Monday, December 17, 2012

How Do We Talk to Children About the Unspeakable?

Our hearts and our prayers go out to the families of the children, teachers, and staff of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A tragedy like this is impossible to comprehend.

Parents and caring adults can help children process information in a way that is appropriate to their age. Martha Edwards, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Developing Child and Family, shares some ways to help children cope in these difficult times below.

Lois Braverman
President & CEO


Martha E. Edwards, Ph.D.
Director, Center for the Developing Child and Family

I was in my office this morning with parents of a 7-year-old. On the way to school, after a brief reference to the Newtown shooting on the radio which his mom turned off immediately, he broke the news to her that “something happened” and told her what he had learned from other children the day before.

This is a poignant reminder that we can’t always control the information our children receive and they can easily get the wrong idea. This boy assumed his mother’s silence about the event meant that she didn’t know about it and it was his job to tell her as gently as he could what had happened.

They went on to have a meaningful and developmentally appropriate conversation about what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.

How do we talk about the unspeakable? If we can’t make sense of it ourselves, how can we help our children make sense of it?

We don’t know why this happened, and we may never know what was in the mind and heart of the shooter, but we can help our children process their own experience and to feel they are not alone in their reactions. Here are some ways of helping children in these difficult times:
  • Put away newspapers with huge headlines of the shooting and avoid the 24 hours news cycles that focus heavily on the event. Be the main source of information for your child. Newspapers and TV are not geared toward children’s sensibilities and need to be limited as much as possible.
  • Find out what your children know already and give them opportunities to ask whatever questions they have. Answer honestly and simply. Children don’t need too much detail.
  • Children may need several very small conversations rather than one big one. An important aspect of these conversations is that they know that you know what happened and will join the adults in figuring out what to do about it. This will reassure them and contribute to their feelings of safety and security.
  • Share your own feelings with your children, which will give them a model for paying attention to their own feelings. Feelings of sadness and empathy for the children and their families will be most helpful at this point, rather than airing your own outrage, anger, and helplessness.
  • Some children may worry that they could get so mad that they might hurt someone. Acknowledge that anger is a powerful emotion that we all feel at times. Let them know that you understand and are there to talk about these feelings and help them decide what to do.
  • Let them know that the grown-ups around them are thinking hard about what to do about this and working on solutions that will make things better in the future.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tribute to Families Gala 2012

Martha Fling and Alice Netter,
Gala Co-Chairs
Our sixth annual Tribute to Families gala, was held the evening of Monday, October 22nd at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. It was a memorable event, co-chaired by our dedicated board members, Alice Netter and Martha Fling. Nearly 300 guests gathered to make the evening a great success, helping the Ackerman Institute reach and surpass the event’s fundraising goal.

Natalie Morales, host for the evening
Among our guests were members of our board of directors, our colleagues, their families and their friends. The evening was hosted by Natalie Morales, News Anchor of NBC News’ TODAY and Co-Host of the third hour. C. Hugh Hildesley, Executive Vice President of Sotheby’s, expertly presided over our live auction, and Chris Gillespie, from the renowned Carlyle Hotel, provided musical ambiance with his signature blend of classical and jazz music.

Auctioneer C. Hugh Hildesley
Several press and celebrities took a special interest in our event this year: Lori Sokol of The Huffington Post, Cheryl Wills of NY1 News, Tamsen Fadal, anchor at WPIX News, Timothy Mandala of The Ropes, Wendy Diamond, correspondent on The Today Show, and Stacey Tisdale from Need to Know, and noted photojournalist, Javier Gomez.

Martha Fling presented the Ackerman Distinguished Service Award to Baron Davis, a two-time NBA All-Star Veteran Point Guard, to honor his work with young people through his 12-year old foundation, Rising Stars of America. Read more about this honor...

Tribute to Families Gala at
the Waldorf=Astoria
Board Chair, John O’Neill, presented the Ackerman Corporate Partner Award to Gregory T. Rogers of RayLign Advisory, LLC, for the company’s commitment to helping families build solid and trusting relationships. Read more about this honor...

We are deeply grateful to our family of friends and supporters for coming together to celebrate the work of the Ackerman Institute for the Family. Our 2012 Tribute to Families gala was a great deal of fun and an outstanding success.

More Gala: Honoring RayLign, LLC

Board Chair, John O'Neill presents
award to Gregory Rogers of RayLign
Board Chair, John O’Neill, presented the 2012 Ackerman Corporate Partner Award to fellow board member Gregory T. Rogers, Founder and President of RayLign, LLC, in recognition of the company’s commitment to strengthening families and its unwavering support of the Ackerman Institute for the Family.

In Greg’s words: “The day to day challenges that face families are dynamic, varied and complex. To accept an award from Ackerman is acknowledgement that our firm has met a high standard for empathy, creativity and competency helping families overcome the everyday challenges confronting family well being. My team at RayLign, and our clients, have grown tremendously through our working partnership with Ackerman. We are truly honored to accept Ackerman’s Corporate Partner Award.

Gregory Rogers of RayLign, LLC,
Recipient of the Ackerman
Corporate Partner Award
Greg joined the board of directors in 2006, serving as chairman from 2008-2011, and he continues to provide his leadership, guidance and support to benefit the families we serve at the Ackerman Institute.

More Gala: Honoring Baron Davis

Martha Fling, Gala Co-Chair, presents
award to Baron Davis
Gala co-chair and board member Martha Fling presented the 2012 Ackerman Distinguished Service Award to Baron Davis, a two-time NBA All-Star Veteran Point Guard, to honor his work with young people through the Rising Stars of America Foundation. Baron founded Rising Stars with a mission to use athletics as an entry point for young people to learn ethics, social values, and life skills.

Ackerman Distinguished Service Award
Recipient Baron Davis

In Baron’s words: “Rising Stars is about helping these kids find out who they are, teaching them skills and helping them to become young leaders in their communities. It’s also about teaching the parents how to coach their kids, how to be there for them, and when the parents are not there, that’s when we step in, and we bridge that gap. It is really an honor and a privilege to be here [accepting the Ackerman Distinguished Service Award].”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spotlight on the Center for Developing Child and Family

Martha Edwards, Director of the Center
for Developing Child and Family
The Center for the Developing Child and Family supports the development of children and their families at home and at school. The Center has several projects such as Bright Beginnings, Personal Best, Resilient Families: Children with Special Needs, and Competent Kids Caring Communities, to help meet the needs of families with children. Recently, several of these projects have received grants to expand their programs throughout the city. In the following interview, Founder and Director of the Center, Martha Edwards discusses the recent accomplishments and impact of the Center’s work. 

You have a lot going on – working with families with very young children, implementing a program in the New York City public schools, creating a new project for families with special needs children. Can you tell us about these three areas of your work?
It’s very exciting because we just received two new grants -- one for our work in the schools and a second to work with teen mothers. Our third program – for special needs children and their families – is looking for additional funding.

Let’s start with the recent recognition and grant that the Competent Kids, Caring Communities program received.
Garden of Achievers from
Competent Kids, Caring Communities
The exciting news is that, on the basis of a controlled study we conducted, Competent Kids, Caring Communities was carefully reviewed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and designated as a “well-designed, high quality, and evidence-based” program for teaching social emotional skills in schools. CASEL is a well-known and highly respected organization, so this is a major recognition within the field. We just heard that on the basis of this recognition, we were awarded a $100,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation to support our “scaling up” so that we can increase the number of schools CKCC can reach.

Teacher doing deep breathing
exercises with students
Competent Kids, Caring Communities (CKCC) promotes students’ success in school by helping them develop key social and emotional skills and to connect families to their children’s learning, both of which are key to children’s success in school and in life. We do this by going into schools and providing tools and training to teachers and staff, who are then able to foster student learning while also more directly involving parents. Teachers conduct weekly lessons so that children can develop skills like self awareness, problem solving, and conflict resolution. In doing so, both their behavior and academic performance improve, and ultimately, they become better citizens of the world.

This recognition and grant come at a perfect time. In July, Tynisha Wynder joined CKCC Director Zina Rutkin and faculty members Fran Schwartz and Irma Mazan as the program’s full-time Coordinator and will be a major force in shepherding CKCC’s expansion.

Center Associate Director, Judy Grossman, started the Special Needs Project this year.  What has her group been focused on?
Working with Center faculty Sara Goldsmith, the team (comprised of Ackerman graduates) spent the first half of the year as a learning community, augmenting their family therapy skills with additional information about developmental disabilities, brain research, different therapeutic approaches, and the special education process. The project then began to take referrals and see families through the Ackerman Treatment Center who have children with autism, ADHD and other special needs. This year we are expanding to include: (1) A discussion group for parents with special needs children; (2) staff development workshops at schools and community agencies so they can implement family-centered practices with special needs children; and (3) training and co-leading parent discussion groups in schools so their staff can offer this service to their families. We are looking for additional funding so that we can offer these services to as many families as possible.

What is happening with your parenting programs for families with young children: Bright Beginnings and Personal Best?
Mother participating in Bright Beginnings with her 2 children
Bright Beginnings is a parenting intervention for families with infants and toddlers. There are several components: (1) a group for parents with their children that includes discussion and parent-child activities; (2) home visits that reinforce and individualize what the parents and children did in the groups; and (3) a video component where the parent and professional watch a video of the parent interacting with the child to identify both the unique characteristics and the strengths in the relationship and to encourage parental reflection about what their children needs from them.

Personal Best is a 16-week group intervention for parents (without their children). Based on principles of adult development, it is designed to help parents improve their coping, communication and problem solving skills and also support them in their multiple roles as parent, partner, worker, and community member.

Although Bright Beginnings and Personal Best are “stand alone” manualized curricula, we think that parents really benefit from participating in both. We are doing that in three Early Head Start Programs in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens and in one community agency in Brooklyn. We have trained approximately 50 staff in these agencies to implement an integrated version of Bright Beginnings and Personal Best in which over 700 families have participated. Groups are conducted in English, Spanish, and three Chinese dialects and all of the parent materials have been translated into Spanish and Chinese. Center faculty Barbara Russek and Yolanda Martinez are taking the lead on implementing our revised video feedback and home visiting components.

The Bright Beginnings and Personal Best programs have been funded by the Robin Hood Foundation for multiple years and just received new grants from two other foundations.  Can you tell us a little bit about how these will be used?

Family involved in the Personal Best Program
Last year the Shoolman Foundation awarded us a one-year grant to work with two residential programs for teen mothers in foster care. With Center faculty Chris Reynolds and Sabina Fila as consultants, we have implemented Bright Beginnings and Personal Best at New York Foundling in Manhattan and Leake and Watts in the Bronx. Not only are we training the staff how to run the Bright Beginnings and Personal Best groups, we are working with the staff to take the principles from each curricula into their day-to-day interactions with the young mothers. For example, if one of the goals for the young mothers is to help them be more patient with their children, how can the staff model patience in their relationship with the mothers? We have found that much of the way we influence parenting is by a parallel process which means developing a relationship between staff and parent with the same qualities that we are looking to help parents develop with their children. These include, for example, attunement, mutual respect, encouragement, and support.

As a result of hearing about our work with teen mothers in these residential programs, New York’s ACS Commissioner, Ron Richter, asked us to expand our reach to include teen mothers living in foster homes. We currently have a planning grant from New Yorkers for Children Foundation to conduct a series of focus groups with teen mothers, foster parents, home finders, and case planners as well as interviews with agencies across the city to assess what teen parents in foster care need to make a successful transition into adulthood and parenthood and to give their babies a good start in life. Center Administrator, Brenda Nikelsberg, is back from maternity leave and is working with us on organizing all the information we’re collecting so that we can develop a strategic plan for these young mothers and their children.

To learn more about the Center for Developing Child and Family, go to the Ackerman Institute website at:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Natalie Morales to Host A Tribute to Families Gala, the 2012 Benefit for Ackerman Institute for the Family

Lois Braverman, President and CEO, Ackerman Institute for the Family, announced today the honorees and host for A Tribute to Families to take place at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel on Monday, October 22nd in New York City.

