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Speak to Your Teen About the Birds and the Bees

The birds and the beesThis Family Institute Family Tip of the Month discusses talking to your teen about sex.

From this tip:

“Talking about sex with our children can be challenging for any parent. What to say? When to say it? Should we share personal experience? Should we assume a posture of neutrality, imparting information only, or should we include personal values, feelings and moral perspectives?

“Studies have found that nearly half of all high school students have had sex, and nearly one-third are sexually active. Every year, over half a million pregnancies occur among adolescents, and nearly half of all sexually transmitted diseases occur among 15 to 24 year-olds. While we might wish it were otherwise, some form of sex (including sexting) has been or will soon be a part of many teen and pre-teen lives.”

Read the entire Tip and learn how to speak to your teen about sex.

For additional Tips and to sign up for our Tip of the month, visit our Tips webpage.

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about our services on our website.

To get support at The Family Institute, visit our Find a Therapist page.

The Family Institute’s 2014 Alumnus of the Year Awards

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Family Institute Chief Officer William Pinsof, PhD, LMFT, ABPP, and 2014 Award Recipient Eli Karam

Family Institute Chief Officer William Pinsof, PhD, LMFT, ABPP, and 2014 Award Recipient Eli Karam

In September, the Alumni Association of The Family Institute recognized a distinguished alum from each of our two graduate programs. The 2014 winners of the Alumnus of the Year Award were Eli Karam, PhD, LMFT, and Amy Freed, MA, LCPC.


Eli Karam received his Masters of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from The Family Institute in 2003 and went on to receive his PhD from Purdue University. Dr. Karam has served as President of the Kentucky Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (KAMFT) and serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). He is also a tenured faculty member in the Family Therapy Program in the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville, where he teaches and supervises therapists-in-training conducts research on couple and family relationships. Dr. Karam also educates the public through various television and radio appearances.


Amy Freed received her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University in 1997. Since then, she has worked as a therapist and high school counselor, as well as in academia as a lecturer, Assistant Director or Clinical Training and Practicum Supervisor in The Family Institute’s Master of Arts in Counseling Program, where she is currently a faculty member and supervisor. Ms. Freed is passionate about producing counselors who comprehend the complex dynamics of therapy and understand that they, themselves, are their most important tool so being aware of and open to one’s own complexities is essential.

To learn more about The Family Institute’s education programs or Alumni, please visit our website.


The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for couples, individuals and families in our Evanston, Northbrook, La Grange Park and downtown Chicago locations. Visit our website to learn more about our services.



Why Mindfulness?

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Mindfulness has become a major topic of conversation in our culture–it’s meaning, it’s benefits, and the ways individuals can incorporate the practice into their relationships, careers and everyday lives. What is it about this age-old technique that has captured the attention of so many?

Today we’re posting an article from our Fall 2013 newsletter Institute News to explore how mindfulness relates to mental health and therapy. Written by The Family Institute’s Director of the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapy Program, Michael Maslar, PsyD, the article defines mindfulness, discusses the ways it can impact health and relationships, and the different therapies that use mindfulness-based principles to help people with a variety of problems.


Mindfulness: Enhancing Lives

Over the last few decades, researchers and therapists have realized the benefits of an age-old meditative practice called mindfulness. We can define this form of mind-body medicine as focusing awareness on the present moment in an accepting way. This simple yet effective way of getting to know ourselves, our behaviors and our relationships more intimately can have important effects. Research shows that practicing mindfulness can have a range of physical and psychological benefits including reduced stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and chronic pain.

Mindfulness practice can also improve relationships. Increased marital satisfaction, better communication, improved empathy and compassion, increased acceptance, better awareness of interactional patterns, a deeper sense of safety in relationships, and increased experience of unity with others have all been associated with mindfulness.

Here at The Family Institute, we offer a number of therapies that use mindfulness practice, behavioral skills derived from mindfulness, and principles based in mindfulness to help people with a variety of problems.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches people a collection of behavioral skills to address multiple, complex problems that have not responded well to other therapies, including self-injury, suicidality, eating disorders and depression.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps people live life more full in the present moment, be better able to act on important values, and be less focused on painful thoughts and feelings. ACT is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, among other problems.

In our own research, we have found family-based DBT can help teenagers with multiple problems and their parents reduce their symptoms. In another study, groups of dementia patients and their caregivers who learned mindfulness practice showed reduced depression and stress, and improved quality of life.

Together, Mindfulness and Behavioral Therapies help to enhance the lives of individuals, families, and couples struggling to cope with intense emotions and impulsive or difficult-to-control behaviors.


For more information on the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program at The Family Institute, please visit our website.

