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.

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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

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 Quality of Relationship Matters

The Quality of Relationship Matters

I had an interesting conversation with a reporter from NBC news about new research which shows that arguing with your partner creates a craving for a certain type of food.

This is but one of a number of studies that confirms what Couple and Family Therapists know so well: that the quality of relationship impacts health 0ver time  in a variety of ways.  

A stressful relationship can quite literally leave you heartbroken: researchers have found a correlation between severe relationship distress and heart problems, obesity, slower disease recovery,  and of course, depression and anxiety.

Relationship quality is also associated with positive well-being.  Marital satisfaction is strongly related to life satisfaction.

It is imperative that health practitioners screen for relationship distress and refer the patient and her significant others to a couple and family therapist.

 Healing is clearly not just an individual matter.  

Family therapy in the age of global mental health: Long live Shoufi-Mafi!

Family therapy in the age of global mental health: Long live Shoufi-Mafi!

An article by my friend and colleague Laurie Charles. We are board members of The American Family Therapy Academy; her work with families around the world informs and expands my thinking about health across the lifespan. Our psychiatry residents will also benefit from her experience as they move on to practice psychiatry in the US and around the world.


*This post is an updated and modified version of an article by the same name, published in the July/August 2015 issue of Family Therapy Magazine. Used here with permission.

Last night was the final meeting of our Shoufi-Mafi: Global Mental Health [1], a student driven task group at my university. The group originated from a confluence of events, one of which was the curiosity of my student Yajaira, who relentlessly quizzed me after our Introduction to Family Therapy course on Thursday nights. “Dr. Laurie, How do you get to travel so much? Who contacts you? What do you do?”

Yajaira’s persistence and genuine curiosity inspired my own: What could I do to support this interest in global mental health? Was there interest in such a group? Using Yajaira’s initial questions as a starting point, the Shoufi-Mafi met for seven sessions this past Spring, doing every thing from viewing…

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Research shows what Family Therapists Know: Memories can Pass between Generations

Research findings from a team at Emory University Medical School provide evidence of “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – that environment can affect an individual’s genetics and then be passed on.

As a family therapist I have intuited this often in my consulting room. There are times when a young adult with severe sadness sits with me, and I can sense that the sorrow is somehow lager that she is; it is too big a sorrow for someone that age.  When together we craft a genogram, we can find the relative, sometimes generations back, that bore the original wound.  History, culture, and family intersect to create a transgenerational  pattern – for dealing with fear, or loss,  and even what one dares to hope.  These patterns are born of the narratives that pass from one generation to the next.

For the full BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-25156510?SThisFB

Integrating the Family into Psychiatric Practice: Grand Rounds 2/26/15

Integrating the Family  into Psychiatric Practice: Grand Rounds 2/26/15

I have been deeply involved in a project that culminated in a collaborative Grand Rounds presentation late last month. I was fortunate to have Drs. Ellen Berman and Yu-Heng Guo on my team as we demonstrated the necessity of family inclusion in psychiatric practice.


Not just the necessity, but the “how-to.”

This presentation gave me the opportunity to operationalize what comes ‘naturally’ to me at this point in my career.  I have been a couple and family therapist for over 30 years.  What, after all this time, is my philosophy of treatment?  How do I put into words what I have come to intuit about families ?

I gave it some thought, and talked it over with family psychiatrist and CCAF founder, Dr. Ellen Berman.  Here’s the result of our conversation: our philosophy:

“Psychiatric problems and family dynamics are intertwined; there is an ongoing interplay between the individual and his/her relational system that supports or inhibits movement toward health. This stands in contrast to the historical struggle between psychiatry and family therapy, which was framed as an either/or choice point when considering treatment.”

Indeed there are times when we work closely with family members to support their loved one with medication compliance.  This is particularly true when there has been a diagnosis such as Bipolar Disorder; the psychiatrist is part of the treatment team, along with the family.  

Our goals in clinical work with families are collaboration, curiosity, and crafting a narrative.

“We work as a collaborative team with the family to adopt a position of curiosity about what brought them to this moment in time. Together we craft an initial narrative to help the family begin to make sense of their current situation; the initial narrative is based on the family genogram and the timeline of significant events as the family has moved through the life cycle.
All narratives are constructed to find a “way in” to the patients’s capacity for symptom reduction and a return to forward movement through their life cycle.”


This position of curiosity is an important facet of our work.  To experience a clinician as wondering, speculative and interested is necessary for the family.  It enables them to step back and begin to construct a story about what happened.  Were there numerous losses  during a particular year?  Old wounds that remain unhealed?

When a family arrives at my office, they are usually feeling sad and incompetent that they have not, despite their best efforts, been able to alleviate their loved one’s symptoms.  It is a difficult experience when the love in a family cannot ‘cure’ the heartache of depression or prevent the random illness or accident.  We are at great risk when we love another person, and we feel that most profoundly in family relationships.  

It is also important to recognize how hard family members work to support their loved one, how tired they are and how much respect they need for their efforts towards health for the family. 

It does help to construct a timeline of significant events that, woven together, tell a story.  It is the cohesive narrative of the family’s movement through time that supports forward motion. Sometimes we introduce new language: power, abuse, gender roles, for example.  The narrative is both explanatory and generative, opening the possibility for even more stories to be told about what is happening.  

A favorite part of our Grand Rounds experience was the discussion that followed with the audience.  There were great questions and palpable excitement about the potential of family inclusion and family consultation.  

The Center for Couples and Adult Families (CCAF) is fortunate to be situated in The Perelman School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry here at Penn.  CCAF is an entire program dedicated to training in family inclusion.  We have the opportunity to influence the next generations of psychiatrists to expand their thinking beyond the individual, and leverage the potential for healing and change inherent in family relationships.