This year’s Ackerman Award Honorees will be:
Ackerman Corporate Partner Award:
•    Gregory T. Rogers, Founder and Managing Partner, RayLign Advisory LLC;
Ackerman Distinguished Service Award:
•    Baron Davis, Point Guard, NBA Veteran Point Guard, and Founder, Rising Stars of America

Natalie Morales
Natalie Morales, News Anchor of NBC News’ TODAY and Co-Host of the third hour, will host the evening for the second year in a row to benefit the vital programs and ongoing services for children and families at the Ackerman Institute for the Family.

“I support the Ackerman Institute for the Family because it helps conventional and unconventional families address and overcome deep and sometimes painful personal and societal issues,” says Natalie Morales. “Ackerman is a dynamic institution that is continuously evolving and keeping pace with today’s families in a society that is more complex every day.  Family is important to me, and Ackerman believes that strong family bonds and communication are important to the strength of our communities. And, I agree wholeheartedly.”

“We are excited to have Natalie Morales once again emcee our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Ackerman Institute’s Tribute to Families gala,” says Lois Braverman, President and CEO, Ackerman Institute for the Family. “By giving of her time and talent to help lead our event to success, she is speaking volumes about the importance of family in our society and in our lives.  I am grateful to Natalie for lending her support and celebrity in this way.”

Gregory Rogers, Founder of
RayLign Advisory LLC
Gregory T. Rogers, Founder and Managing Partner, RayLign Advisory LLC will be honored at the Gala with the Ackerman Corporate Partner Award.

“The day to day challenges that face families are dynamic, varied and complex,” says Gregory T. Rogers, Founder and Managing Partner, RayLign Advisory LLC. “To accept an award from Ackerman is acknowledgement that our firm has met a high standard for empathy, creativity and competency helping families overcome the everyday challenges confronting family well being.  My team at RayLign, and our clients, have grown tremendously through our working partnership with Ackerman.  We are truly honored to accept Ackerman’s Corporate Partner Award.” 

“We are delighted to recognize RayLign Advisory LLC with Ackerman’s Corporate Partner Award because of its commitment to strengthening families and its unwavering support of the Ackerman Institute for the Family,” says Lois Braverman. “Under Greg Rogers’ leadership, RayLign Advisory has developed values and guiding principles that mirror those of the Ackerman Institute.  RayLign offers family services that move beyond the financial management of assets, and places the emphasis on the individuals and the family unit, knowing that communication is key in order to achieve success.  RayLign honors the importance of family ties, their personal histories, and member relationships.”

“Greg Rogers’ commitment to RayLign’s vision to perpetuate the well-being of families, led him to join Ackerman Institute’s Board of Directors in 2006,” adds Braverman. “We have been fortunate to have his guidance and support as Chairman from 2008-2011, and he continues to serve as a valuable member of our Board.”

Baron Davis, Founder of
Rising Stars of America
Baron Davis, NBA Veteran Point Guard, and Founder of Rising Stars of America will be honored with the Ackerman Distinguished Service Award.

“I am touched and deeply honored to accept the Distinguished Service Award from the Ackerman Institute for the Family,” says Baron Davis, NBA Veteran Point Guard, and Founder of Rising Stars of America.“I accept it on behalf of my grandparents, my family, who nurtured my strengths and my spirit and believed that I would succeed.  They taught me that family means responsibility to the young people in your life and in your communities.  Family ensures that you are given encouragement, and the tools and skills to be able to aspire to an education and to succeed in life, and in return to contribute to those who come after you. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, who inspired me to create my own family through Rising Stars of America.  Now, I have this huge family, and this award from Ackerman is recognition that I am on the right path."

Co-Chair Martha Fling
“We want to honor Baron Davis with Ackerman’s Distinguished Service Award for his philanthropy, his giving spirit, and his dedication to the next generation,” says Braverman. “Baron was raised by his grandparents in South Central Los Angeles and there he became a basketball star.  Baron knows first-hand the importance of family support in meeting one’s goals in life.  He hopes to bring the values of discipline and dedication to the community.  He founded Rising Stars of America to give young people the opportunity to develop the social and athletic skills that will allow them to improve their lives.  He credits his grandparents for his success, and we admire and honor him for his dedication to his family and his community.”

Co-Chair Alice Netter
A Tribute to Families will take place at the Waldorf Astoria at 301 Park Avenue in New York City on Monday, October 22nd.

Tribute Gala Co-Chairs are Martha Fling and Alice Netter. They are members of the Board of Directors of the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and staunch supporters of its work on behalf of the well-being of children and families of our communities.

To purchase tickets to A Tribute to Families go to:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Remembering Peggy Penn

Peggy Penn, respected faculty member and former Director of Training at the Institute, passed away on July 28, 2012. Peggy was an eloquent thinker, writer and teacher, whose contributions to the field of family therapy will long endure as sources of inspiration and great admiration.

In celebration of Peggy’s unique approach to therapy, colleague Patricia Booth shares her own memories of Peggy with us.

Peggy Penn
It was my great good fortune to have Peggy as my supervisor the second year of my externship almost 25 years ago. From there she became my mentor, colleague and very dear good friend. I can so clearly envision her back then in her elegant beige pants suit and cream silk blouse, amethyst earrings, wavy blond hair and wide smile. Her roost was a spare, bright office on the 5th floor, with a Noguchi lamp, caramel-colored leather furniture, Miro and Klee posters on the wall. All of it, but mostly Peggy herself, filled with style.

Peggy had already made a name for herself as an innovative Family Therapist, had co-written the book, Milan Systemic Therapy, produced important articles such as “Circular Questioning” and was the director of Training at Ackerman. When we came into her sphere she was beginning to think and work as a Narrative Therapist and it was exciting to be with her as ideas evolved. She was strongly influenced by the work of Michael White and Tom Anderson but was formulating her own ideas about working in a broader, more imaginative way.

