ms. Silverstein’s humor and her special talent as a therapist.

“I was so privileged to get to know her and she so enriched my life,” Ms. Papp said.

Peter Fraenkel provided a video clip of Ms. Silverstein in which she spoke about her view of family therapy. Ms. Silverstein said her approach was intuitive rather than theoretical and that she believed in trying many different things. She also said she believed that “the less intervention the better” because “people need to be in charge of their own lives.”

Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute, and several other speakers, all noted that Olga Silverstein was an inspirational teacher who encouraged her students to have greater confidence in themselves. Ms. Braverman said that when she first began her tenure as president of Ackerman, Ms. Silverstein, whom she had known for 20 years by then, came to her first meeting with the faculty.

“I always felt Olga was there behind me in my work,” Ms. Braverman said, “and I am so grateful to her for that.”

Echoing many other comments, Gillian Walker noted that, ”I wouldn’t be a family therapist if it wasn’t for Olga. She made us love the field as passionately as she did.”

“We all though of Olga as our mother and grandmother,” Pat Heller commented. “We thought she was magic.”

The Ackerman Institute has established the Olga Silverstein Training Award to honor the memory of Ms. Silverstein. The Award will be presented annually to a gifted student who has completed the live clinical part of Ackerman’s training program and who is entering the first-year externship. Donors may contribute to the Award fund by mailing a check, payable to the Ackerman Institute for the Family and with the Olga Silverstein Training Award written on the memo line, to Development Office, Ackerman Institute for the Family, 149 East 78th Street, New York, NY 10075 or by visiting Giving Opportunities on the Ackerman Institute website and clicking on the Olga Silverstein Training Award in the box titled Type of Donation.

Dr. Peter Steinglass Honored by Freedom Institute

Abbe and Peter Steinglass

Dr. Peter Steinglass, Director of Ackerman’s Center for Substance Abuse and the Family and President Emeritus, was honored by the Freedom Institute at its annual Mona Mansell Award Dinner at the Hotel Pierre on May 11th. The Mansell Award, named for Freedom’s founder, is given annually to an honoree deemed to have significantly advanced the field of substance abuse treatment.

In her remarks introducing Dr. Steinglass, Connie Murray, the Executive Director Emeritus of the Institute, said the Institute selected Dr. Steinglass as this year’s award recipient because of his decades of research and clinical contributions toward an understanding of the importance of family factors in substance abuse treatment.

Dr. Steinglass served as the Ackerman Institute’s third Executive Director and later as its President and CEO. He became President Emeritus in August 2005. During his career, Dr. Steinglass has won numerous awards for his work in academic psychiatry and for his clinical and research collaborations with medical and mental health institutions, including the Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Research Award from the American Family Therapy Academy. Dr. Steinglass also was a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

The Freedom Institute was founded in 1976 as a not-for-profit resource center for individuals and families affected by alcohol and drug dependency. The Institute offers a comprehensive program of family consultations, interventions, assessments, individual and group counseling and referral to Inpatient treatment centers. One of Ackerman’s alumnae, Mary McAllister, has developed a thriving family program at Freedom, with Ackerman faculty providing advanced supervision to her clinical team.

“We are so pleased that the Freedom Institute has recognized Peter for his very large and significant body of work,” Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute, said. “This honor is very well deserved and I know that everyone at Ackerman joins me in offering congratulations to Peter.”

Matthew J. Leeds Joins Ackerman Board


Matthew J. Leeds joined the Ackerman Institute for the Family’s Board of Directors in December 2008. Mr. Leeds is a real estate lawyer whose diverse practice includes the representation of owners, developers, sponsors, condominium and cooperative boards, investors and institutional real estate lenders. He has particular experience in the burgeoning area of commercial condominiums.

Mr. Leeds is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham Law School. A frequent lecturer and writer, he is a co-author of New York Practice Guide: Real Estate: Cooperatives and Condominiums, published by Matthew Bender. He is a former Chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Real Property Section and Condominiums and Cooperatives Committee. In 1999, he was elected to the American College of Real Estate Lawyers. He is been named in Best Lawyers in America and New York Super Lawyers.

Mr. Leeds began his law career as a Special Deputy Attorney General in the New York State Department of Law’s Real Estate Financing Bureau. He joined Ganfer & Shore, LLP in 2008 after 24 years with Robinson Silverman Pearce Aronsohn & Berman, LLP, which merged with the national law firm Bryan Cave, LLP in 2004.

