Nathan Ward Ackerman

A Russian-born, American psychiatrist, family therapist, and college professor. He is perhaps best known for founding the field of family psychology.

Nathan Ackerman spent the early years of his psychiatry career as chief psychiatrist at the Menninger Child Guidance Clinic. He was also chief psychiatrist at the Jewish Board of Guardians in New York City and held numerous similar positions throughout New York City prior to and during World War II (1939–45). He became a clinical professor, lecturing in several divisions at Columbia University in New York, after 1944.

In 1938, he published two important works that established the foundation for the field of family psychology: The Unity of the Family and Family Diagnosis: An Approach to the Preschool Child. He was a prolific academic writer and published extensively in scholarly journals. Ackerman theorized that the mental health of any one family member affects the wellbeing of other members and that the most effective way to treat one member within a family group is to work with the group as a whole. Throughout his career, he specialized in family psychotherapy.

In 1960, he created the nonprofit Institute for Family Studies and Treatment, the primary goal of which was the promotion of individual health by supporting the health of the family. He developed a research program to help support the work of the institute. After his death in 1971, the institute was renamed the Nathan W. Ackerman Institute. The institute created and maintains a journal entitled Family Process, a highly regarded periodical within the field of family therapy. The Ackerman Institute remains a highly respected facility for family therapy worldwide.

See also American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry ; Developmental psychology; Family therapy .



Bowen, Murray. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

Carr, Alan. Family Therapy: Concepts, Process, and Practice, 3rd ed. Boston: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.


Imber-Black, Evan. “Eschewing Certainties: The Creation of Family Therapists in the 21st Century.” Family Process 534 (July 2014): 371–79.


Ackerman Institute for the Family. “Our History.” (accessed July 18, 2015).

American Psychological Association. “APA Online.” (accessed July 18, 2015).


Ackerman Institute for the Family, 936 Broadway, 2nd Fl., New York, NY, 10010, (212) 879-4900, ext. 100, Fax: (212) 744-0206,, .

American Psychological Association, 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC, 20002, (202) 336-5500, (800) 3742721, .