It is hard to describe how transformative an experience it was for me, and other of her students, to be in her midst and be guided by her unique and highly creative vision. As a teacher, Peggy created a warm, supportive, stimulating environment. She rarely needed to have the last word and was unusually respectful of the ideas of others, even when they challenged her own. There was always humor and a touch of irreverence in our supervisory sessions.  In our extern group we were all quite seasoned therapists, grounded in psychoanalytic and systems theory, but Peggy taught us to use ourselves with more verve, breadth and imagination. In essence, she taught us the art of therapy.

Left to right: Peggy Penn, Joan DeGregorio,
Patricia Booth, and Sally Witte.
Peggy’s approach to working with families was highly collaborative and based on the idea of therapy as a conversation. There was a strong belief in the validity and significance of our clients’ ideas about themselves in tandem with those we generated. Peggy introduced us to the concept of multiple descriptions, helping clients identify and use various parts of themselves. Under her guidance we learned to use metaphor more creatively – especially as we helped our clients develop their own metaphors to describe their conflicts, moods and relationships.
Around the time we met, Peggy was becoming intrigued by the idea of using writing as an adjunct to therapy. She was not the first to do so, but was ingenious at helping us find ways of using the writing productively with our clients – often with dramatic results. She believed that writing was the most effective way of releasing withheld emotions and of helping clients expand their range of feeling. Peggy also had a keen ear for the nuance of language and encouraged us to listen with more care to the particular words and expressions our clients used. These beliefs about the power of writing were strongly influenced and substantiated by the extensive research done by James Pennebaker, who concluded that writing was not merely cathartic but was a source of discovery and ultimately change.

In the mid-nineties, along with Marilyn Frankfort, Peggy began the Language and Writing Project at the Institute. Its purpose was to continue to explore ideas about careful attention to language and the integration of writing into therapy when it was relevant. Several years later, when Marilyn left the project, Sally Witte, Joan DeGregorio and I joined Peggy and worked together for many years, until several years ago when illness forced her to retire.

Over the years, we have followed many families referred through the clinic, with a particular emphasis on chronic illness, trauma and loss. Our premise has been that we have many internal voices, some untapped, and that when one puts pen to paper new voices are released, new information is revealed. Often the writing is introduced when there is an impasse in therapy. The suggestion might be to write a flat-out narrative, but most often the writing is relational and takes the form of letters – letters of gratitude, anger, forgiveness, regret, longing – and sometimes they are letters to be sent and sometimes not. Our clients are always asked to bring what they have written at home to the session, to be read aloud. The reading aloud, with other family members and we, the therapists, present appears to enhance the impact for the client. There is a great sense of being heard, validated and understood by those who witness what has been written. Peggy’s very unique idea was that of the Return Letter Voice, in which a client writes a letter back to himself in the voice of the other, but with the freedom to express much of what one has needed, longed for, but never received. This has opened up great possibilities for redescribing relationships, even with those who have died.

Peggy believed strongly in the use of the Reflecting Team and we have always, with very few exceptions, made this a part of our work. This process of exchanging ideas at the end of the session allows our clients to feel that they have been treated by us collaboratively, with added empathy and new ideas.

Before becoming a therapist, Peggy was a successful actress.
Here she is with Robert Webber in The Defenders.
Besides being a gifted therapist and teacher, Peggy used her extraordinary sensibility and brilliance as a poet. Her two published books, So Close and My Painted Warriors are filled with vibrant images, immense humor and poignancy. Her teacher, Molly Peacock, has said this about her work: “Her rhythms are so stately and her lines are so poised that we know we are in the presence of a ballet, rigorously rehearsed and performed at a peak of energy. It is the kind of poetry I can turn to when I wake in the night, the voice of both a fellow companion and a sagacious guide.”

Lastly, Peggy created a rich and rewarding family life, with a long solid marriage to Arthur, her two adored children, Molly and Matt, and four smart and handsome grandsons her beloved “painted warriors.” She was an affectionate and loyal friend who was unafraid to reveal her vulnerability and generously shared her many strengths.

She will be deeply missed, loved and well remembered.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Annual Kempner Memorial Lecture on Managing Diabetes in Adolescents, A Family Focused Approach

Ackerman Institute for the Family hosted its annual Carl Kempner Memorial Lecture on the evening of May 2, 2012. This year’s talk highlighted the work of the Family Focused High Risk Diabetes Intervention Project with an in-depth discussion of the project by Harold Starkman, MD, Gloria Lopez-Henriquez, LCSW, and Nicole Pilek, LCSW.

Gloria Lopez-Henriquez, LCSW, 
Nicole Pilek, LCSW, Harold Starkman, MD
Established at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in New Jersey in 2007 to better understand the challenges and strengths of high-risk diabetes adolescents, their families and health care providers, the project highlights the significant number of teens who have chronically elevated blood sugars, and are at significant risk for hospitalizations, complications and shortened life spans. The dilemmas of these adolescents and their families often elude and frustrate their health care teams, leading to escalating cycles of negative interactions.

This presentation described the project’s findings, including the need to create improved collaborative relationships among teens, their families and medical and mental health practitioners. Harold Starkman, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at Goryeb Children’s Hospital, talked about the importance of the family structure in treating high-risk teens, while family therapists Gloria Lopez-Henriquez, LCSW, and Nicole Pilek, LCSW, discussed how this family structure influences teens’ response to treatment.

The Carl Kempner Memorial Lecture was named in honor of Carl Loeb Kempner, late husband of Doris Kempner, an Ackerman Board member. The Kempners’ life-long commitment to education and social services and the support of the Armand G. Erpf Fund, established the Carl Kempner Memorial Lecture to enhance knowledge in the developing of clinical intervention and in training therapists working with families coping with major health issues.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Spotlight on Externs: Courtney Zazzali

New Ackerman Graduate, Courtney Zazzali
Courtney Zazzali, an outstanding second-year extern here at Ackerman, is graduating this year from the program. Besides being a student, she also has spent the past several months working as the Intake Coordinator. In this interview she provides her unique perspective on what it is like being an extern, and how she balances this with her administrative responsibilities in the Intake Department.

Can you talk about your dual role at Ackerman?
Although I have been at Ackerman for the past four years as a student and extern, I recently joined the Institute as the Intake Coordinator, following in the footsteps of other Ackerman grads. I was already accustomed to juggling a full time job and the externship program, so moving into an employee role while being a student has been fairly seamless in how I have balanced my time.  It has been great because the position also has allowed me to get to know other faculty members, administrative staff, and students in the program beyond my supervision group and fellow 2nd/3rd year externs. The small challenge for me is to have boundaries during the day I am in supervision, so that I can stay focused on my time to learn.  But, all in all, it has been a wonderful transition, and the duality allows me insight to what fellow externs may be experiencing, so that I can better guide them as it relates to their caseloads.

What do you value most about your externship experience?
This is difficult because I have to choose one – that said, I value the clients’ vulnerability and willingness to be here, the way we train, and the friendships I formed during the four years with my peers. But what I appreciate the most is the faculty. Every teacher I have had here, even the guest speakers during our Didactic Seminars, has been crucial in helping my clinical development and expanding my critical thinking skills. They have a balanced way of challenging and expecting quality work while also being supportive and nurturing. There is a special dedication that comes from each of them imparting the Ackerman approach enabling professionals like me to do quality work with families and couples in the community. There is a feeling of “passing it forward” in the way that they educate. That is a gift.

What are your plans for after graduation?
My plan post-graduation is to continue on in the Intake Coordinator job, while also beginning my part-time private practice. I also anticipate shadowing the faculty teaching Foundations in Family Therapy course, so at some point I will also have the opportunity to teach and continue imparting the AIF approach to future clinicians. Additionally, I hope to participate in one of Ackerman’s Special Projects/Centers to continue to add to and fine-tune my clinical skills.

What advice would you give to new externs here at Ackerman?
My advice is to delve into the material presented to you and always ask questions. Be humble and open in your learning, but confident that your experience and skills are unique and will coalesce with that learning.  And breathe! It is unnerving doing therapy in front of the one-way mirror with your peers and faculty and wanting to do everything right and successfully. But if you are patient and attuned to the process, it will unfold naturally and what you learn will be invaluable wherever your career takes you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Annual Four-Day Externship in Couples Therapy

Dr. Sue Johnson presents at the annual EFT Externship
Every summer, the Ackerman Institute holds a four-day intensive externship on a specialized type of therapy called “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.” 125 people took part in this year’s externship, from June 25 through 28, at the UJA Federation of New York. Participants learned about Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and also watched live therapy sessions happening on-site.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a short-term (8-20 sessions) approach to couples therapy created in the 1980’s by Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Leslie Greenberg. Significant research has been done in this field of therapy, and overall, 70-75% of treated couples move from distress to recovery.

This dynamic externship is led by Dr. Sue Johnson, co-creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and adjunct faculty member George Faller, LMFT. Using a mixture of lecture, videotape, and observation of live interviews, the instructors train therapists in emotionally focused therapy.  This approach helps couples recognize problematic cycles of interaction in their relationship, along with how to restore the emotional bond once the negative cycles have been understood.

One participant described their EFT experience saying, “Sue is an amazing story-teller. The live sessions are mind-blowing and eye-opening. Predictably excellent yet amazing every time.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Marcia Stern Memorial Library Dedication

On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, friends, family, and colleagues of the late Marcia Stern, a former faculty member of the Ackerman Institute, recently gathered to celebrate her legacy and dedicate a section of the Ackerman library in her memory. Marcia Stern graduated from the Ackerman externship program in 1994, and then worked at the Institute for many years. She was deeply dedicated to helping children develop critically important social and emotional skills.

Family of Marcia Stern with Martha Edwards and Zina Rutkin
Dr. Stern’s family donated her extensive collection of psychology books to the Institute. These books were placed in the library for use by Ackerman students and faculty.

Martha Edwards Director of the Center for Developing Child and Family, began the ceremony by describing the wonderful qualities of Marcia, “Marcia’s creativity and humor were boundless.  And underneath all of that was an intelligence and a depth and breadth of knowledge that was breathtaking…Her books are a constant reminder of how she incorporated this body of knowledge into her insightful, creative, and playful interventions for children and in their families and for children in their schools.”

Zina Rutkin, Director of the Center's Competent Kids/Caring Classrooms, spoke about how Marcia’s insightful and enthusiastic nature lives on in the program today. Marcia’s son then spoke  the love and pride that Dr. Stern felt for Ackerman Institute.

Dr. Stern developed Competent Kids/Caring Classrooms (CKCC), a primary prevention program for grades K-5. It is a lively, interactive program using 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  teaches children social-emotional competencies while simultaneously building caring connections within the school, and between home and school.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Institute Hosts Trainees from South America

Trainees from AIGLE in Buenos Aires.
The Ackerman Institute hosts a two-week intensive training program for trainees of several therapy institutes in South America. From May 7 – 18, twelve trainees from AIGLE in Buenos Aires, Argentina, took part in the program. This year’s group included students from throughout South and Central America, including Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

The two-week program immersed trainees in the Ackerman Relational Approach to family therapy, and included 18 different workshops. Topics included Relational Trauma presented by Fiona True and Marcia Sheinberg, Family Therapy with Children presented by Catherine Lewis, Use of Sculpting presented by Peggy Papp, Structural Family Therapy presented by Jorge Colapinto, Rhythms of Relationships presented by Peter Fraenkel, Money and Family Life presented by Judy Stern-Peck, and many other fascinating seminars.

The trainees spent each day participating in workshops, followed by an evening where they observed family therapy sessions with externship groups at Ackerman. Speaking of her experience, one student said, “I am going back feeling closer to the Institution, and I envision many opportunities, not only for training, but also research, and particularly for community outreach in the family-couple area.”