Mr. Leeds said he first became aware of Ackerman several years ago when the law firm he was with at the time did some legal work for the Institute. At that time, he met several Board members. Last year, Jane Donaldson contacted him and asked if he would join the Board.

“Everyone I met who explained the Ackerman approach struck a chord with me because the approach just seemed right,” Mr. Leeds said.

Serving on the Board also satisfied his interest in working with human services organizations.

“This is an area I wanted to explore,” he explained.

Mr. Leeds said that because he is so new to the Board, he has not yet identified what specific interests he may pursue, but added that he hoped his experience and legal background would be helpful.

“I look forward to sharing my knowledge and to learning new things myself,” he said

Six New Ackerman Graduates Present at the Annual Diversity Lecture


Six new graduates of the Diversity and Social Work Training Program presented cases and spoke about the ways the program changed their lives at a moving ceremony in the Ackerman Library on May 6, 2009.

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. The Program offers social work students of color the opportunity to intern at Ackerman and enroll in a postgraduate training program with scholarship support. Mr. Maslow and his wife, Carol, attended this year’s presentation.

Laurie Kaplan and Sippio Small, Co-Directors of the Program, spoke briefly to the students and guests before the presentation. Ms. Kaplan noted that many of the students in the Program had never worked with families before or with a co-therapist.

“The group experience is a very big part of this Program,” she explained.

Mr. Small recommended two books to the students, Families of the Slum by Salvatore Minuchin and Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown. Mr. Small observed that “just getting families to come in is a big start” when working in marginalized communities.

The first student who spoke, Brandyn McKinley from Columbia University, said the Program took her “on an unexpected journey.” She said that a large part of her educational experience was her development of a “language of clinical practice” that helped her learn how to ask questions and trust her own judgment. Ms. McKinley said that the case she was presenting resonated strongly with her because one of the objectives she set was to help the wife in the family express her feelings more often. As she worked with the family, Ms. McKinley said she herself began to move past her fear of not being perfect and became more vocal in the sessions.

Cahlel Gumbs from New York University said she had grown both professionally and personally as a result of her enrollment in the Program. She said that when she created a genogram of her own family, it made her question why she knew nothing of her father’s history. The value of the genogram, she said, is that “it highlights patterns in family history and secrets in families.” Ms. Gumbs used the knowledge she gained about her personal life as she worked with a family with an absentee father.

Leighton Whyte, from Hunter College, said that his childhood was characterized by a love of fantasy and a resentment of authority.

“I didn’t like being told what to do,” he explained. “I thought people who told me what to do were trying to steal my voice.”

Mr. Whyte found his clearer understanding of how those issues affected his own life informed his work with the family he treated. Because he didn’t like being told what to do, Mr. Whyte found himself reluctant to intervene with the couple he was treating and relying too heavily on his co-therapist to “save me.” During the course of the Program, Mr. Whyte said he “learned how to assert myself more and also how to take advice from others.”

The fourth student, Silvia Espinal, from New York University, had a special interest in working with immigrant families. Her presentation focused on a family with an absentee father and immigration issues. Ms. Espinal said she identified strongly with the children in the family because she also was an immigrant and had been separated for a period of time from her own mother. Ms. Espinal said that when she first came to the U.S., she had difficulty learning English, but expressed herself through photography. She shared her love of the visual arts with the family she treated and, especially, with one of the children who also was interested in art.

Dolores McCullough from Columbia University came to the Diversity and Social Work Training Program after a career of more than 20 years in human services. She described herself as very task oriented and said her turning point in the Program came when Sippio Small asked her not to prepare a plan for her next session with her family.

“This truly unnerved me,” Ms. McCullough said, “but it helped me learn to focus more on the process. Not planning gave me an opportunity to reflect and I saw that therapy can be a guide rather than a solution.”

The final student to present, Jose Frias from Hunter College, said he had always worked alone and the group experience was totally new to him. The family Mr. Frias worked with was having difficulties with commitment and also dealing with issues of loss. Mr. Frias, who was dealing with the loss of a close friend, himself, said the team helped him develop new approaches to deal with such difficult concerns and to recognize how to use personal issues appropriately.

A number of faculty members from the Hunter College School of Social Work, the Columbia University School of Social Work and New York University’s Silver School of Social Work attended the presentation. They praised the Program for its excellence and the students for their honesty about their own issues and their dedication to the families they treated.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ari Lev Explores a Family Systems Approach to Gender Variance in Families

Evan Imber-Black with Ari Lev

After 25 years of work with families affected by gender issues, Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev, LCSW, CASAC, sees some progress, but also believes there is much work still to be done.

