Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ackerman’s 50 Years, One Historical Conference

The Ackerman Institute proudly hosted a conference marking its 50 years, with key note speakers in the morning framing the historical value of the Institute in the context of family therapy. The room was packed with nearly 200 participants from all ages and backgrounds, many of them with significant ties to the Institute, including former executive directors Don Bloch and Peter Steinglass, as well as the first Director of Training at the Ackerman Institute, Kitty La Perriere.

“Inceptive, non-derivative, pioneering, and vital – this is the Ackerman Institute for the Family,” said Evan Imber-Black in her speech which opened the conference. Senior faculty member, and Director of the Center for Health and the Family, Evan had the tall task of giving a social history of the last 50 years– contextualizing not only the growth of family therapy and development of the ideas at the Institute, but of the politics, history, and economics of the world at large. Through her engaging slides, people had a chance to really understand how history changed the course of family therapy and vice versa. She ended with an encouraging baton pass to the next generation of therapists: "in a place where passion and curiosity in the service of families is a primary value, I can hardly wait to see what will be next."

Mary-Kim Brewster showed a case demonstrating the strength of the Ackerman Relational Approach. Her case showed the role culture, language, and family of origin processes play in relationships, and as a Senior Faculty Member who is herself bi-cultural, she communicated the importance of understanding and respecting the families’ context when working with the Ackerman Relational Approach.

Jean Malpas’ talk on transgender relationships opened the audience to the new dynamics of gender and sexuality in the 21st century and how these changes are affecting the field of family therapy and more specifically the task at hand for the Ackerman Institute. His work, which has been shown and presented in Latin America and Europe as well, comes at a significant time as he launches the Gender and Family Project at the Ackerman Institute.

Marcia Sheinberg, Director of Training, put both these cases into context. Although each case appeared to be so different, she was able to show the audience how the Ackerman Relational Approach gives therapists a guide to working with families and yet let’s them attend to the distinctiveness of each family, no matter what their problem or context."Today Jean's and Mary's work demonstrate how Ackerman remains vital and relevant. In both instances, the therapists stimulate us to re-examine our own biases and assumptions, challenging us to think and re-think about our way of working. In so doing we expand our personal and professional lives. It is indeed what keeps the work exciting and continuously evolving."

During the afternoon, attendees split into smaller groups and were able to choose from a myriad of workshop topics. Workshop topics included treating children with relational trauma, working with children and families in foster care, talking with families in the context of chronic illness, engaging parents of troubled adolescents, applying a multi-cultural perspective on jealousy and infidelity, acknowledging social location in therapy, facilitating conversations on money with families, and promoting sensitive and effective parenting with young children. 

The day served to contextualize Ackerman's history, mark its contributions to the field of family therapy, and demonstrate its current direction and practice. Everyone left the conference with a new-found knowledge of the huge strides that were made in the last 50 years in the field and were inspired to help make the next 50 just as successful.

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