The Importance of POWER in Relationship

The Importance of POWER in Relationship

Being a systemic therapist requires ongoing analysis of the ways in which power dynamics organize and shape the life-long relational dances in couples and families.  Experiences of privilege and marginalization in the cultural landscape are critical to the daily lived experience of our clients, and impact their relationships in profound ways.

In working with our Psychiatry residents at Penn, I welcome writing that fosters clarity about the influence of these complex, often silenced, aspects of power.

Once again, my friend and colleague Ken Dolan-DelVecchio has provided a map.  He distinguishes between two types of power:  power over, which is the right to dominate, and power with, the responsibility for shared success.

He states:

Power with, the alternative to power over, sees power not as the opportunity to dominate and control but, instead, as the responsibility to bring about good things for everybody involved. It is the essence of great leadership, partnering, parenting, and friendship. Indeed, power with is the essence of love.

I invite you to read his article Radical Self Awareness #1: The Importance of Power.

In doing so, you’ll access this “essence of love,” and better, help couples and families learn to  “bring about good things for everybody involved.”

After all, isn’t that, quite simply,  what we’re all working toward?


Observing Traditional Holidays in Updated Ways, New Expressions

For nontraditional families, including same-sex couples, single parents, and people raising their grandkids, the ways in which holidays like Father’s Day are celebrated continue to evolve. Jacqueline Hudak, PhD, clinical director of the Penn Center for Couples and Adult Families, explains how these family dynamics grow and change.

Communications placement

WHYY NewsWorks

The Changing Family and How it Influences Identity: Penn Spectrum Weekend, 9/23-25

CCAF Clinical director, Jacqueline Hudak, will present on a panel about “The Changing Family” during Penn Spectrum Weekend.

Held during alumni weekend, Penn Spectrum “brings together alumni for dialogue centered on issues of cultural identity. We welcome alumni and allies from all backgrounds as well as current Penn undergraduate and graduate students. The conference focuses on issues pertinent to the Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, and LGBTQ alumni and student communities.”

For a full schedule of events, check out the link here.

Engaging Family Supports: Free Online Videoconference


Join us for the next CPSP
“Community Psychiatry Forum*”
In Collaboration with
The American Association of Community Psychiatrists

Engaging Family Supports

Learning Objectives – Participants will be better able to:

  • Identify strategies and barriers to engage family members as supportive members of recovery team
  • Enable people in recovery to identify and connect with potential sources of support in the community
  • Describe issues commonly concerning family members and other natural supports and potential approaches for addressing them

CME: You can earn 1.25 CME credits

When: Thursday, April 21, 2016
11:45 am – 1:00 pm EDT

Course Directors: Wesley Sowers, MD
Robert Marin, MD

Guest Experts:

Ellen Berman, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine, and Founder and Director of Training, Center for Couples and Adult Families, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

John Sargent, MD, Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Tufts Medical Center and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA

*Community Psychiatry Forum: Free online videoconference offered twice each month. Continuing Medical Education credits

Dr. Ellen Berman with Marty Moss-Coane and Ron Lieber: “Families and Money”

326aMoskowStudio    CCAF Founder, Dr. Ellen Berman was a guest on WHYY’s Fresh Air  with author Ron Lieber yesterday.  They had a lively and informative conversation about Families and Money.  Ellen and Ron  answer some of the more vexing questions about this important, delicate, and often very difficult to discuss topic.

“Money is all about values,” says Dr. Berman, who draws upon 30+ years of clinical experience with couples and families.  She talks specifically about the cultural shifts that impact ‘adult’ children, and offers clear, specific advice about how to avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities when dealing with the thorny issue of money and the family.



Welcome to our new CCAF Clinical Faculty Member, Michelle Jackson, MSS, LCSW

Welcome to our new CCAF Clinical Faculty Member, Michelle Jackson, MSS, LCSW

The Center for Couples and Adult Families extends a warm welcome to Michelle Jackson, a seasoned Couple and Family therapist who joined our Clinical Faculty last month.

There are many reasons I’m thrilled to have Ms. Jackson aboard, not the least of which is our ability to serve more couples and families at CCAF. Her arrival is evidence of our growth; clearly the word is out that there is couple and family therapy available at Penn.

Ms. Jackson’s sensitivity to issues of diversity in clinical work is in concert with the CCAF mission, as well as our curriculum in Culture and the Family that takes place across all four years of residency training in psychiatry.

Ms. Jackson’s life trajectory informs her fluency with individuals who have chosen or invisible identities, or who are part of biracial/bicultural couples, and multi-racial families. Her work provides a context in which to normalize alternative developmental pathways and strengthen resilience in the absence of cultural validation.

Welcome to CCAF, Michelle!

I’m so happy to have you as part of our team, and know that couples and families will be enriched through their work with you.  I look forward to a long collaboration together at CCAF.

To schedule a meeting with Ms. Jackson, please call Bryn Farrelly, 215-746-5900.

Read Ms. Jackson’s full bio

The Family Life Cycle: Gear Shifts and Spirals, with Dr. Geri Fox

The Family Life Cycle: Gear Shifts and Spirals, with Dr. Geri Fox

Last month, CCAF faculty, residents and fellows were treated to a wonderful lecture by family psychiatrist Dr. Geri Fox.   “Gear Shifts and Spirals”  was an interactive discussion of video taken by Dr. Fox of her own family filmed over 25 years.  

Dr. Fox began her filming long before the now ubiquitous culture of self documentation.  She is a pioneer ethnographer, recording the turning points and challenges of everyday family life through the lens of her video camera.

She dedicated her talk to Dr. Lee Combrick-Graham, colleague and mentor who encouraged and nurtured this project.  

The images of gears and spirals were apt descriptions of the family life cycle.  Three dimensional, always in motion, the family is envisioned as  a system moving through time.  Dr. Fox described gear shifts as the ‘biobehavioral’ changes that are biologically driven – such as puberty.  These are times when the family’s world gets reordered, priorities shift, and boundaries diffuse.

As we know,  those changes, though anticipated,  can feel as sudden as accidentally shifting the car into reverse.

iStock_000023141413_MediumThe spiral conveys an image of coming together and then moving out again over time.   These forces are ever present in the family life cycle: the centripetal force that draws family together for the birth of a child, or a marriage; the centrifugal force that propels outward as children are launched into college and their young adult years.


It’s one thing to describe a case of normal sibling rivalry, but quite another to watch Dr. Fox’s daughter poke and prod her newborn baby brother as residents and faculty laughed in recognition of this utterly familiar family scene.  We follow her along with husband and children through the small daily life events that, taken together, tell the story of family development over time: bemoaning the adolescent who’s ‘never home anymore,’  a daughter uttering fears about those first days at college.  Perhaps it’s the combination of voice and image that combine to keep the audience rapt; the empty place at the table, the boxes stacked by the door, so powerful in their familiarity, and so expressive of the experience of family.

Dr. Fox’s Life-Span Development Video Curriculum is utilized by the majority of US medical schools as well as abroad. She has won multiple awards for film-making, including two INTERCOM Chicago International Film Festival Certificates of Merit: in 2010, for Normal Development Video Series: A Longitudinal Stimulus Video Curricular Resource for Educators; and in 2013, for Saying Goodbye: A Personal Documentary about Attachment and Loss at End-of-Life.

Geri Fox, MD, MHPE is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She currently serves as the Assistant Dean for Graduate Medical Education, as well as the Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry.