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Coming Out: A big moment for individuals and their families

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Today is a big day for the LGBT community, as Apple CEO Tim Cook came out as gay. This is an important and momentous moment for Mr. Cook, as well as for the corporate world and our culture at large.

At The Family Institute at Northwestern University, we strengthen and heal families from all walks of life. An important tenant of our mission and vision is that human beings live in systems, and that we impact and are impacted by those systems. We consider the family the singular most significant factor influencing identity, and are always looking for ways to recognize that influence, improve family relationships and foster positive changes within individuals.

As we celebrate this moment with Tim Cook, we’re thinking about some of the ways in which coming out can influence and impact the systems in our lives. The following excerpt comes from our Kaleidoscope blog, where our clinicians write about their own experiences and expertise on some of the issues facing LGBT families.

 


 

They Can Handle It

“I wish my parents wouldn’t have been so secretive about their lives,” says Kevin, a 22-year-old raised from birth by his two dads. “All those times when they started a conversation and all of a sudden, someone changed the subject, or I saw them give each other the look.”

What look, I asked?

“Raising their eyebrows, like, don’t go there — don’t talk about that,” Kevin explained. “I knew they were going to talk later, just not in front of me.”

What sorts of things did they avoid talking about? I asked.

“Homophobia stuff. I knew my Grandad wasn’t very happy about Dad being gay, and living with Poppa. I overheard stories about the problems when Dad came out. It was a problem at holidays and birthdays, whenever the family got together. I knew about it, but my parents didn’t talk about it in front of me. Like I didn’t already know or something …”

Kevin was voicing a complaint I’ve heard from other offspring of same-sex parents, the wish that parents wouldn’t try to hide or soft-pedal their experiences with homophobia or any kind of prejudice.

I asked Kevin, Why do you think your parents weren’t more willing to talk about this sort of thing?

“I know why. They explained it to me a last year when I was writing a paper for a sociology class. They didn’t want me to stress out about stuff they thought was their problem, not mine.” Kevin was quiet for some moments, pensive. “But I always felt the tension. They didn’t really hide anything. Anyway, I don’t think I would have stressed out. The secrets were worse, I’m sure of it. I knew that people had problems with gay people, even in our family. I think all kids with gay parents know that, duh! There was a family down the block who was homophobic. We knew it from the beginning, when they moved in, and they didn’t let their kids hang out in front of our home. My dads made up excuses, but I thought it was probably about our family being different.”

Was that talked about? I asked.

“Not directly,” Kevin said. “I remember the excuses my dads made, like the parents wanted to keep an eye on their kids and we lived too far away. Bullshit like that … I didn’t buy it.”

I suspect your dads wanted your family to look normal in your eyes, I said. I suspect they didn’t want you to be troubled by the different ways homophobia shows up in the world.

Kevin shrugged and looked sad. “I could have handled it,” he said. “They underestimated me. Parents should be honest and just tell the truth, that’s for sure.”

Experience has taught me that Kevin’s right.


 

To learn more about The Family Institute’s specialized LGBT services, visit our website.

Gay & Married: Welcome to the Family

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As we celebrate Pride Month at the Institute, and the newly official Illinois legislation allowing same sex couples to marry, we are also gearing up for our Circle of Knowledge event taking place this Thursday, June 5th, at the Center on Halsted.

 

With increasing numbers of same-sex couples becoming legally married, questions arise: Are those couples better off once they’ve tied the knot? Will legal marriage somehow destroy the freedom and flexibility of creating relationships without the imposition of mainstream norms and expectations within the constraints of “traditional” monogamy? Will these marriages offer the protective health benefits — psychological and physiological — that research has long associated with heterosexual marriage? And what about the extended families of LGBT couples? Will they embrace their same-sex family members’ relationships sooner rather than later under this new law?

To address these types of questions, The Family Institute at Northwestern University, a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life, has partnered with Equality Illinois to present the Circle of Knowledge talk, Gay & Married: Welcome to the family. This event, hosted on June 5th at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, IL at 6:30 p.m., will feature a panel of four Family Institute expert clinicians discussing the questions, challenges and opportunities that follow in the wake of this momentous cultural shift.