For more than fifteen years, Ackerman Institute and AIGLE have collaborated on training initiatives. AIGLE hosts Ackerman faculty in Argentina, where they present on their areas of expertise while expanding the global influence of the Ackerman Relational Approach. The partnership is part of Ackerman Institute’s Community and International Training Department, which provides expert training in family therapy theory and practice to a number of partners in various countries. Learn more about International Training on Ackerman's website.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Diversity and Social Work Training Program 2012 Clinical Presentations

From left to right: Adviser Sippio Small, Miguel Torres,
Jasmine Butler, Paula McCoy, Candice Diaz, Reka Prasad,
Salvatore Giametti, Adviser Laurie Kaplan
On May 2, 2012, six students from Ackerman Institute’s Diversity and Social Work training program each presented a moving description of their clinical experience in the program to a large audience of Ackerman faculty, students, and friends. This annual presentation from students is not an only an opportunity for them to summarize the family therapy work done at Ackerman, but also a celebration of the completion of their year-long internship.

The goal of the Diversity and Social Work program is to increase the number of professionals of color in the family therapy profession who will be able to provide culturally relevant services to the increasingly diverse communities of New York. Despite the growing number of minority families in the United States, only 4% of family therapists are from minority backgrounds.

The interns in the program are second year graduate students from the social work schools at Hunter College, Columbia University, and New York University. During their one-year at Ackerman, students take part in live supervision and family treatment, foundational classes in family therapy, and community outreach, where they integrate their training into an outside organization.

The six students in this year’s class included: Candice Diaz, Paula McCoy, Salvatore Giametti, Reka Prasad, Miguel Torres, and Jasmine Butler. Each presented on their clinical work, while also expressing the life-altering nature of the program. Reka talked about her experience counseling a recently separated couple, Miguel and Jasmine spoke about therapy with a broken family of mixed heritage trying to mend their relationships, Paula discussed her involvement in group therapy with high school students, and Salvatore and Candice described therapy sessions with a family of Ecuadoran women.

Candice explains her growth as a therapist, saying, “My process with this family began with learning to accept myself and claiming who I am.  The more I did this, the more I was able to open myself up to develop my own therapeutic style, to find my voice as a clinician, to feel heard and integral to the helping process... Feeling accepted by the family and able to disclose this part of myself which was so relevant to the work, was very liberating for me.”

The Diversity and Social Work Program is made possible by private support from individuals and family foundations.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ackerman Institute Faculty at the American Family Therapy Association (AFTA) Conference

Every year, Ackerman Institute faculty and alumni are involved in the American Family Therapy Association Conference. This year was no exception, with a long list of presentations by faculty and special awards going to Jorge Colapinto and Peter Fraenkel. To see a full schedule of events, click here.

Wednesday, May 16
•    Welcome by Hinda Winawer

Thursday, May 17, 2012
•    Presentation by Dee Watts-Jones entitled Back to Back: Keep on Pushing Treading, and Loving
•    Interest group chaired by Peter Fraenkel on Community-Based Family Programs and Consultation, which included a presentation by Evan Imber-Black
•    Interest group chaired by Martha Edwards on Couples Therapy

Friday, May 18
•    Brief presentations on Conflict in Families, moderated by Lois Braverman, which included a presentation by Catherine Lewis and Andrea Blumenthal on Helping Parents Expand their Beliefs about their Children’s Problematic Behaviors
•    Meet the Authors with Evan Imber-Black
•    Brief presentation by Peter Fraenkel on Time and Technology in Family Life
•    Brief presentations from Judy Grossman and Martha Edwards on A Comprehensive Parenting Program to Promote Child and Family Resilience
•    Brief presentations moderated by Dee Watts-Jones on Healing Conversations

Saturday, May 19
•    Keynote discussion involving Evan Imber-Black and Hilda Winawer on Positive Deviance, Social Complexity, and Generative Relationships
•    Gender Dialogue chaired by Jean Malpas
•    Brief presentations moderated by Peter Fraenkel on Building Collaborative Teams and Programs
•    Brief presentations moderated by Andrea Blumenthal on Expanding Knowledge
•    Brief presentations moderated by Laurie Kaplan on Couples Therapy
•    Special presentation on Pearls of Wisdom that included Evan Imber-Black

Awards Ceremony
•    2012 Distinguished Contribution to Social Justice was presented to Jorge Colapinto
•    2012 Innovative Contribution to Family Therapy was presented to Peter Fraenkel

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Alumni Lecture on Sexual Issues

On May 11, 2012, Dr. Marty Klein was the guest speaker at the alumni quarterly meeting and his presentation was entitled “Ten Things Psychotherapists Need to Know About Sex.” Dr. Klein is a marriage and family therapist, sex therapist, and forensic expert. This lecture was part of the quarterly Alumni Association meetings, where Ackerman Alumni gather at the Institute to learn about the latest advances in family therapy and enjoy a presentation from therapists at the forefront of the field.

Dr. Marty Klein
Dr. Klein discussed a range of sexual issues such as affairs, infertility, pornography, sex addiction, discrepant desire, aging to cyber sex, and how therapists can address the complex narratives and beliefs associated with sex.

Dr. Marty Klein is the author of seven books about sexuality, including America’s War On Sex, honored as 2007 Book of the Year by AASECT. His new book is Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, And How to Get It. Psychology Today says, “Read this book if you want to improve your sex life.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Annual Spring Open House

Richard Johnson at the Spring Open House
On Wednesday evening, April 25th, Ackerman Institute for the Family hosted its annual Open House for prospective students. A crowd of over fifty potential Ackerman students listened as faculty and students described the “Ackerman Experience.”

The Open House began with a few words from the Institute’s Director of Training, Marcia Sheinberg, who spoke about the variety of unique learning opportunities available through Ackerman. She was followed by faculty member Richard Johnson, who introduced the Foundation classes, a 30-week course which provides the foundation of family systems theory and technique through presentations, reading, and videotapes of sessions.

Connie Scharf, part of the faculty and Dean of Students, described the Live Clinical Supervision course, where students treat families from behind a one-way mirror under the supervision of a faculty member. Faculty Fiona True then rounded out the discussion with an explanation of the Clinical Externship, a two to three year program in which trainees receive a broad range of clinical and supervisory experience in family therapy. Fiona’s presentation included a short excerpt of a taped therapy session exemplifying the type of work done at Ackerman Institute.

