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Tag Archives: Mental Health Month

‘Mental’ vs. ‘Physical’ Illness

Mental healthOver 21 million Americans had diabetes in 2012 (American Diabetes Association). In addition to its impact on the individual, the disease was responsible for $69 billion in economic costs due to lost productivity. In light of these facts, diabetes is rightly acknowledged to be a major public health issue, and prevention and treatment are public priorities.

At the same time, over 43 million Americans are estimated to experience a mental illness in a given year. The costs associated with these disorders are greater than those of diabetes, respiratory disorders and cancer combined (World Economic Forum). Neuropsychiatric disorders, including mental illness, are the leading cause of disability in the United States (NIMH). And mental illness can be lethal: among adults in the United States, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death, surpassing other causes including diabetes, stroke and homicide.

Due in part to the stigma that continues to be associated with mental illness, conversations around its personal and societal impacts are less frequent and less public than those about physical illnesses. This distinction has profound effects. While those affected by physical illness are likely to seek treatment, individuals with a mental illness may hesitate to even acknowledge a problem exists. Due to the “mental” vs. “physical” distinction, they may feel shame for being ill, fail to receive support and understanding from loved ones, or may be unaware that effective treatments are available.

Mental Health Awareness month is a time to change the conversation. Rather than being separate and distinct, mental and physical health are intertwined: physical illness impacts mental well-being, and mental disorders have physical symptoms and consequences. And just like physical ailments, mental illness is treatable.

Since its founding, The Family Institute has been committed to promoting healthy family functioning and individual mental health and wellness through prevention and effective treatment. For example, in the case of individual mental health, our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) team has been helping people access empirically-validated treatments for anxiety and depressive disorders for over a decade. Such treatments have been shown to provide significant relief or eliminate symptoms of depressive and anxiety disorders, which together account for about 44% of mental illnesses.

Raising awareness about effective treatments that restore mental wellness is one way to begin reducing the disparity in attitudes towards “mental” and “physical” ailments. The impact of mental illness is on par with that of physical illness, but in many cases, so is our ability to treat it.

The Cognitive Behavior Therapy Program at The Family Institute specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and depressive disorders. Using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), clinicians work collaboratively with their clients to identify personalized, time-limited therapy goals and strategies, which are then continually monitored and evaluated throughout treatment. If you think that you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, OCD or depression, or if you would like additional information, please email

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. To learn more about our therapy and mental health services, please visit our website.



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.






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

The Myths of Mental Illness

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To commemorate Mental Health Month, we asked a few of our expert clinicians the question:

What are some of our culture’s most common and pervasive myths about mental illness?


From Kathleen Gettelfinger, LMFT:

Too often people feel that mental illness is a choice. In the same way that one would not choose to have cancer or heart disease, those afflicted by mental illness are not choosing to feel depressed, anxious, or otherwise afflicted.


From Cheryl Rampage, PhD, Executive Vice President of The Family Institute and Associate Director for Programs and Academic Affairs at The Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies:

First, that it is some sort of weakness, rather than a medical condition. Second, that because it’s “mental” it should be controllable by the conscious mind, and third, that people with mental illnesses are dangerous to the rest of us. While it is true that a small percentage of mentally ill people become violent, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.


From David Hauser, PhD:

-It is false to believe that a person can be defined or wholly understood via a diagnosis.

-It is a myth to think there are some people with mental illness that are “lost causes.”

-It is a myth that whatever might be wrong in your life right now, always leads back to some shortcoming by your mother or family of origin.


From Lisa Gordon, PhD:

Mental illness happens to “those” people.  Mental illness happens to “other” people.  Seeking treatment for mental illness, whether in the form of psychotherapy or medication, means that the person lacks strength to combat the mental illness alone.  Seeking treatment for mental illness is akin to taking fish oil or calcium, participating in a weekly yoga class, eating whole grains, or sleeping 8 hours nightly.  Recognize your human limitations and reach for what keeps you healthy and whole and your best self.


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.

April/May Tip of the Month

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The Family Institute’s April/May Tip of the Month explores the two sides of our brains: the emotional side and the logical side.

From this month’s tip:

There’s the emotional brain (called the amygdala), tucked deep and low within the mass of complex circuitry inside our heads. Sometimes referred to as the lizard brain because it’s what we have in common with creatures going back millions of years, the emotional brain reacts quickly and instinctively, alert to every threat; animal survival depended on it. In humans (both prehistoric and contemporary), it triggers a quick fight or flight response: we put up our dukes and come out swinging, or we run for cover and race quickly away (or shut down and go silent).