“I want people who come to the program to gain a much better sense of the challenges that married gay people are now facing,” says Aaron Cooper, PhD, staff clinician at The Family Institute and event panelist. “And I want our participants to come away with a much better understanding of some approaches to handling those challenges.”

In addition to Dr. Cooper, the event will feature Family Institute staff clinicians Cheryl Rampage, PhD, Shayna Goldstein, LMFT, MSMFT, and Steve Du Bois, PhD, Morgan Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow. The event will feature cocktails and hors d’oeurvres, followed by the panel presentation.

The event will be held at the Center on Halsted, located at 3656 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. Tickets cost $50 each and can be purchased on The Family Institute’s websiteor by calling 312-609-5300 ext. 480. Attendees should register in advance, as space at the event is limited.

To register for this event, visit our registration page.

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

 

TFI in Partnership with Equality Illinois Presents Gay & Married: Welcome to the Family

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With increasing numbers of same-sex couples becoming legally married, questions arise: Are those couples better off once they’ve tied the knot? Will legal marriage somehow destroy the freedom and flexibility of creating relationships without the imposition of mainstream norms and expectations within the constraints of “traditional” monogamy? Will these marriages offer the protective health benefits — psychological and physiological — that research has long associated with heterosexual marriage? And what about the extended families of LGBT couples? Will they embrace their same-sex family members’ relationships sooner rather than later under this new law?

To address these types of questions, The Family Institute at Northwestern University, a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life, has partnered with Equality Illinois to present the Circle of Knowledge talk, Gay & Married: Welcome to the family. This event, hosted on June 5th at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, IL at 6:30 p.m., will feature a panel of four Family Institute expert clinicians discussing the questions, challenges and opportunities that follow in the wake of this momentous cultural shift.

“I want people who come to the program to gain a much better sense of the challenges that married gay people are now facing,” says Aaron Cooper, PhD, staff clinician at The Family Institute and event panelist. “And I want our participants to come away with a much better understanding of some approaches to handling those challenges.”

In addition to Dr. Cooper, the event will feature Family Institute staff clinicians Cheryl Rampage, PhD, Shayna Goldstein, LMFT, MSMFT, and Steve Du Bois, PhD, Morgan Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow. The event will feature cocktails and hors d’oeurvres, followed by the panel presentation.

The event will be held at the Center on Halsted, located at 3656 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. Tickets cost $50 each and can be purchased on The Family Institute’s website or by calling 312-609-5300 ext. 480. Attendees should register by May 29, as space at the event is limited.

To register for this event, visit our registration page.

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

TFI Alumni Spotlight: Jon Derek Croteau

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It is our pleasure to spotlight some of our distinguished Family Institute alum! Today’s spotlight is on Jon Derek Croteau, EdD, who received a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern’s School of Education (what is now The Family Institute’s MA in Counseling program).

Jon Croteau is a senior partner with Witt/Kieffer’s education, academic medicine and not-for-profit practices. He received his EdD from Boston University, and is the author numerous academic articles and of the memoir My Thinning Years: Starving the Gay Within, forthcoming from Hazelden Publishing in September, 2014.

We asked Jon a few questions about his relationship to The Family Institute and Northwestern University, his career path, as well as his thoughts on our upcoming June 5th Circle of Knowledge event Gay and Married: Welcome to the Family.


TFI Talks: What is your relationship to and history with The Family Institute at Northwestern University?joncroteau

JDC: My involvement with The Family Institute at Northwestern is fairly recent because of the relocation of my master’s degree program.  I did spend some time at the former building when my program was housed at the School of Education and Social Policy just across Sheridan Road.  My admiration and respect for the program’s quality, its faculty, and outreach to the community was always strong but has grown even stronger over the last couple of years.  The mission of the Institute is a powerful one and one that is closely aligned with my own personal mission in making a difference in families’ lives.

TFI Talks: How would you describe your current career path? What has changed since your time at The Family Institute? What has stayed the same?