“Most gender therapists don’t address family issues,” she explained at the Ackerman Institute for the Family’s one-day conference on May 15th. At the same time, Ms. Lev said, many family therapists are not “fluent in the gender community.”

“My stand is that gender variance is a normal expression of human diversity,” Ms. Lev said. “My goal is to build a bridge between the family therapy and gender communities.”

Ms. Lev noted that gender variance has always existed and gender variance disorder is not about an individual’s gender, but society’s reaction to it. Family acceptance or rejection is the core issues, she explained. Ms. Lev said she believed that transgender emergence is a normative life cycle event, a part of the development process.

There are many terms and many definitions within the transgender umbrella, Ms. Lev explained. The terms include gender variant, gender atypical, gender non-conforming, transgender, transsexual, cross-dressers, intersex, trans men (female to male) and transgender women (male to female), gender benders and gender blenders, bi-gendered, third sex, two spirits and gender queer. Ms. Lev said that in spite of the fact that gender variance crosses all classes, races and ethnic lines and spans all ages (she has worked with clients ranging in age from four to 82), it is poorly understood by most medical and mental health professionals. One factor that may play a role is that gender variance clients who come for therapy often initially seek help for the same broad concerns as any other client, rather than a specific gender-related concern. For example, a couple may seek therapy for a child who is having behavior problems without identifying the child as a cross-dresser or connecting his/her behavior issues to gender identity confusion.

Ms. Lev said that when she began her practice in the 1980s, she had no special training for working with clients with gender issues and also had to work through her own biases. After many years of practice, she said she believed there is no “typical” client with these issues, but a broad range of people with a variety of concerns.

Approximately two percent of all babies born have either ambiguous genitalia or an intersex condition, Mr. Lev said. In most cases, a doctor performs surgery to assign a sex, usually female. Most of these children are unaware of their past.

Ms. Lev said that assigning a sex raised concerns because sex and gender are not the same.

“Sex is about physiology,” Ms. Lev noted. “Gender is about a person’s inner sense of self.”

“I am often asked, why do people want to change their sex?” Ms. Lev said. “My answer is that I have no idea.”

Ms. Lev said there was some evidence that biology, brain chemistry and prenatal hormones played a role is sexual identity but other factors, such as social learning and family pathology, might also be involved. She pointed out that these considerations were the same ones identified in past years as ”causes” of gayness.

“In the end, what does it matter?” she asked.

While pinpointing the causes of gender variance may not necessarily be a priority, Ms. Lev said, understanding the consequences of crossing the boundaries of sex and gender is vitally important for therapists because of the ways in which clients’ lives are affected. Gender variance often leads to social dilemmas, legal quandaries, medical issues, family ostracism, loss of custody of children, unemployment and severe underemployment, lack of civil rights in housing and street violence.

Within the medical profession, the transgender person often is pathologized, Ms. Lev said. She explained that Gender Identity Disorder is included in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) and is unlikely to be removed in the near future. However, the DSM is developing a more flexible standard of care. Ms. Lev said it was important for therapists, who often serve as “gatekeepers” to doctors who perform sexual reassignment surgery, to assess clients without pathologizing them.

“This doesn’t mean that anything goes,” Ms. Lev explained. “We do need to assess for psychological difficulties, mental illness, trauma histories and unresolved sexual identity disturbances, persistent gender identity issues and other factors. “

Ms. Lev said that approval for surgical treatment should not depend on being mentally ill, but on being mentally sound enough to make empowered and healthy decisions.

Ms. Lev then outlined a series of phases in the process and the role of the therapist. The first stage is awareness and the therapeutic task is to normalize the process. The second phase is seeking help or reaching out and the therapeutic task is to facilitate. The third phase is disclosure to others and the therapeutic task is to support. The next phase is exploration through language and body modification, followed by integration into the community. The therapist’s role in the last two phases are to help overcome turmoil, facilitate negotiation between clients and families in order to identify what the families can and cannot accept and support clients in finding the balance that enables them to integrate the transgendered person into the normative life of the family as a transgendered person. This balance may vary widely in different families, but some kind of balance is essential.

