Nathan Ackerman

Nathan Ackerman's astute ability to understand the overall organization of families enabled him to look beyond the behavioral interactions of families and into the hearts and minds of each family member. He used his strong will and provocative style of intervening to uncover the family's defenses and allow their feelings, hopes, and desires to surface. Ackerman's training in the psychoanalytic model is evident in his contributions and theoretical approach to family therapy. Ackerman proposed that underneath the apparent unity of families there existed a wealth of intrapsychic conflict that divided family members into factions (Nichols & Schwartz, Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon 1998). Ackerman joined the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and became the chief psychiatrist of the Child Guidance Clinic in 1937.

Initially, Ackerman followed the child guidance clinic model of having a psychiatrist treat the child and a social worker see the mother (Nichols & Schwartz, Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon 1998). However, within his first year of work at the clinic, Ackerman became a strong advocate of including the entire family when treating a disturbance in one of its members, and suggested that family therapy be used as the primary form of treatment in child guidance clinics (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon).

Ackerman was committed to sharing his ideas and theoretical approach with other professionals in the field. In 1938 Ackerman published The Unity of the Family and Family Diagnosis: An Approach to the Preschool Child, both of which inspired the family therapy movement. Together with Don Jackson, Ackerman founded the first family therapy journal, Family Process, which is still the leading journal of ideas in the field today. In 1955 Ackerman organized the first discussion on family diagnosis at a meeting of the American Orthopsychiatric Association to facilitate communication in the developing field of family therapy.

In 1957 Ackerman established the Family Mental Health Clinic in New York City and began teaching at Columbia University. He opened the Family Institute in 1960, which was later renamed the Ackerman Institute after his death in 1971.

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