And then there’s the logical brain (the prefrontal cortex), sitting just behind the forehead, a relative newcomer in the brain’s evolution, coming onto the scene millions of years after the emotional brain had established its powerful seniority. It’s the logical brain that allows us to reason and plan and organize our thoughts — and to gain control over the emotional brain.

Read the whole Tip of the Month and learn how t=o use both these sides of your brain to your advantage.

For additional tips and to sign up for our Tip of the Month email, visit our tips webpage.

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

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

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

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breakingTo commemorate Mental Health Month, we asked a few of our expert clinicians to share their thoughts on how to break the stigma of mental illness.

From Kathleen Gettelfinger, LMFT:

“We can work together to destigmatize mental illness by bringing it out of the shadows of shame and into the light. When we share that we ourselves have been touched by depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental illness, we give a human face to the struggle. Sharing can also help us understand that we are not alone and that others have shared in our struggle.”


From Cheryl Rampage, PhD, Executive Vice President of The Family Institute and Associate Director for Programs and Academic Affairs at The Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies:

“I think that the example of the LGBT community is germane to this question. Prejudice against the gay community has diminished rapidly as gay people came out of the closet and forced the rest of us to recognize that they are much more like us than not, that they are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers and our family members. Mental illness is still in the closet, and many people, even if they have recovered from the illness, still keep it a secret. The more that we acknowledge that mental illness is an illness, not a moral failing, the more people with mental illnesses will be willing to acknowledge their experience.”


From Karen Skerrett, PhD:

“Take every opportunity to educate; create ‘teachable moments’ when confronted by inaccuracies; share stories of your own challenges; emphasize hope and optimism.

Another good way to reduce stigma is to routinely screen for mental health issues at schools & doctors’ offices. You can get screened for depression just as you would cholesterol.”


From David Hauser, PhD:

“I notice this most with males, and the stigma of boys and men accessing help.  A recent viral YouTube video titled “The Mask we Live In​,” about the messages boys receive of what it means to ‘man up’ demonstrates this stigma well.  Across society, there are a slew of social messages for males suggesting that sharing yourself, openly talking about what you are feeling or what you are thinking is somehow shameful, when in actuality these behaviors are at the core of living a healthy life.

A method that I find to be most helpful in de-stigmatizing mental health with males is by meeting this population where they are at.  Via a website I started called Headie Sports and with a writing mission I have harnessed on covering the intersection of psychology, sports, and culture, I utilize the content of the cultural conversations that are relevant on the internet, social media, and around the water cooler to inject a more honest and open dialog about emotions, thoughts, and psychology related to the content. To combat stigma, we must have louder voices openly and comfortably communicating about the internal fears, vulnerabilities, and anxieties that innate to the human experience.  When these internal experiences go un-talked about this emotional and psychic material builds to the point that these thoughts and feelings only are experienced in bursts of anger and outbursts which ultimately does not feel good for anyone.

The stigma of mental illness can cause people to try to “keep it all in,” but there are centuries of data that demonstrates that this strategy simply does not work.  And I believe for males, based on the countless stilted and unrealistic messages streamed at them about certain aspects of masculinity, leaves this gender particularly vulnerable to this stigma.”


From Lisa Gordon, PhD:

“Our community can understand that every single one of us, with a certain array of stressors combined with limited emotional, financial, or practical support, has the potential for mental illness.”


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’s Child & Adolescent Program

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As part of our Mental Health Month commemoration, TFI Talks will spotlight some of our innovative and specialized services. Today’s post focuses on our Child & Adolescent Program.


When children and adolescents need help maximizing their potential, our Child & Adolescent Program (CAP) can help them thrive.

This program includes Family Institute psychotherapists who specialize in working with families with children from birth through adolescence to help navigate and reduce the challenges that may interfere with a child’s and family’s development.

Why develop a program specifically for children and adolescents?

The Family Institute is committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life. We are well known for our devotion to family and couple therapy. Over the years the need for specialty services for children and adolescents grew within the Institute—we developed the Child & Adolescent Program to address this need.

The goal of the program is to develop empirically based clinics to provide the most cutting-edge therapy for children and adolescents—and their families.

The Child and Adolescent Program serves a wide range of issues.

Our staff consists of experts in a number of issues children and adolescents (and their families) face, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Adoption Issues
  • Adjustment to divorce
  • Neurobehavioral issues
  • Emotional and behavioral regulation

CAP also offers a number of specialized groups for children, adolescents and their families, including:

For more information, visit our Child and Adolescent Program webpage.

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