Working with the families presents numerous challenges as so many issued may be involved, including lack of information, confusion, fear, stigma, financial, legal and medical upheaval, isolation, shame and blame, concern for the impact on children, trust and betrayal and the impact on sexual relationships.

In the afternoon portion of the conference, Ms. Lev made use of a number of video presentations to illustrate her points and Ackerman faculty member Jean Malpas, LMFT, LMHC, served as Discussant.

The May 15th event was the Ackerman Institute’s third one-day conference. Last year’s presenter was Celia Falicov, PhD, who spoke on "New Immigrants in Family Therapy: Transnational Journeys". In 2007, the first conference focused on the work of Peggy Papp and Olga Silverstein. Each year, the one-day conference provides a spotlight for therapists who have demonstrated original thinking and developed groundbreaking work. The conference is overseen by Evan Imber-Black, PhD, Director of Ackerman’s Center for Families and Health.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ackerman Webinar Program Brings Workshops to a Wider Audience

More than 50 people participated in the Ackerman Institute’s latest webinar, Getting Past "Never Again": Creating Forgiveness, led by Sue Johnson, EdD, CPsych, on May 13th. The presentation represented Ackerman’s most technologically advanced webinar as Dr. Johnson presented from her base in Canada while Catherine Lewis, Director of Community and International Training, and Climeen Wikoff, Administrative Director, monitored the webinar in New York.

A webinar is an interactive online learning experience conducted via the Internet (to view presenter, Power Point presentations and video edits) and teleconferencing (to hear presenter's audio). It is live and takes place in real time. During the webinar, participants have an opportunity to contribute and participate in Q&A via chat and phone.

“We know there is a large audience of professionals outside of New York who would love to be able to participate in Ackerman’s workshops,” Ms. Lewis said. “The webinar program is Ackerman’s first foray into the world of distance learning, which we believe, has great promise for the future. We are very excited to be able to offer a variety of outstanding programs.”

“This was the first webinar we broadcast with a presenter at a remote location and it worked beautifully,” Ms. Wikoff said. “Our ability to do this means there is almost no limit to the variety of webinars we can present in the future.”

In an email sent to Ackerman following the webinar, one participant said, “I was a little nervous about trying a webinar, but I must say it worked out very well. This is a great way to learn without inconvenience. Please keep them coming.”

A second participant commented that she “got a lot out of it and was thrilled to finally ‘webinar.’”

The Ackerman Institute inaugurated its webinar program in March with a presentation on Work and Family Life: Mastering the Great Juggling Act with Peter Fraenkel, PhD, Director of Ackerman Institute for the Family’s Center for Work and Family.

On April 15th, Dr. Evan Imber-Black, Director of Ackerman’s Center for Families and Health, presented Rituals for our Times: Celebrating, Healing and Changing our Lives and our Relationships.

On April 21st, Dr. Martha Edwards presented Guidance Tools for Positive Parenting.

Most of Ackerman’s webinars are being created for professional audiences. Dr. Edwards’ webinar was open also to parents.

The Ackerman Institute is approved by the APA; NASW, NJ; NASW, NY; and NASW, CT to offer continuing education credits. Webinar registrants are eligible to receive 1.5 CE credits for each 90 minute webinar.

Webinar information is available on the Ackerman website, http://www.ackerman.org/. The Training Department also sends email announcements. If you are not receiving webinar email announcements and would like to receive them, please email your name and organization to: training@ackerman.org.

Annual Theatre Benefit Raises $125,000

Lois Braverman with Alice Netter

In a year marked by serious economic losses in every sector of society, the 2009 Theatre Benefit raised almost $125,000 in support for the Ackerman Institute. The April 21st event, a performance of the new play Impressionism starring Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen, Marsha Mason and Andre de Shields, included a pre-theatre dinner, held in the Manhattan Ballroom (designed by Ackerman Board member Arnold Syrop) in the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.

Approximately 220 friends and supporters of the Ackerman Institute purchased play tickets; around 120 people attended the dinner.

“I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart,” Alice Netter, Chair of the Theatre Benefit, told the guests at the dinner. Mrs. Netter said she was especially grateful to the event’s supporters this year because the downturn in the economy has had a negative impact on many fundraising events.

In her remarks, Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute, praised Mrs. Netter for her dedication to Ackerman.

“Putting together an evening like this requires enormous commitment and a lot of hard work,” Ms. Braverman said. “Once again, Alice Netter has done an outstanding job.”

Ms. Braverman also thanked the guests for their support.