JDC: My career path looks a little bit non-traditional compared to some other CPSY or Family Institute alumni.  However, the cornerstone of my career has been the skills and experiences I learned as a student in the classroom and as a counseling intern or extern.  Since graduating in 2000, I have become fascinated with the notion of the whole person in the workplace and how leaders can be more effective in motivating their organizations, whether small or large.  After working for a global HR consulting firm and subsequently earning my doctorate, I spent some time exploring the notion of human capital investment in not-for-profit organizations, higher education, and healthcare, both as an administrator and as an adjunct faculty member and author of books and articles.  Then, in 2008, I joined Witt/Kieffer, an executive search and leadership solutions firm that works primarily with organizations that “improve the quality of life” (e.g., colleges and universities, hospitals and health systems, nonprofits).  This was the perfect fit for me.  Throughout the years, what has remained the same is the skill set that I gained from Northwestern:  listening to understand others, to empathize with others so they feel understood when they are with me, and to hear a plethora of issues arise both with individuals and within organizations so that I can help them solve problems.  Solutions can be in the form of a new executive, an organizational talent management assessment, or building a succession plan for a cabinet.

TFI Talks: What do you consider your biggest career challenges to date, and in what ways did your experience at The Family Institute impact those challenges?

JDC: Because I’m an author, a speaker, a teacher, and a consultant, I am extraordinarily busy. The greatest career challenge is always ensuring that I am a balanced person and a healthy and whole person.  I have overcome great personal challenges in my life, as my memoir, My Thinning Years, coming out this September, delves deeply into.  I experienced great healing in my own life at Northwestern and through my CPSY program.  The program, the faculty, and my supervisors in clinical training wisely taught me that for me to be helpful to others, I had to be sure that I was taking care of myself.  Today, I continue to strive for balance and make time for things that keep me a healthy and balanced human being.  I make time for my family and friends, for spending time in nature, which has always been a powerful refuge for me, for the arts and theatre, which bring me great joy.  For me to be the best for others, I need to be the best for myself.  Most important to me is my relationship with my husband, Justin, whom I cherish and admire deeply.  We always say we have to feed our relationship in between meals (the regular three times a day thing) to cultivate our friendship and love.  Though I’m so busy in my professional life, Justin is my number one priority.

TFI Talks: What do you consider your biggest career accomplishments to date, and in what ways did your experience at The Family Institute impact those accomplishments?

JDC: I would say being able to juggle many different things at once and doing my best to make sure all of what I do is at the highest level of quality.  In my CPSY program, it was a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary approach.  Not only was there rigorous coursework in the classroom, but we had our internships/externships, I was a research assistant at the School of Education and Social Policy and I was a teaching assistant for the undergraduate course, Introduction to Counseling Psychology.  Learning to juggle multiple projects, and ensuring the highest level of service and attention to all of those difference audiences—students, clients, researchers, and professor—taught me an invaluable lesson that I use every day.  Not only do I use that skill in balancing my range of professional activities, but also in my day-to-day work with Witt/Kieffer.  We serve many different institutions that change the quality of life in different, unique, and special ways.  I have to serve many different clients as well as my teammates inside the firm every single day with care, attention and the highest level of quality.  I can easily point to my time at NU for giving me that ability.

TFI Talks: On June 5th, The Family Institute will host our Circle of Knowledge Event Gay & Married: Welcome to the Family. In your expert opinion, what unique issues do marriages and relationships in the LGBT community face, and what can clinicians such as those at The Family Institute do to help and support couples as they face those issues?

JDC: In many ways, the marriage that I enjoy with my husband Justin is no different than the one that his parents have celebrated for the last 35 years (they’ve been wonderful role models to us).  We deal with many of the same issues and struggles and work hard (with pleasure) at our relationship.  We endure the same sadness, like when we lost my beloved mother suddenly in 2009.  We balance both of our families and how we dedicate our time to them.  We share in our explorations of faith and religion, the volunteer work we commit ourselves to, or even how we want to decorate our home.

TFI Talks: As a member of the LGBT community, in what ways do you think issues of marriage equality impact the larger community and/or the culture at large?

JDC: I think the main point to remember is that the marriage of two people (any two people) does NOT primarily impact the larger community and/or the culture at large.  Many scare tactics used by opponents were based on the premise that marriage between same sex couples would lessen the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.  I think it is now safe to say that that premise has been proven untrue.  Marriage at its core is a union of two people and their commitment to each other.