The Family Institute also offers two continuing education programs involving mindfulness:

Advanced Intensive Training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy: This intensive, three-day training will take place Wednesday, July 23rd through Friday, July 25th. Training includes:

  • Strengthening Skills for Teaching DBT Skills in Group
  • Treating Secondary Emotions and Emotion Dys-Regulation
  • Targeting Shame and Self-Criticism
  • Strengthening Skills for Weaving DBT Skills into Individual Therapy
  • Including Parents and Partners in Treatment
  • Targeting Teammate Therapy-Interfering Behaviors in Consultation Team

Visit our webpage for more information.

Cultivating Wisdom in Relationships: The Mindfulness & Behavior Therapies program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and the Family Action Network (FAN) are proud to present this Insight Dialogue Retreat, the first of its kind in Chicago.

Date: June 17-22, 2014

Time: Check-in for this 5-day residential retreat will begin on June 17 at 4:00 p.m. On June 22, the last session ends at 12:00 p.m., followed by lunch and check-out by 1:00 p.m.
Location: Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center, 513 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL
Cost: $645 – shared accommodations; $745 – private accommodations
Dana: We invite participants to offer dana (free will donation) at the retreat to support the teacher and the teachings

For more information, contact Michelle Gossett at 847-733-4300, ext. 780 or

Two Generations, Two Perspectives: Straight talk about young adults and their parents

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Over the last 30 years, emerging adulthood has become a new developmental stage between adolescence and adulthood.

For emerging adults, it is a time of transition and challenge. They must find meaningful work and launch a career, create mature relationships and fashion adult identities. It is also a confusing and challenging time for their parents, who must re-define their roles in their young adults’ lives, offering and withholding support, searching for the fine line between facilitating and enabling.

To help parents and their young adult children deal with this complicated stage, The Family Institute at Northwestern University, an organization committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life through clinical service, education and research, will host a presentation at the University Club in downtown Chicago as part of the Circle of Knowledge Event Series.

Two Generations, Two Perspectives: Straight talk about young adults and their parents will be a conversation between two family psychologists from different generations. Jacob Goldsmith, PhD, the Madigan Family Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow at The Family Institute, is in his mid-thirties and will talk from the perspective of the emerging adult. Bill Pinsof, PhD, LMFT, ABPP, President of The Family Institute, clinical professor in the Department of Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences at Northwestern University, and the director of the Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies at Northwestern, is in his mid-sixties and will talk from the perspective of the parents.

“Young adulthood is a new stage of development that has become more and more critical over the last 30 years,” says Dr. Pinsof. “People spend more time in their 20s finding out about relationships, finding out about love, finding out about work.”

“I think that a lot of people come into therapy thinking, ‘is the therapist going to understand me?’” says Dr. Goldsmith. “I think the real power of having young adults come to this talk with their families is that they will get a sense that there are people who can identify and understand their experiences.”

The talk, which will run from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the University Club and feature dinner, will consider the perspectives of emerging adults and their parents. Dr. Goldsmith and Dr. Pinsof will each provide their own perspectives based on their life stages, as well as their clinical and psychological expertise. Tickets to the event are $50.00, and registration is required as space is limited. Emerging adults and their parents (and grandparents) are especially welcome.

To register for this event, visit our registration page.

To learn more about our Circle of Knowledge Event Series, visit our events page.

Today Is World Autism Awareness Day!

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As people across the globe work to raise awareness about autism today, take a look at one of The Family Institute’s Clinical Science Insights, a series of white papers that distills our research expertise in a way that is relevant to both clinical practice and everyday life.

“Autism 101: From red flags to a new normal” by Dr. Alexandra Solomon addresses some of the symptoms of autism, as well as challenges and opportunities for families as they address the issue:

“It is often said that caring for a child with autism is a marathon, not a sprint, which means that every member of the family is likely to need emotional support.”

Read more on our website!

Dr. Alexandra Solomon, PhD, is a liscensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute. Dr. Solomon has published a number of articles, most recently about parenting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). She has presented nationally on this subject as well. She presents to a variety of audiences and consults to the media on topics related to marriage and family, and has recently been featured in The Atlantic, the WGN Morning News and WBEZ’s Morning Shift.

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

TFI Alumni Spotlight: Heather J. Bates

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It is our pleasure to spotlight some of our distinguished Family Institute alum! Our first spotlight is on 2006 graduate Heather Bates.

Heather graduated from The Family Institute’s Marriage and Family Therapy program in 2006.Heather Pic Prior to getting her master’s degree she graduated from DePaul University with a major in Psychology. After graduating from The Family Institute she worked for a DCFS contracted program for substance exposed infants and in an outpatient community mental health center. She is currently in private practice in Evanston & Northfield and is an affiliate therapist at The Family Institute.

We asked Heather a few questions about her experiences at The Family Institute, her current career path, and how her time in our MFT program impacted her life as a clinician.

TFI: What brought you to The Family Institute for graduate school?

HB: I knew I wanted to get my masters in Marriage & Family Therapy because I connect with systems thinking. I narrowed it down to a couple programs and said that if I got into The Family Institute that I would go there because I thought (and still do) it is the best program in the country. Luckily, I got in!

