Intrepid Woman: Lois Braverman, President & CEO, Ackerman Institute for the Family

lois_bravermanBy Michelle Hendelman, Editor-in-Chief

Lois Braverman, President & CEO of the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City, lived and worked for thirty-two years in Iowa before joining the Ackerman Institute in her current role seven years ago. “The Ackerman Institute is one of the premier family therapy training institutes in the world. Some of the most innovative ideas and strategies for helping families and members of families get better,” said Braverman.

Being asked to lead the Ackerman Institute would be an honor for anyone in Braverman’s field, but the fact that throughout her career she has always regarded the Ackerman Institute as thought leaders in family therapy certainly seems to have foreshadowed Braverman’s appointment as the leader of the institute.

She was excited to come to the Ackerman Institute and become a part of the approach to family therapy that involves approaching issues both contextually and systemically, according to Braverman. “My whole team is thinking about best practices all the time.” added Braverman, “We are like a think tank and we are always pushing the envelope to find the best treatment interventions for each family.”

Exploring the Role of Women in Relationships

“From very early on in my career I was very interested in the intersection and interworking between feminism and psychotherapy,” explained Braverman. To this end, she was the founding editor of the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy where she published some of the earliest collections of writings on women, feminism and family therapy.

Braverman added, “I bring a very long history of interest in this field to be able to ask the question: how does a woman’s role in the workplace affect their physical health, mental health, and the health of the relationships they have with their family members?”

One of the biggest questions that Braverman strives to answer through her work is: What does it take to have a truly egalitarian relationship? She noted, “While most of the early work on this topic is focused on heterosexual relationships, I also approach this question from the perspective of a same sex couple as well.” She focuses a lot on the dynamics of power and privilege within relationships, especially with regard to ideas about gender roles and stereotypes.

“Although some things have changed, women are still the primary caretakers of their children, they use mental health services more than men, and they feel more burdened when something is going wrong with their kids,” Braverman noted.

Work/Life Balance for Professional Women

The discussion about professional women wanting to have it all is certainly not a new one for Braverman. In 1983, she taught a course on the balancing act ambitious women must master in order to fulfill their career desires as well as their desire to parent and be a nurturer. “In this course, I talked about how part of parenting has to do with the memories your children hold. Any regular ritual you establish will have meaning for your children,” explained Braverman. She added that these rituals don’t have to happen every single day for them to make a lasting imprint on your children, but rather the consistency of the event is what remains in your child’s memory and creates a bond.

“Women can have both,” said Braverman, “but it depends on whose bar and whose expectations they use about what that balance looks like. If you are going to work full-time, but you also plan to puree your own organic baby food at home, it will place an enormous amount of stress on you. What’s more important is to be available to your child when you are at home. This will make a big difference.”

She encourages women to put the technology aside when they are supposed to be spending quality time with their kids, even if it is only for an hour. She noted that women often have expectations of what they are going to do at home after work that are not always realistic. Braverman explained, “There is a lot of ideology about what it means to be a good mom that has shifted throughout the decades. Every woman needs to determine for themselves what it means to be a good mom.”

Women in the Workplace

To professional women who encounter gender bias at work, Braverman suggests staying calm, picking your battles, and speaking your mind politely and professionally. She explained, “When I am coaching women who want to negotiate a pay increase, I urge them to speak up and not stay silent about it. Women need to make their aspirations and career goals clear so that they don’t become invisible to their supervisors.”

Women also should advocate for themselves in the workplace, according to Braverman. She advised, “You have to feed the ideas, especially if you are part of the non-dominant group, because no one will feed the ideas for you.”

Braverman acknowledged just how important professional mentors can be by sharing her own life-changing experiences facilitated by her mentor, feminist psychologist Rachel Hare-Mustin. “She was much more senior and established in the field, and she made an enormous difference in my career. She was the President of an organization called the American Family Therapy Academy, and she brought me on in a chair position on one of the committees,” recalled Braverman.

She continued, “When she was asked to speak internationally, she would invite me to come and present my papers around the world. When someone recognizes you and thinks your ideas are important, it gives you confidence to pursue your ideas.”

Braverman also stressed how important it is to be genuine with every person you interact with and to make a unique connection. This is something she tries very hard to follow and has found that doing so has made a big difference in her career. She noted, “When you go to a networking event and have just two conversations that are real and have meaning to you, then you leave feeling energized. There is research suggesting that people actually feel better when they make genuine connections with others.” She added, “Ask people questions that you really want to hear the answer to.”

Outside the Office

“I am a pretty serious practitioner of yoga,” said Braverman. In her personal time she also enjoys to bike and walk on the streets of New York City and take in all of the life. She also relishes in the moments where she can be isolated in nature, enjoying quiet activities like bird watching.