The secondary impact of same sex marriage is the same impact that heterosexual marriage has upon the larger community and/or the culture at large.  There are positive and negative impacts.  I don’t see a difference between the two.

The impact upon the larger community and/or the culture at large was when we were not able to marry the person we loved (if that is what we wanted) and to live our authentic life.  Now, without this restriction, the next generation of LGBT youth will have a better understanding that no matter how alone they may feel in their current community, they are not alone, and that there is a public community out provide role models and, although I hate using this word, “normalize” their feelings.

 

To learn more about Jon Derek Croteau, visit his website

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Sam: I Am: Dr. David Hauser discusses football, youth and the psychology of identity

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TFI Talks is thrilled to feature guests posts by our expert clinicians. Today’s post is by Dr. David Hauser, psychologist at The Family Institute. 

Michael Sam came out this week.

Relatively unknown on the national stage beyond the scope of college football enthusiasts and NFL “draftnicks” as an All-American defensive lineman and AP SEC Defensive Player of the Year, now his name, image, and clips of an interview with ESPN Outside the Lines’ Chris Connelly are being strewn across the mediasphere for society to react to and judge.

Through these initial and brief media openings into Michael Sam’s world, a few things seem clear.  He appears comfortable and confident, stating clearly and firmly, “I’m not afraid of who I am” in response to Connelly questioning what it is like to be setting out on such a landmark moment in American Sports as an openly gay athlete.

His comments also suggest a young man with tremendous courage—courage not just to “be true to one’s self,” which is hard enough for most of us, but to be one’s self while preparing to walk into the perils of an NFL locker room fraught with oddly expressed versions of masculinity, hazing, and the emotional sensitivities of a sledgehammer.  Furthermore, his comments also suggest courage to be entering the 24-hour news cycle that at times can be as damaging and dangerous as the NFL playing field itself.  But as much as Sam communicates courage, confidence, and comfort discussing this new frontier in American sports, it is impossible to see Michael Sam without noticing how young he is.

Michael Sam, at the ripe age of 24, is taking a leadership role on a civil rights issue that many wiser and more experienced 50 year olds still dance around with stiff and politically correct talking points.  What is so refreshing about Michael Sam’s entry on to the national scene is that it does not seem contrived.  He has the feel of a man just talking about who he is and wanting to describe himself before others can dictate a narrative of “who he is.”

Erik Erikson, the godfather of developmental psychology, suggested the primary developmental hurdle for adolescents and young adults is “identity vs. role confusion.”  Essentially what he says is that a human being will not successfully achieve developmental tasks later in life such as finding a partner, building a family, or identifying a fulfilling job until one forms a good understanding of themself (an identity).  The conflict at this age is trying to find and express one’s true self, while also trying to fit one’s self neatly within the parameters of the social world around them.

In my own clinical work, identity exploration is the most common goal I work with my young adult clients on.  “Identity exploration” might sound simple or straightforward as it is stated with just two plain words, but as I experience with clients, it requires a thorough and honest inventory of one’s self that asks for a tremendous amount of individual courage.

I do not think Michael Sam would look so confident in embarking on this civil rights leadership role if he did not already have a solid understanding of himself and his identity.  I think Michael Sam is also very much a product of his era, a new age of comfort with diversity. The “25 and under folks” (“Millennials” – can’t we do better than that?) are the progressive group of 18 and 19 years olds from 2008 who were in large part responsible for electing this country’s first African-American President (Sam would’ve been 18 in 2008).  At some point in the last 5-6 years we hit a tipping point with the LGBT movement, where verbalizing anti-gay remarks were enough to suspend the most financially profitable show on television, rather than a former age when openly pro-gay sentiments in media could be prone to scare advertisers away.  I am not well versed enough to know precisely what was the moment or action that finally tipped society toward social justice on this issue.  However I will say it is Sam’s generation, and their increased tolerance for difference, their greater valuing of equality, and belief in fairness, that has opened the space on the national scene for Michael Sam to speak honestly and comfortably about who he is.