TFI: What are three words you’d use to describe your overall graduate school experience at The Family Institute?

HB:         Collaborative



TFI: When you think about your experience here, what stands out the most?

HB: The classes and readings were incredibly valuable; however, what really stands out in my mind was the focus on experiential learning. I thought it was brilliant how they were able to give us a solid enough foundation to start seeing clients as early as November of the first year, and from then on apply what we were learning in the classroom in our sessions with clients. It really made the classroom work feel relevant and much more interesting, and ultimately made us more effective clinicians.

TFI: How would you describe your first experience seeing a client? Did it change over your time as a graduate student?

HB: I was SO nervous before meeting with my first client! I probably went over the initial paperwork 100 times before meeting with him. But after the session I remember thinking, I did it! And it wasn’t that bad!

After that I was able to calm down a bit and slowly gained more confidence in my abilities.

TFI: Tell us a bit about your current practice and career.

HB: I’m currently in private practice and have been for the last four years. After graduating I worked in a community outpatient mental health clinic and also for a DCFS contracted program doing in-home therapy. Both jobs were great experiences and I was ready to transition to private practice after about three years, as it was difficult for me to work with such a large system.

Private practice is a great fit for me right now as I’m enjoying the flexibility of being in charge of my own schedule and I find the work to be very rewarding.

TFI: How does your Family Institute graduate school experience impact your current position?

HB: Tons! It is my foundation. I got incredible training and felt very prepared to launch into the real world after the hands-on experience and phenomenal education I received.

Beyond that, I’ve made wonderful connections with my old professors and staff at The Family Institute and frequently utilize them as resources if I’m stuck on a case or need some suggestions.

TFI: How would you describe your transition from graduate school to your current career?

HB: The most difficult transition was getting that first job. I felt prepared and as though I had quite a bit to offer but convincing others of that was tough. I was not aware that many people had not heard of an MFT degree so I spent quite a bit of time explaining that my degree with similar to that of a counseling degree or social work degree. Once I got that first job it was easier to navigate, but getting my foot in the door was hard. It took a lot of phone calls, a lot of “informational interviews,” and a lot of networking.

TFI: Do you have any advice for people considering The Family Institute’s MS in Marriage and Family Therapy program?

HB: I may be biased but I think it’s a great program and, depending on how you want to use it, has great career potential. If I had to do it over again I would attend The Family Institute’s MFT program without a doubt.

The Family Institute offers two graduate programs, an MS in Marriage & Family Therapy and an MA in Counseling.

Our Alumni are active in the mental health field, and within the Institute. To learn more about our Alumni Association, visit our webpage.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week Spotlight: How Eating Disorders Impact and Are Impacted By Families

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Eating Disorder Awareness Week starts this week, and Mallory Rose, LMFT, and Family Institute clinician, weighs in today with her thoughts.

Anxiety at the Table

“Eating disorders and families are uniquely related, because while there is usually only one person in the family that displays the extreme symptoms of an eating disorder, the disease affects the entire family.

Because meal times can be such a central, everyday experience for families, an eating disorder can really disrupt a family’s way of connecting and communicating. For families dealing with eating disorders, what was once a time during an otherwise hectic day for re-connection quickly becomes an anxiety provoking experience for all family members.”

Eating Disorders Are Symptoms, Not Causes

“Parents are in a unique position to help their children receive any accurate mental health diagnoses, because they are with their children the majority of the time and can provide proper insight into their struggles.

I encourage families to start watching for the warning signs before an eating disorder develops. Often people who have both perfectionist and anxious personalities are more susceptible to an eating disorder. Because an eating disorder is a symptom and not a cause, I encourage parents to encourage their children to get help with anxiety before it can escalate to an eating disorder.”

It’s All About Control—But Not Controlling

“If you are worried about someone in your family displaying the warning signs of an eating disorder, do not try to control their eating or get them to eat more. It could have the antithetical outcome. Instead, address the routes of their anxiety. “Eating Disorders are usually about trying to manage control, and most people who suffer from the disease try to manage their anxiety through their weight and caloric intake.”

Be the Model

“Parents are also in a unique situation because they can demonstrate to their children healthy ways of coping with anxiety. Children are very perceptive and will notice even subtle signs of parents’ anxieties and insecurities. I encourage parents to really try to recognize and address their relationships with their bodies and food intake. Anxiety may be inevitable, but I encourage parents to work on healthy ways of coping for themselves and to also be healthy role models for their children.”


Read Mallory Rose’s full bio on our website.

Revisit our previous post about the importance of meal times for families.

To look for treatment for eating disorders or food-related issues, visit our Find-A-Therapist feature.

The Family Institute offers a wide variety of affordable counseling care that treats whole individuals and their loved ones. Find out more at our website.

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