Finally, Ackerman student Julia Chan spoke about her experience of training at the Institute. Her enthusiastic account of her years spent at Ackerman highlighted the life altering nature of training at the Institute.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alumni Lecture on Siblings in Family Therapy

Ackerman Alum
Ackerman Institute for the Family hosted a presentation by Dr. Jeanne Safer on Friday, March 23, 2012. The lecture is part of the quarterly Alumni Association meetings, where Ackerman Alumni gather at the Institute to learn about the latest advances in family therapy and enjoy a presentation from therapists at the forefront of the field.

Dr. Safer discussed the topic of siblings in family therapy, a subject rarely addressed in family therapy. She described the difficulties associated with growing up with siblings who have serious emotional or physical problems. In addition, Dr. Safer talked about how to work towards resolutions among siblings.

Dr. Jeanne Safer
Dr. Safer’s books include Cain’s Legacy: Liberating Siblings from a Lifetime of Rage, Shame, Secrecy and Regret (January 2012); The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling, Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life without Children; Forgiving and Not Forgiving: Why Sometimes It’s Better NOT to Forgive; and Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Changes an Adult’s Life—For the Better. Both The Normal One and Beyond Motherhood were Books for a Better Life Finalists for the year’s best self-improvement books.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spotlight on the Board: Martha Fling

Martha Fling
Martha Fling joined the Ackerman Institute for the Family’s Board of Directors in June 2011. As a professional with an extensive background in wealth advisory services and mental health, including working as executive director of SeaBridge Residential Treatment Center in Malibu, Martha brings a great deal of experience, energy, and enthusiasm to the Ackerman Institute. A native of Los Angeles, California, Martha travels frequently to New York where her grown children have relocated and where she maintains an ever-growing network of business and philanthropic contacts. Currently, Martha is the founder of Drake Libby LLC, a firm offering investment solution driven services to families, individuals, endowments, and foundations.

Martha believes that joining Ackerman’s board combines both experiences of family involvement and philanthropy, values that are close to her heart. “I can use my financial skills and background in mental health to contribute, while deepening my commitment to help adolescents and their families. The exceptional faculty and staff at Ackerman inspires work that raises the bar for the therapeutic community everywhere!” Martha would like to expand our post-graduate training program in family therapy, and even dreams of providing opportunities for therapists outside of New York. Martha credits Ackerman’s President, Lois Braverman, for having a strong sense of purpose and vision for the Institute, and she is honored to be working with Lois, the board, and the faculty in moving our efforts forward.

Martha is this year’s co-chair of our Tribute to Families annual awards dinner, which will be held on Monday, October 22nd. She is already deeply involved with her co-chair Alice Netter, planning the success of this annual major fundraising event for Ackerman. Martha sees this as a great opportunity to increase Ackerman visibility, introduce new friends to our work, and lift up the values, resilience and strength of the families we serve.

We are delighted and fortunate to have Martha as a member of our Ackerman family, and we welcome her with open arms!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ackerman's Response to "Does Couples Therapy Work?"

The article “Three’s a Crowd: Does Couples Therapy Work?” appearing in the New York Times last week, elicited a strong reaction from many faculty and students here at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. The article, writing by Elizabeth Weil, describes the difficulties of being a couples therapist while implying there is little hope or chance of success for couples seeking therapy.

Ackerman Senior Faculty Evan Imber-Black’s response is as follows:

As a practicing couple and family therapist for 35 years, and recent editor of the field’s scholarly journal, Family Process, I was appalled to read the misrepresentation of the work of couple therapists. Citing outmoded theory and practice, the article sets up a straw man designed to scare away the very couples who may benefit from our work. Suggesting that couple’s therapy is a frightening context for the therapist is an insult to the daily healing of relationships provided by the profession. Decades of research show a 75% success rate in couple therapy, exactly the same as in individual therapy.

Quoting only men, the author derides the critical place of empathy in our work – in competent couple’s therapy, we join with both partners and with the relationship, providing a steady hand to enable them to regain mutual respect and negotiate differences. We are certainly not “ninjas,” an attitude that simply replicates the conflictual patterns that brought the couple to us in the first place.

Ms. Weil article has also drawn criticism from trainees and alumni of Ackerman Institute. Courtney Zazzali, who is currently a trainee at the Institute, says the following:

As a second year extern at New York’s own Ackerman Institute for the Family (AIF), I must offer an alternative perspective that was missing from Elizabeth Weil’s article, “Three’s A Crowd: Does Couples Therapy Work?” Ackerman Institute for the Family’s approach on couples/family therapy maintains that an “empathic, sensitive, calm, and accepting” therapist actually can competently create a holding environment for positive and real change to occur. Although Ms. Weil acknowledged the intense complexities that are usually uncovered in couples therapy, the “violent” metaphors of “therapist ninjas” and “helicopters in hurricanes” are hyperbolic. This article was heavily fear-based for both the budding couples/family therapist and a couple in crisis who need hope when confronting the challenges of our time. One can be calmly complex with distressed couples in crisis, while holding multiple, individual perspectives, and still be successful.

To read the complete article, go to:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ackerman Institute Launches New Special Needs Project

Ackerman Institute for the Family is excited to launch a new project for families who have children with special needs, including autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, sensory processing disorder and other developmental disabilities. The Special Needs Project will increase services for this population and train mental health professionals to address their unique needs and promote family resilience.

Ackerman faculty member Judy Grossman, DrPH, OTR, will be working as Project Director. Judy discusses her reasons for starting the project by saying that “Despite the increasing diagnosis of children with special needs, there is a shortage of high quality family-centered treatment. The early intervention and special education systems remain child-focused and fail to help families cope with the cumulative challenges they experience raising a child with specials needs.” The Project goals are to offer family therapy and multiple family discussion groups to more families who have children with special needs; to increase the capacity of family therapists to work with this constituency; and to offer workshops to professionals who work in special education schools and agencies.

The Special Needs Project will focus on child-related concerns and support parents as they cope with family stress and interactions with larger systems. Families will be seen at the Ackerman Treatment Center by an experienced family therapist who is part of a specialized treatment team. This team will collaborate to develop quality family-centered services and training materials for other professionals.

Project Director
Judy Grossman
Project Director Judy Grossman says that: “Too often, the attention is focused on the child with special needs with little recognition that parents are the most important influence on a young child’s development and the entire family is affected when a child has a developmental disability. Family needs are even greater when there are unresolved issues around diagnosis, services and family beliefs. Parents often feel anxious and unsupported. They may be busy with appointments, meetings and daily activities with their child, with little time to focus on their own needs, the marital relationship or the typical sibling. Family therapy addresses these concerns, yet it is not readily available to these families, or therapists do not feel confident to work with these families.”

Another way to expand family-centered services is to educate other professionals so that they consider family goals and priorities and focus on family strengths. The Special Needs Project will provide training and education to professionals working in special education schools and agencies. In addition, Ackerman Institute will continue to offer workshops that build on the team’s clinical work with families.

To learn more about the Special Needs Project, or how you can get involved, go to or contact Judy Grossman at

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Young Professionals Council Inaugural Reception

On the evening of February 23rd, the Steering Committee of the Young Professionals Council successfully held its inaugural reception to celebrate the creation of the Council, hosted by the Ackerman Institute for the Family.

Young Professionals Council
Members of the Steering Committee are Shannon O'Neil,
Genevieve Haverstick, Emily Umbdenstock,
Ali Sexton, and Chris Connelly
The Council was formed by a committee of five determined young individuals who believe that strong families make better communities. Members of the Steering Committee are Shannon O'Neil, Genevieve Haverstick, Emily Umbdenstock, Ali Sexton, and Chris Connelly. They came together with the purpose of working in partner with Ackerman, to raise funds, secure non-monetary resources, increase awareness of our work, and eventually assume volunteer leadership positions to ensure the future and legacy of Ackerman.

More than 40 of their friends and colleagues came to support their efforts, and to learn more about what makes Ackerman special and so worthy of their involvement. It was a lively and fun event. Alec Haverstick, Ackerman's Board Chair, Lois Braverman, President/CEO, and Jean Malpas, faculty member and Director of the Gender and Family Project, were the special guests of the evening.

The evening kicked off with a welcome by Shannon O'Neil, who urged the guests to learn more about Ackerman and to get involved in its work. Lois Braverman followed by passionately describing the mission of Ackerman, while also emphasizing the significance of a healthy family to society as a whole, and Alec Haverstick discussed the important influence that Ackerman Institute has on the well-being of families, locally and nationally, describing Ackerman as an "intellectual powerhouse of family therapy." He shared his belief that strong families translate into having a strong economy and future for our country.

LearnVest, an online company providing financial planning tools, graciously provided a door-prize for one lucky winner, an individualized Budgeting Plan. Starbucks donated a station of freshly-brewed coffee for our guests.

We congratulate the Steering Committee on a successful event and we look forward to working with the Young Professionals Council in the future.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Short Conversation with Martha Edwards

"Short Conversations" is a weekly video series that premiered in January 2012, and features the renowned faculty of the Ackerman Institute for the Family talking about a variety of subjects relevant to family life.

Martha Edwards makes her debut in this month's "Short Conversations," as she discusses how parents can instill values in their children. This is the first of six "Short Conversations" with Martha on raising children.

"Short Conversations..." will explore subjects across the entire range of the family experience, including marriage, child rearing, aging, substance abuse, sexuality and so many other issues that impact our happiness and understanding of ourselves.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Alumni Lecture on Borderline Personality Disorder

Alumni lecture
Dr. Perry Hoffman presenting at the Alumni lecture
Ackerman Institute for the Family hosted a presentation by Dr. Perry Hoffman, an expert in Borderline Personality Disorder, on Friday, January 27, 2012. The lecture is part of the quarterly Alumni Association meetings, when Ackerman Alumni gather at the Institute to learn about the latest advances in family therapy and enjoy  a presentation from therapists at the forefront of the field.

During the talk, entitled “If Only We Had Known: Borderline Personality Disorder,” Dr. Hoffman discussed the current thinking on this psychological condition characterized by a pattern of instability in relationships, self-image, and emotions.

The presentation familiarized the attendees with the range of Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms, along with the frequent co-occurring illnesses that can complicate recovery and treatment.  Dr. Hoffman also described “Family Connections,” a psycho-educational training protocol she developed, designed for families with a relative who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Dr. Perry Hoffman trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and is now in private practice in New York City and Westchester County. She is co-editor, with John G. Gunderson, MD, of the book Understanding and Treating Borderline Personality Disorder: A Guide for Professionals and Family Members and co-editor of Borderline Personality Disorder: Meeting the Challenges to Successful Treatment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ackerman in the News

Jean Malpas in The Atlantic
Ackerman Institute for the Family's distinguished faculty is once again in the news!

Jean Malpas, Director of the Gender and Family Services, is the expert launching the Professional Health series of The Atlantic's health section, with an article entitled "Professional Help: 5 tips for Those Raising Transgender Children."

To read the article, click here.

In the article, Jean shares some essential lessons for parents of children who may not conform to gender norms.

Ackerman Insitute is proud of its faculty. They continuously seek the most cutting-edge and innovative treatment practices, training, and research in family therapy, making Ackerman the most highly regarded Institute in the field.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Introducing Short Conversations

Starting in January 2012, Ackerman Institute for the Family is introducing a new online series called "Short Conversations..."

Every week, viewers will be treated to ideas for living from the world renowned Ackerman faculty.

"Short Conversations..." will explore subjects across the entire range of the family experience, including marriage, child rearing, aging, substance abuse, sexuality and so many other issues that impact our happiness and understanding of ourselves.

"Short Conversations..." are your chance to connect with the finest family therapists in the world. Concerned about your child’s behaviors? Frustrated with your partner’s distance? Looking for ideas to deal with an aging parent? If so, then "Short Conversations..." will soon become a welcome part of your day. 

This week's "Short Conversation" is about chores and children, featuring faculty member Fiona True.

Welcome to the conversation.