I first noticed this trend when I began teaching undergraduates. In the fall of 2008, bubbling with idealism and optimism of what felt like a genuinely new chapter in American history, I entered a PhD program in psychology at Arizona State University in hopes of changing the world for the better.  I was immediately thrust into an opportunity to teach new undergrads a course on Career Development.  I promptly adapted this course to fit what I felt I knew a little more about, exploring one’s values and interests amidst a diverse range of human skills and expression (i.e., identity development, since as a student in a protracted run of graduate school at the time, I’m not sure how equipped or deft I was to be teaching others about job marketability).

I recall early in the semester a lecture and discussion I put together on the idea of “diversity in the job place” and how these young people were going to need to figure out how to adapt to differences, even sexual orientation differences, to fit within the ever-evolving job marketplace of the 21st century.  I had grandiose plans of speaking from my perch of a podium and teaching these new young minds the importance of being open to differences in others.  Perhaps somewhat biased by the arid and abrasive politically climate in Arizona at the time toward Mexican immigrants, I simply assumed I had an uphill battle.

Much to my dismay and surprise, I was the only vocal voice in the classroom of 36 projecting a notion of ignorance.  Mostly I was ignorant to a new age of young people who grew up on the Internet and were talking about sexual orientation with greater nuance and an expanded openness and tolerance than I was used to hearing from my peers when growing up.  For at that point, I thought I was young enough to still have a pulse of the young people and not yet aware that I was talking to an entirely new generation built on the values shaped by the vast freedom of information offered by the infinite connections to others via the Internet.

Two particular students’ voices stood out that day.  One male voice came from a Phoenix suburb who led the group discussion politely, but with enthusiasm and earnestness that “his generation” saw things differently, saying something to the effect that “[sexual orientation] isn’t a thing to us, it doesn’t matter if you are gay or straight, it’s just about who you are.”  The other voice was an outspoken ex-soldier from the War of Iraqi Freedom, who in his first semester in college was still trying to fit his robust personality and series of experiences from wartime into the quieter trimmings of a state university student body with limited success, as peer students were puzzled of how to absorb his typically verbose, strong, and not always popularly held opinions.  This ex-soldier spoke with some gender narrowness, but spoke of his personal transformation in his own worldview based on his recent experiences abroad stating, “a man is a man and it’s not so much about ‘that’ [gay/straight], but your actions and how you carry yourself.  Everything else is just your personal business.  A man should get to choose to be whoever he wants to be.”

Likely there were voices that did not speak up that day in the group of 36 that held different views, perhaps less socially-just LGBT sentiments.  But their voices were not heard.  For those voices were not of the majority opinion anymore and no longer offered the safety in numbers found within groupthink.

This is just one experience, in one specific location and time.  While this example strongly syncs with what I am hearing and seeing from my adolescent and young adult clients today, the “small sample size” alarm bells are surely ringing loudly as this is far from scientific evidence of cultural change.  Since 2008, there remains a genuine problem with bullying in schools and on social media. YouTube comment sections are still far too comfortable a venue for the “f” word.  Young people are still far too often resorting to hurting themselves or even suicide based on the agonizing struggle of seeking acceptance from peers. But we are somewhere very different in 2014.  A lot has changed in what feels like a short amount of time.

It is evident something happened in the last decade, but I suggest the elected officials had little to do with it.  It has been the young people, under the age of 25, who are taking the lead on changing the cultural temperature toward the LGBT community.  It is the hacker group Anonymous that values equality for people and free information that is changing the world around us.  It is some of the Reddit message boards threads that are re-writing the social script, especially for boys and adolescent males, that being a man is not how 30-something athletes like Richie Incognito suggest it to be. It is 12th Man and Seattle Seahawks fan, Macklemore, singing about “Same Love.” And today it is Michael Sam.  The youth are rising and teaching the rest of us.

 

David Hauser, PhD, is a writer at the intersection of psychology, sports, and culture.  His psychotherapy practice at The Family Institute in Evanston/Chicago, IL is focused on working with families, couples, and individuals to better understand and heal relationships.  He also lectures in the Marriage and Family Therapy graduate program at Northwestern University.  Follow on twitter/instagram @headiesports

TFI Insights: Remember to Say Thank You

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An “attitude of gratitude” is more than just a catchy phrase when it comes to your relationship.

