Two Approaches to Healing Ruptured Bonds: Ackerman Relational Trauma Therapy and Attachment Focused Family Therapy


This two day workshop offers an opportunity for participants to experience two different, but complimentary approaches to working with children and family members to resolve conflicts and traumatic experiences.

Day 1

This seminar will present an overview of the crucial role of a secure attachment and inter-subjectivity in a child’s neurological, affective, cognitive, and behavioral development.  Its central place in enabling a child to resolve conflicts and traumatic experiences, develop affect regulation and reflective functioning, and establish a coherent narrative will be explored.

Attachment principles stretch from infancy to old age, from safety to exploration of self and other, from affective to reflection functioning, from the process of co-regulating affect to co-creating meanings. The therapist’s initial goal is to help the parents feel safe so that both the parents and therapist can work together to help the child feel safe. The resulting treatment is highly experiential and involves exploring nonverbal (ie., bodily) and verbal communications  for their underlying attachment-related themes. The treatment also involves the art of story-telling where the story that is being told is that of family members. The act of developing this story within the therapy is vital to the emergence of a coherent narrative. This story-telling stance is characterized by playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy and safely engages the clients in the creative exploration of their story without fear or shame. The child’s strengths and vulnerabilities, and the family’s shared times and conflicts are all understood and accepted. Dialogues emerge that fully accept the subjective experience of each participant in the conversation. Such dialogues become templates for satisfying and productive dialogues in all areas of life.

Principles and strategies of psychotherapy and family life which utilize attachment and inter-subjectivity will be presented and discussed.  This model of intervention will be demonstrated with videos of treatment sessions.

Day 2

Over the last twenty years we at the Ackerman Institute have worked with children and families who have experienced relational trauma. We define relational trauma as the rupture of close relational bonds which often occur in instances of family violence, sexual abuse, chronic illness, premature death, contentious divorce, abandonment and removal of a child from her home. The underlying assumption of the Ackerman Institute’s Relational Trauma Therapy is that the trauma is best healed in the context of the family and/or primary caregivers.

The challenge for the therapist is to work with the parents to be emotionally available, supportive and attuned to their children (just at a time when they themselves may feel fragile, vulnerable, anxious, and angry or hurt) while also helping the child express the full range of her/his feelings. At these times when the needs of the child and the feelings of the parent are not in sync, therapists may perceive the parent’s response to the child as insensitive and miss-attuned. In this context therapists can become frustrated and parents may, in turn, feel blamed and alienated. These therapeutic impasses require innovative approaches to what can too easily become an intractable situation. The Ackerman approach creates a therapeutic context which both protects the child and respects the integrity of the family by: engaging the parent(s) collaboratively; encouraging the parent(s) in reflective thinking; bringing forward intergenerational patterns; utilizing a decision dialogue.

This workshop will provide participants with an approach which integrates individual and family therapy to create a systemic treatment for children who have experienced relational trauma and their families. The children range in age from early childhood through adolescence. Participants will learn how to organize therapy that will help families achieve the following goals:

  • Develop stronger parent/child bonds;
  • Learn to talk openly and constructively about traumatic experiences;
  • Respond to and increase empathy for one another’s fears and pain;
  • Create and respect appropriate generational boundaries;
  • Interrupt intergenerational traumatic symptoms.

Videotapes of treatment overtime will be used to demonstrate the Ackerman approach.

Dan Hughes, PhD, has specialized in the treatment of children who have experienced abuse and neglect and demonstrate ongoing problems related to attachment and trauma. He has conducted seminars, workshops, and spoken at conferences throughout the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia for the past 15 years. He is also engaged in extensive training with certification of therapists in his treatment model, along with ongoing consultation to various agencies and professionals. Dan is the author of many books and articles, including Building the Bonds of Attachment (2nd Ed.)(2006), Attachment-Focused Parenting (2009), Attachment-Focused Family Therapy Workbook (2011), and Brain-Based Parenting (2012).

Marcia Sheinberg, LCSW, is the Director of Training and Clinical Services and Co-Director for the Center for Children and Relational Trauma at the Ackerman Institute. She is the co-author of The Relational Trauma of Incest: A Family-Based Approach to Treatment; in addition, she has authored many articles, most recently, Thinking and Working Relationally: Interviewing and Constructing Hypotheses to Create Compassionate Understanding (2014) with Mary Kim Brewster, PhD. She has presented nationally and internationally on a range of topics.

Fiona True, LCSW, is a senior faculty member and Co-director of the Ackerman Institute’s Center for Children and Relational Trauma at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. She has presented widely and published articles on the topic of incest and relational trauma.

Date: Friday and Saturday, December 5 & 6, 2014
Time: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tuition: $450
CE Credits: 14

The Ackerman Institute is approved by the NASW, CT, and therefore NASW, NJ.

If you would like to apply online, click below.

If you would like to mail or fax in your application form, download a printable application here.

If you are an Ackerman alumni or current Ackerman student, please contact the Training Department directly to register.

Danielle Khalife
Phone: 212-879-4900