Happy Valentines Day

Family historian,  Stephanie Coontz, is admittedly one of my favorites.

Former President of The Council on Contemporary Families, Dr. Coontz brings a much needed perspective to our cultural discourses about marriage and family life.  Her capacity to mine enormous bodies of data and expose trends about the current state of relationships is remarkable – and very much needed.  The landscape of marriage and family is not easy to navigate, and I’m grateful for her clarity and perspective.

In that spirit (and because tomorrow is Valentines Day), I wanted to share her New York Times piece, For a Better Marriage, Act Like a Single Person.

Couple and family therapists are well aware of the hazards when two people believe they can be ‘everything’ to each other.  From a historical perspective, this “soul mate,” “one and only,” “romantic love” narrative is a fairly recent phenomenon.  In the not too distant past, one’s marital partner was not expected to fulfill so many needs; rather, marriage was more of an economic arrangement, with less expectation of emotional fulfillment from that one person. (For a full discussion, check out Dr. Coontz’s 2006 book: Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage). 

I’ve said before that one of the more exciting things about being a Couple and Family Therapist today is the research that shows the significance of relationship in one’s life.  In a shift from the traditional, individual paradigm that has dominated psychological theory, the new “science of relationship” and data from a wide variety of studies shows what we family therapists have intuited for so long: that the quality of one’s relationships matters to health and well being.

In her Times article, Coontz shifts her lens to the impact of community on marriage.  She finds that social networks of friends and family are enormously helpful to the couple:

“having supportive friendships is associated with more satisfying marriages, even among couples already content with the support they get from each other.”

And, the benefits go beyond the psychological health of the marriage:

“…..health researchers report that maintaining high levels of social integration provides as much protection against early mortality as quitting smoking. In fact, having weak social networks is a greater risk factor for dying early than being obese or sedentary. One analysis of 148 separate health studies found that people who cultivated a wide network of friends and other social relationships had a mortality risk 50 percent lower than those with weak ties.”

Therapists typically attempt to shift the dynamics between the members of the couple they see for treatment.  Coontz warns against using such a narrow lens:

“Many marriage counselors focus narrowly on improving partners’ couple skills without taking into account how the marital relationship is affected by interactions with other people. Yet a 2017 study found that when people socialize more frequently with good friends, they not only report fewer depressive symptoms themselves, but so do their partners.”

So, Happy Valentines Day.  Here’s to celebrating the many relationships that edify our lives, and contribute to our health and well being.

Read Dr Coontz’s full article here

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

Family and friends can be powerful tools in improving health

David Asch MD and Roy Rosin, MBA of The Center for Healthcare Innovation at Penn Medicine have published an article  in The New England Journal of Medicine that supports the involvement of family and friends in improving health and health care outcomes.

At The Center for Couples and Adult Families, we are thrilled to  share this vision: that the quality of one’s relationships matters and has important and measurable impact on health and well being.

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

New Research: Family Psychoeducation Crucial in the Treatment of Schizophrenia

A landmark, government funded study finds that schizophrenic patients who received a combination of drugs, talk therapy and family support made greater strides in the first 2 years of treatment than patients who just received drug therapy.

Featured on the front page of yesterday’s NY Times, the report made clear that  family involvement and “talk therapy” are vital in the treatment of schizophrenia, and this combined approach provided more symptom relief to patients (and thus families) and capacity for higher functioning at the end of 2 years.  The study will be published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, and the article can be found here:


At CCAF we are well aware of the importance of family inclusion and family psychoeducation around certain illness, particularly those that strike in early adulthood.  We collaborate with Dr. Claudia Baldassano and her team of psychiatry residents to facilitate multifamily Bipolar Psychoeducation groups.  We have developed a series of 4 – 90 minute family group sessions during which:

  • information about the illness is presented, and families invited to ask questions,
  • families tell their story about how the diagnosis was made,   
  • families discuss the process of coming to terms with the illness,
  • we discuss how to handle relapse and emergencies, and
  • anything else the family wants to talk about.

The Center for Couples and Adult Families is fortunate to be situated within the Department of Psychiatry here at Penn.  We look forward to further collaboration to develop similar groups for families of schizophrenic patients.  

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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