“The Theatre Benefit is very important to Ackerman because the funds it raises help make it possible for us to continue to serve children and families in need,” Ms. Braverman said. “The mission of the Ackerman Institute is to help couples and families address and overcome the challenges they face in their lives. The Institute helps build stronger families by supporting family members as they work together to mobilize their strengths, resources and resilience in order to solve their problems.
By building stronger families, we build a better world, and your generosity makes that possible.”

Click here to view more Theatre Benefit photos.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Remembering Olga Silverstein


On February 24, 2009, the field of family therapy lost a giant and the Ackerman Institute lost a great and inspirational colleague when Olga Silverstein died at the age of 87.

Family, friends and colleagues gathered in the Ackerman library on March 25th to share their memories of Ms. Silverstein and to celebrate her life and work.

Evan Imber-Black, who served as moderator of the memorial service, recalled being inspired by Ms. Silverstein at the beginning of her own career.

“I saw Olga on tape and thought I want to be able to do that someday,” Ms. Imber-Black said. Later on, she found herself presenting at a conference with Ms. Silverstein, who provided her with a plan for her talk. “I didn’t use the plan and for 25 years, Olga stayed mad at me,” Ms. Imber-Black commented.

Almost every speaker remembered Olga Silverstein as a woman with an enormous sense of humor and fun, as well as her strong opinions. But above all, she was remembered as an extraordinarily perceptive and gifted therapist.

Ms. Imber-Black concluded her remarks with a memory that she felt really defined Ms. Silverstein. Ms. Imber-Black and Ms. Silverstein, along with several other people, were visiting a garden where they were given honey water to offer to hummingbirds flying around them. While everyone else thrashed their arms back and forth in an attempt to bring the honey water to the birds, Ms. Silverstein sat still, held out the honey water and waited for the hummingbirds to come to her. “That’s who she was,” Ms. Imber-Black said.

Peggy Papp described Ms. Silverstein as her “closest and dearest friend for 30 years. She was like a sister, like the Rock of Gibralter.” Ms. Papp then presented a slide show series of humorous drawings illustrating her adventures through the years with Ms. Silverstein. The drawings clearly demonstrated both Ms. Silverstein’s humor and her special talent as a therapist.

“I was so privileged to get to know her and she so enriched my life,” Ms. Papp said.

Peter Fraenkel provided a video clip of Ms. Silverstein in which she spoke about her view of family therapy. Ms. Silverstein said her approach was intuitive rather than theoretical and that she believed in trying many different things. She also said she believed that “the less intervention the better” because “people need to be in charge of their own lives.”

Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute, and several other speakers, all noted that Olga Silverstein was an inspirational teacher who encouraged her students to have greater confidence in themselves.

Ms. Braverman said that when she first began her tenure as president of the Ackerman Institute, Ms. Silverstein, whom she had known for 20 years by then, came to her first meeting with the faculty.

“I always felt Olga was there behind me in my work,” Ms. Braverman said, “and I am so grateful to her for that.”

Echoing many other comments, Gillian Walker noted that, ”I wouldn’t be a family therapist if it wasn’t for Olga. She made us love the field as passionately as she did.”

“We all though of Olga as our mother and grandmother,” Pat Heller commented. “We thought she was magic.”

The Ackerman Institute has established the Olga Silverstein Training Award to honor the memory of Ms. Silverstein. The Award will be presented annually to a gifted student who has completed the live clinical part of Ackerman’s training program and who is entering the first-year externship.

Donors may contribute to the Award fund by mailing a check, payable to the Ackerman Institute for the Family and with the Olga Silverstein Training Award written on the memo line, to Shelley Uva, Director of Development, Ackerman Institute for the Family, 149 East 78th Street, New York, NY 10075 or by visiting Giving Opportunities on the Ackerman Institute website and clicking on the Olga Silverstein Training Award in the box titled Type of Donation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Richard Johnson Presents Workshop on Family Therapy with One Person

Presenter Richard Johnson (left) with Alumnae/i Association President,
Vice President Candice Goldberg and Faculty Liaison David Kezur



More than 45 alumnae/i and guests attended Family Therapy with One Person: Coaching Individual Clients Toward Change in Family Relationships, the Alumnae/i Association lecture presented by Richard Johnson, PhD, LCSW, on Friday, March 6th.

