Substance Use Disorders and the Family Project

Project Overview

Over the past several decades the Ackerman Institute has been pioneering the development and dissemination of a treatment model designed to help families address relationship problems associated with substance use disorders (SUDs). By identifying and addressing the impact of maladaptive substance use on family life as early as possible in the course of an SUD, the Ackerman approach is designed to interrupt and prevent major and potentially irreversible problems from arising within and beyond family life.

Our Systemic-Motivational Treatment approach (SMT) combines family systems, motivational interviewing and harm reduction components. The SMT approach creates a collaborative and non-judgmental environment that provides opportunities for families living with an SUD to have a therapeutic space to explore and address the condition as it emerges and throughout all phases of the disease, treatment, and recovery.

It is our belief that by mobilizing the inherent strengths within families, clinicians can collaborate with families in designing strategies to meet the challenges that are associated with SUDs. We bring this same collaborative spirit to our work with community-based organizations requesting training and/or program development consultation.

Clinical inquires should be directed to the Ackerman Intake Department phone line: (212) 879-4900, ext 122


The Substance Use Disorders and the Family Project supports a wide range of educational activities, including:

  • Presentations and workshops at conferences;
  • Training for medical and mental health professionals in the NYC area;
  • All-day workshops at Ackerman and at other locations nationally and internationally, and as part of Ackerman’s workshop series;
  • Supervision of Ackerman family therapy trainees; and
  • Group supervision for clinicians interested working with families living with SUD.

Examples of recent presentations by project staff include:

  • Grand Rounds lectures to the faculty, staff and trainees of the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at NYU/Bellevue’s Department of Psychiatry
  • Workshop sessions at the American Family Therapy Academy and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Annual Meetings
  • International lectures and workshops on our Systemic-Motivational Model at family therapy training institutes in Argentina, Chile, the U.K. Brazil, and Mexico
  • Training sessions for the staffs of community-based mental health and social service agencies in NYC including JCCA, MHA, St. Dominic’s Family Services and Catholic Charities
  • Keynote Address at the NYS NASW Chapter’s 2018 Addictions Institute

Consultation Services

Through the Ackerman clinic, project staff provide consultation services where a substance use disorder is one of the issues with which the family is struggling.

For more information, call the Ackerman Intake Department: (212) 879-4900, ext 122

Current Projects

The Substance Use Disorders and the Family Project is committed to both systematic evaluation of our treatment models and to collaboration with researchers in other institutions investigating problems where a family-focused approach to a substance use disorder may help improve outcome.

Here are three examples of current initiatives:

  • A collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center examining the usefulness of a multiple-family discussion group intervention with head and neck cancer patients and their families. The goal is to prevent re-exacerbation of cancer by interrupting the cycle of cancer patients’ continuing use of alcohol (a major carcinogen) and thus decreasing the chance of recurrence after otherwise successful initial treatment.
  • A collaboration with the Freedom Institute, a NYC-based addictions treatment center in the development of a family-based comprehensive out-patient treatment program for adolescents and their families based on family-systems principles.
  • Tompkins County Family Treatment Court (FTC) received a five-year grant by SAMSHA that allocates funds for the treatment of families living with Substance Use Disorders. Our Project is partnering with the FTC, DSS (Department of Social Services), and Tompkins County community SUD centers and mental health services to create a treatment system that for the first time brings a strong family orientation to SUD treatment in the County.

Project Staff

Peter Steinglass, MD is President Emeritus of the Ackerman Institute for the Family and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, as well as Director of Ackerman’s Substance Use Disorders and the Family Project. His work has included significant programmatic research into medical and psychiatric illness as it affects families, and he has written extensively on these subjects, including his book, The Alcoholic Family, which is considered a benchmark in the field. Dr. Steinglass’ work in the addictions field has led to his being named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, as well as his being the recipient of both the Cumulative Contribution to Family Therapy Research Award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Research Award from the American Family Therapy Academy.

Sari Kutch, LCSW is a couples and family therapist with 25 years of experience working with families living with Substance Use Disorders. She joined CSUDF in 1999 and has been a major contributor to the development of the Project’s innovative treatment models, including the SMT model. Sari has worked as both a family therapist and addiction specialist in a variety of social service, mental health and addiction treatment settings, including the Association to Benefit Children, Women In Need, Freedom Institute, and the Areba Casriel Institute. As Co-Director of the Project, she has taken on primary responsibility for bringing our family treatment approaches to the attention of community-based programs dealing with SUD issues, including providing consultation to treatment and social service agencies interested in expanding, designing and implementing innovative family treatment approaches tailored to their specific needs.

‹‹ Research

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