In studies conducted out of Florida State University, psychology researcher Nathaniel Lambert has found that expressing appreciation to a spouse increases one’s dedication to that spouse’s well-being. Although how and why this occurs isn’t fully understood, Lambert speculates that voicing thanks or gratitude focuses our thoughts on a partner’s positive traits, which in turn influences us to regard him or her more favorably.

Once we view a partner more favorably, we’re more willing to put effort into the relationship, and we hold a more positive opinion of the relationship we’re in.

“In relationships today,” Lambert writes, “we often get mired down into what a partner isn’t doing for us. That’s one of the neat things about gratitude. It potentially can change the trajectory [of the relationship] from a negative focus to a more positive one.”

So take a lesson from Hollywood’s Oscar winners and be generous with your thanks and appreciation — especially for those things our partners do that we tend to take for granted.

  • “Thank you for working so hard to provide for our family.”
  • “Thank you for taking the kids to the doctor today.”
  • “Thank you for trying to buy the ice cream that I like, even though you couldn’t find it.”
  • “Thank you for ordering dinner for us this evening — I was too tired to deal with it.”

Commit to increasing your expressions of gratitude, even if you’re not receiving similar expressions from your partner. Don’t wait for them to get on board; they’ll likely be influenced by your example. And don’t be surprised if your partnership feels so much the stronger for it.

For more expert tips from The Family Institute, visit our tips page.

We offer a wide variety of affordable counseling care that treats whole individuals and their loved ones. Find out more at our website:

Find a therapist with our Find a Therapist function.

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Circle of Knowledge: A Family Institute Event Series

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In addition to providing affordable family counseling to our clients, often on a sliding-fee scale through our Bette D. Harris Family and Child Clinic, The Family Institute at Northwestern University hosts an annual event series, Circle of Knowledge.

Through our Circle of Knowledge luncheon lectures and evening programs, The Family Institute brings information on timely issues to our friends and supporters. Our staff experts present on topics focusing on relationships, children and family life that incorporate and highlight cutting-edge research findings in the field of family therapy.

The Circle of Knowledge provides the knowledge and care families count on to live healthy lives. It’s another way we strive to further our mission and create a stronger society through healthier families.

Below is a full list of our Circle of Knowledge 2014 events. Visit us at http://www.family-institute.org/about-us/circle-of-knowledge to learn more, and follow us on twitter @cok_tfi for all the details!

Sex, Power & Love: A marital triangle

Presented by William Pinsof, PhD, and Cheryl Rampage, PhD

November 14, 2013

6:00 p.m. registration, 6:30 p.m. presentation

Northmoor Country Club, 820 Edgewood Road, Highland Park

Intimacy and Love in the African American Community

Presented by Bishop Horace E. Smith, MD, Reginald Richardson, PhD, LCSWDonna Baptiste PhD and Anthony Chambers, PhD

TBD

 

Unlocking Anger: A key to strengthen relationships

Presented by Fran Giordano, PhD

March 13, 2014

Edgewood Valley Country Club, 7500 South Willow Springs Road, LaGrange

Shall We Dance? Understnading the choreography of love & intimacy

Presented by Alexandra Hambright Solomon, PhD

March 14, 2014

Exmoor Country Club, 700 Vine Avenue, Highland Park

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

Presented by William Pinsof, PhD, and Jacob Goldsmith, PhD

April 24, 2014

University Club, 76 West Monroe Street, Chicago Park

You’re Talking but I Can’t Hear You: Building family communication & closeness

Presented by Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, PhD

May 8, 2014

Jackson Junge Gallery, 1389 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago

Gay & ‘Married’: Welcome to the family!

Presented by Aaron Cooper, PhD, and Cheryl Rampage, PhD

June 5, 2014

Center on Halsted, 3656 North Halsted Street, Chicago

The Circle of Knowledge Series would not be possible without the support of our sponsors.

For more information on the Circle of Knowledge, or to register for one of our events, please contact Institutional Advancement at 312-609-5300, ext. 484 or email cok@family-institute.org.

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