History of The Multicultural Family Institute

Article on The Multicultural Family Institute’s History for Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

The institute was asked to write a chapter for the Encyclopedia of Couple and Family therapy about our history. The following is from the chapter we wrote:

The Institute’s Evolution

The Multicultural Family Institute (MFI or the Institute) developed from a family systems training program that began in 1972 at the Community Mental Health Center of Rutgers Medical School (CMHC) in Piscataway New Jersey, spearheaded by Monica McGoldrick. In 1991, due to changes in the landscape of mental health, the program moved to Metuchen and was incorporated as a private non-profit educational institution, called the Family Institute of New Jersey. In 2000, The Institute changed its name to The Multicultural Family Institute to better reflect its mission and moved to its present location in Highland Park, New Jersey. The founders, all of whom had worked together at Rutgers Mental Health Center, were Monica McGoldrick, Nydia Garcia Preto, Meyer Rothberg, Paulette Moore Hines, and CharlesEtta Sutton.

In the earliest years of the Family Therapy Training Program at the CMHC we were inspired by many of the 1st generation family therapists, in particular Virginia Satir, most of all through her first book, Conjoint Family Therapy, which was our first “bible.” Jay Haley was also a major influence, especially his book Strategies of Psychotherapy. We had missed the era of Don Jackson, but the Palo Alto group was a great influence also. Change, the book of their second incarnation was a prime text for us all.

From early on McGoldrick was affiliated with two other area Institutes associated with the work of Murray Bowen (The Center for Family Learning and then the Family Institute of Westchester). Bowen’s ideas became central to our training. In addition to a visit from Bowen himself, Phil Guerin, Tom Fogarty, Betty Carter, David Berenson, Ed Friedman and other Bowen oriented therapists visited and inspired the program.

Over the years the Institute became a place where many other influential family systems thinkers came to present their work as well. Harry Aponte became part of our CMHC training faculty bi-weekly for 4 years, training our faculty as well as our students.

Among the many others who visited and taught us repeatedly over the years were David Treadway, JoAnne Krestan, Paul Watzlawick, Norman Paul, Froma Walsh, Carol Anderson and Lynn Hoffman. Several international groups came for multiple visits: Michael White and David Epston, the Irish Fifth Province Team (Nollaig Byrne, Imelda McCarthy and Phil Kearney), and The Just Therapy Team from New Zealand, and we developed a collaboration with Luigi Boscolo and Gianfranco Cecchin, which involved making teaching videos and holding conferences in various places in the U.S., Ireland and Italy. We also cosponsored an International Addictions conference in Dublin 1983, as well as two national conferences (Stonehenge- 1984 and 1986) and one International Women in Family Therapy conferences (Copenhagen, 1991).

In 1991 when the CMHC training ended and our new institute was founded, Betty Carter became our formal godmother, and our network expanded, involving a great many others with whom we collaborated in training and writing projects, including, to mention just a few: Ken Hardy, Nancy Boyd Franklin, Evelyn Lee, Elaine Pinderhughes, Rhea Almeida, Jay Lappin, Matthew Mock, Maria Root, Fernando Colon, Rockey Robbins, Salome Raheim, and many others. From 1994-2008 Eliana Gil became a crucial part of the Institute’s visiting faculty, and together we developed the use of family play genograms and many other techniques for assessing and dealing with children in families.

The Institute’s Aim and Focus

We represent a diversity of cultural perspectives and are committed to promoting a multi-contextual systems life cycle approach to resolving human problems within a framework of community empowerment. The Institute from its inception has been devoted to postgraduate family therapy training, research and consultation to community institutions from a multicultural systemic perspective. We are committed to promoting social justice and countering societal forces that undermine people because of race, gender, culture, class, sexual orientation, religion or disability. We seek to create a world in which all members of our community share in the possibility of finding a “home place” where they feel safe and can receive educational, health and mental health resources that will allow them to function at their best. We collaborate with a broad national and international network of colleagues similarly dedicated to evolving a multi-contextual cultural framework.

Originally our focus was on a 3-year post-graduate training program involving 4 hours a week of didactic training and supervision, emphasizing watching participants at work and the intersection of their own life experience with that of their clients. The focus of the Institute’s clinical training has always begun with encouraging trainees to explore their own identities in systemic context. Students use genograms to understand themselves and their families as well as their clients in historical and social context and from a multi-contextual life cycle perspective.

We have put great effort into recruiting and retaining diverse trainees and faculty who have expanded our clinical thinking beyond the dominant culture. We sponsored numerous workshops and short courses as well as larger conferences, most particularly our annual Culture Conference, which became institutionalized in 1992 and continued to be nodal annual event for us and for our collegial network for 25 years. Over the decades the Institute has trained hundreds of professionals, not only from New Jersey and the tri-state region, but from all over the United States and abroad (including Brazil, Korea, Japan, Germany, Slovenia, Romania, France, Hungary, Finland, and many other countries).