Dr. Johnson began his presentation with an excerpt from the Academy-Award winning film, Moonstruck. In the movie’s final scene, a husband faces up to his adultery and reconciles with his wife; two brothers who have feuded for years put aside their differences; and a lonely widow convinced she is "bad luck" accepts a new love.

The message of the clip is that family members often fail one another in important and painful ways, yet they remain family forever and must find their way forward.

Dr. Johnson began by noting that while helping clients deal with difficult family relationships is a major part of most therapy, planful techniques for this work are not widely used. Coaching is an approach grounded in ideas developed by Murray Bowen and elaborated by Monica McGoldrick and Betty Carter. Coaching, or family therapy with one person, offers clients a process for making change in their family relationships even without the participation of other family members.

Coaching is "differentiation in action," Dr. Johnson said, guiding clients through a process of changing their own participation in unsatisfying family relational patterns. For clients who are ready to "let go of the rope," coaching teaches the possibility of dealing with differences, even deep differences, without loosing connection – without resorting to "fight or flight." Instead, coaching teaches clients to observe non-reactively the relationship patterns in their original family, explore their own role in these patterns, and move planfully toward changing their part in the family dance.

The process involves an exploration of family relationship history through use of a genogram, a timeline, and the teaching of basic family systems concepts that organize our understanding of family relational life. In this work, the client moves away from a stance of emotional reactivity into one of family researcher. The perspective gained from this shift supports the client’s work to unhook from intense reactivity to these patterns. The process of change, Dr. Johnson said, is built upon an ownership of one’s emotional reactivity to the old triggers in family relationships, and depends upon client resolve to move beyond reactivity to real choice.

The goal of coaching, Dr. Johnson said, quoting Monica McGoldrick, is "to help clients define themselves proactively in family relationships without emotionally cutting off or giving in." The coaching mantra guiding clients in family interactions is "don’t attack, don’t defend, don’t placate, don’t withdraw."

The kinds of changes clients ultimately attempt (client differentiation moves), Dr. Johnson said, happen on three levels. The simplest and least anxiety provoking move involves altering rote patterns of interaction with family members that have no vitality - ie. doing things differently in ways that signal interest rather than obligation. A second, more challenging, move is the purposeful deepening of authentic, personal, one-to-one relationships with family members in circumstances outside larger family gatherings. The third and boldest move involves withdrawing from back channel family processes and asking at all times for direct, transparent family interaction. Dr. Johnson described experiences, from his private practice, of shifts clients have made that led to more satisfying family connections. He also spoke about clients who are moving more cautiously and struggling with resentments of which they are not ready to let go.

In the course of his talk, Dr. Johnson used film clips to illustrate the dilemmas of differentiation: one from the clinical work of Peggy Papp; the other from the film I Never Sang for My Father. Both clips highlighted the painful cost of high emotional reactivity to the pressures of family life. Two other films were used to illustrate the powerful ways family history shapes family life and constrains relationships: one from the clinical work of Monica McGoldrick; the other from Nobody’s Business, a documentary film by Alan Berliner that focuses on his father’s life .

In the question-and-answer session following the lecture, several audience members spoke of the ways in which coaching might be applicable to their own family situations. One of the themes participants shared in this discussion was the dilemma for family therapists who, in seeking to influence patterns in their own families lives, are often perceived as professional meddlers who are using their knowledge as power.

The next Alumnae/i Association Lecture, the last of the 2008-2009 academic year, is on May 1. Martha Edwards, PhD, will speak on An Integrated Approach to Working with Couples.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ackerman Alumnae/i Association Presents Case Consultations


An expectant mother suffering from depression and isolation and a mother and child traumatized by violence were the focus of the two cases presented at the Ackerman Alumnae/i Association’s Case Consultations on Friday, January 23rd. Case Consultations, in which alumni present cases to a panel of Ackerman faculty, is one of the Alumnae/i Association’s most popular annual events. This year’s panel (pictured above from left to right) included Fiona True, LMSW, Dee Watts-Jones, PhD, and Mary Kim Brewster, PhD, who shared their insights and fielded questions from the presenters and an audience of 25 alumnae/i, students and guests.

The next Alumnae/i Association meeting is on Friday, March 6, when Richard Johnson, PhD, LCSW, will present Family Therapy with One Person: Coaching Individual Clients Toward Change in Family Relationships. Admission to Alumnae/i Association events is free for members who have paid their $50 annual dues. Admission is $10 per event for students and externs and $25 per event for other guests. Registration is available online at the Ackerman website.