Ackerman, Nathan Ward

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Nathan Ward Ackerman

Psychologist and educator noted for his work as a family therapist, particularly for his ability to look beyond the traditional assessment of families and to accurately assess the way that family members relate to each other.

Nathan Ward Ackerman was born in Bessarabia, Russia on November 22, 1908. His parents were pharmacist David Ackerman and Bertha (Greenberg) Ackerman. They came to the United States in 1912, and were naturalized in 1920. He was married to Gwendolyn Hill on October 10, 1937. They had two daughters, Jeanne and Deborah.

Ackerman attended a public school in New York City. In 1929 he was awarded a B.A. from Columbia University, and in 1933 earned his M.D. from the same university. After a short spell (193334) as an intern at the Montefiore Hospital in New York, he interned at the Menninger Clinic and Sanitorium in Topeka, Kansas. He joined their psychiatric staff in 1935.

He assumed the post of chief psychiatrist at the Menninger Child Guidance Clinic in 1937. For the next fourteen years, Ackerman was also chief psychiatrist to the Jewish Board of Guardians in New York City. During this period, he had numerous positions at a variety of institutions in New York City. Ackerman acted as psychiatrist to the Red Cross Rehabilitation Clinic during World War II, and also worked as a consultant to the department of scientific research when it was first established by Max Horkheimer in 1944. After the war, Ackerman assumed the post of clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and later lectured at the New York School of Social Work, a part of Columbia University. He also lectured (194448) at the Visiting Nurse Service and the Community Service Society.

In addition to his active career in New York City, Ackerman served as visiting professor of psychiatry for a number of universities, including Tulane University and the University of North Carolina. In 1952 Ackerman served as a member of the White House Conference on Children in Washington D.C.

Pioneers field of family psychology

Ackerman published The Unity of the Family and Family Diagnosis: An Approach to the Preschool Child in 1938, both of which contributed to the initial promotion of the theory of family therapy . In 1950 Ackerman wrote a book on anti-Semitism in collaboration with Marie Jahoda. Sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Semitism and Emotional Disorder, a Psychoanalytic Interpretation examines and analyzes the phenomenon and offers possible solutions. He went on to write many books during his career, including The Psychodynamics of Family Life (1958) and Treating the Troubled Family (1966). He coauthored several books, including Exploring the Base for Family Therapy and published more than 100 articles in professional journals.

Ackerman is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in his field and credited with developing the concept of family psychology. In 1955 he was the first to initiate adebate on family therapy at a meeting of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, with the intention of opening lines of communication in this new branch of psychiatry. He believed that the mental or physical disposition of one family member would affect other family members, and that often the best way to treat the individual was to treat the family as a whole. In fact he was a very strong advocate of treating the whole family in order to solve the problems of the individual. He devoted most of his career to family psychotherapy .

Ackerman's work was deeply appreciated by his peers, as evidenced by the number of awards bestowed upon him. He received the Rudolph Meyer award from the Association for Improvement to Mental Health in 1959. He was also the recipient of the Wilfred Hulse award for group psychotherapy in 1965.

Founds institute to study the family

In 1960, Ackerman opened the Institute for Family Studies and Treatment, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting family mental health. The Institute's premise was (and is) that if the family is healthy, the individual will be healthy and ultimately produce a healthier society. Ackerman developed a program for research that greatly furthered the effectiveness of the Institute.

He served as the director of this establishment up until his death, when it was renamed the Nathan W. Ackerman Institute (usually known as the Ackerman Institute) in his honor. The Institute has its own journal, Family Process, which was the first ever family therapy journal, started by Ackerman in association with Don Jackson. This journal remains a principal reference for other professionals in the field. Today the Ackerman Institute is considered perhaps the finest facility for family psychology in the world.

In addition to being a fellow of the American Board of Psychiatry and the New York Academy of Medicine, Ackerman was also president (195759) of the Association of Psychoanalytic Medicine, as well as a member of the Academy of Child Psychiatry, the American Psychopathalogical Society, and the New York Council of Child Psychiatry.

Ackerman died on June 12, 1971, and was buried in Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings on Hudson, New York.

Patricia Skinner

Further Reading

Ackerman Institute