Families and Health


Director: Evan Imber-Black, PhD

  • What is the impact of illness on family well-being?
  • How does it affect couple, parent-child and intergenerational relationships?
  • How do family relationships affect the course of an illness?

The Ackerman Center for Families and Health, under the leadership of Evan Imber-Black, PhD, addresses the profound challenges posed by illness to families, patients and their medical providers.

“During the two years that my father struggled with colon cancer, my family spent long hours at the hospital. My mother experienced depression and anxiety as she watched my father deteriorate. My siblings and I seemed to engage in old patterns of jealousy and competition that we hadn’t shown in decades. Not once, in all the time my father was in and out of the hospital, did anyone on the staff offer to meet with us as a family. Our relationships were disintegrating.

A friend encouraged us to contact the Center for Families and Health at the Ackerman Institute. The therapists met with us as a family, helped my mom to cope, and enabled my brothers and I to sort out our old differences that this cancer had brought back to life. They walked along side of us through my father’s final illness and death. We came through this terrible loss as a stronger family.”

The Center for Families and Health offers effective Family Therapy treatment and research for families experiencing acute, chronic or life-threatening illness. Collaboration and training for medical professionals and allied health care professions is provided as well as consultations with health care facilities and staff. Assistance is also given to families and patients facing the complexities of new medical technologies.

Using Multiple Family Discussion Groups, many of the Center’s projects offer support, bringing families together who are confronting and living with illness to meet with other families in similar situations. Families gain an understanding of how the illness itself impacts family relationships. They learn how best to find a way to respect that there is an illness while keeping the illness in its place, without allowing it to control all aspects of the family’s life. The Center for Families and Health Multiple Family Discussion Groups pays particular attention to the burden of multiple illnesses occurring in the same family. The Center’s research with MFDG’s focuses on low-income families of color.

Rusty Magee Clinic

This center is named in memory of Rusty Magee, who faced his cancer with courage, and utilized the services of our clinic with his family in his final months of life.

Family relationships powerfully affect adherence to preventive care and medical treatment.
Chronic and/or life-threatening illness disrupts all aspects of family life; including:

  • emotional well-being and mental health
  • level of conflict and anxiety
  • ability to solve problems
  • daily routines and meaningful rituals
  • family finances
  • life cycle transitions

The clinic team provides a range of psychosocial services to families with one or more members with a physical illness. Meeting weekly, the team provides state of the art therapy to couples and families.

Our clinic helps families to cope with the burden from our current health care system, including:

  • shorter hospital stays requiring greater medical expertise of family members
  • increasingly complex medical technology
  • break downs in communication between health care providers and family members.

Our clinic team develops and publishes concepts related to family systems and health, and creates training materials. We are available for staff training at agencies and hospitals.


The Center for Families and Health forms partnerships with health care institutions in New York City in order to facilitate attention to the needs of families, as well as to offer training and consultation to health care professionals.

Among the Center’s affiliations have been those with North General Hospital, serving low income families with diabetes, asthma, chronic pain, cancer and HIV/AIDS; The Family Center, working with families coping with the loss of a parent to cancer or HIV/AIDS; Maimonides Hospital, dealing with couples in which one spouse has cardiac illness; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, offering services to families with head and neck cancer and families with adolescents who are post-cancer treatment; and the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital Center, offering  Multiple Family Discussion Group for families with one or more members with either Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes.

Current partnerships include the Family Focused Grief Therapy Research project. This research, a controlled clinical trial examining the efficacy of Family Therapy for families with a member who is dying of cancer, is sponsored by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with a grant from the National Cancer Institute.


We offer a variety of education and training experiences for family therapists wanting to learn specialized work with families dealing with medical illness as well as training for health professionals, including physicians, nurses and social workers, who want to learn a family systems approach to medical illness. Such training includes:

  • a one semester weekly course
  • workshops at the Ackerman Institute
  • on-site training at agencies and hospitals in the tri-state area

For more information, contact:
Andrea Blumenthal, LCSW
Assistant Director, Center for Families and Health


Evan Imber-Black, PhD, Director
Andrea Blumenthal, Assistant Director
Ellen Fader, Clinical Associate
Candice Goldberg, Clinical Associate
Marjorie Hornik, Clinical Associate
Nell Shanahan, Clinical Associate
Stephanie Manes, Clinical Associate
Debbie Werner, Clinical Associate

For more information, contact:
Andrea Blumenthal, LCSW

Clinical Research Projects