Many of the Institute’s faculty and network are known nationally and internationally for their training and their contributions to cultural understanding. Publications that have evolved through collaboration of our Institute’s network include:

  • Ethnicity and Family Therapy (3rd Edition, 2005- first edition published in 1982) A classic text on the subject of culture in mental health practice, this book offers discussion of more than 50 different ethnic groups in the United States including their cultural characteristics, values, and recommendations for culturally sensitive intervention.
  • Re-Visioning Family Therapy: Race, Culture and Gender in Clinical Practice (3rd Edition due 2017- first edition published in 1998) – A widely used and innovative text providing extensive recommendations for transforming clinical practice to incorporate understanding of the relevance of racism, sexism, immigration, class, and sexual orientation for mental health interventions.
  • The Expanding Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family and Social Perspectives (5th Edition 2016 – 1st ed: 1980). This book, a required text in many programs of social work, psychology, and counseling throughout the U.S., has provided a basic framework for understanding human development in cultural context. The book discusses cultural differences in life cycle patterns, immigration as a major life cycle transition, and the specific life cycle patterns of marginalized families in the U.S.
  • Genograms: Assessment and Intervention (3rd Edition, 2008). This book is widely used throughout the US in mental health training programs within all the health care professions (social work, nursing, psychology, counseling, medicine, etc.). It provides the basic structure for mapping families in cultural context, including exploration of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, geography, and other dimensions of an eco-systemic understanding.
  • Living Beyond Loss: Death and the Family (2nd Edition, 2004). This book provides a wealth of information for families struggling with loss and trauma from a culturally sensitive perspective. Authors discuss interventions to deal with loss from a wide variety of cultural perspectives.
  • The Genogram Casebook (2016). This book explores the use of genograms in clinical practice.

The institute also participated in several major grants focused on cultural training. These included

  • A 3 year grant from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) in which MFI collaborated with Robert Wood Johnson Medical to develop a cultural curriculum for mental health training.
  • A grant to assist in the design and pilot testing of a course for Emergency Medical Service and Public Health personnel. The course focused on the cultural competence and disaster preparedness of front line responders in the event of a bio-terrorist disaster.
  • A 6-year grant from the State of New Jersey to increase the cultural awareness and sensitivity of mental health agency personnel throughout the state.

The Institute has for many years been developing systemic teaching materials, such as diagrams and genograms reproduced in our books and many videos we have used for teaching. In recent years we have begun developing short educational videos on topics including: culture, immigration and race, life cycle issues, loss and unresolved mourning, genograms and family patterns including triangles and detriangling. (For details see our website: www.MulticulturalFamily.org). Among our primary references have been:

For more than four decades we at MFI have been puzzling over the meaning of our cultural identities. How do we deal with our changing identities as we move through the life cycle? How do we deal with those identities that are held in place by the definitions and values of others, and those that shift as we move through life? What kinds of belonging matter? What do our identities have to do with our sense of home? How much control do we have over the definitions of our identities? We have sought to understand the intersectionality of power (power over our lives, power within ourselves, and power in our relationships) with our multiple and changing identities over the life cycle. We have explored strategies that help clients successfully navigate these interlocking dimensions of power and identity and transform their narratives from conflict, cut-off, and cynicism toward creativity, connection, and resilience.

Our group has struggled increasingly with how to keep the intersectionality of numerous dimensions of our multiple identities in the conversation. We have fought against the pathologizing narratives therapists have increasingly been pressured to emphasize in clinical assessment and intervention. Systemic work requires transforming such dysfunction-seeking practices toward more creative resilience-focused healing and clinical interventions. We strive to support therapists in seeking the sources of strength and reslilence that are primary for clinical intervention.



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Gil, E. (2014). Play in Family Therapy, 2nd edition. New York: Guilford Press.

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Lerner, H. (2012). Marriage rules. A manual for the married and the coupled up. New York: Gotham.

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McGoldrick, M., & Hardy, K.V. (2008). Re-visioning family therapy: Race, culture, and gender in clinical practice. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford Press.

McGoldrick, M., Gerson, R., & Petry, S. (2008). Genograms: Assessment and intervention. (3rd ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.

McGoldrick, M., Giordano, J., & Garcia Preto, N. (2005). Ethnicity and family therapy (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

McGoldrick, M., Schlesinger, J. M., Hines. P. M., Lee, E., Chan, J., Almeida, R., Petkov, B. et al. (2004). Mourning in different cultures: English, Irish, African American, Chinese, Asian Indian, Jewish, Latino, and Brazilian. In F. Walsh & M. McGoldrick (Eds.), Living beyond loss: Death in the family (2nd ed., pp. 119–160). New York: Norton.

McGoldrick, M., & Watson, M. (2016). Siblings through the life cycle. In M. McGoldrick, N. G. Preto, & B. Carter, (Eds). The expanding family life cycle: individual, family and social perspectives. 5th edition. Cranbury, NJ: Pearson.

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Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of learning organizations. New York: Doubleday.

Vaillant, G. (2012). Triumphs of experience: The men of the Harvard study. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Walsh, F., & McGoldrick, M. (2004). Living beyond loss: Death in the family (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.

Watzlawick, P, Weakland, J. & Fisch, R. (1974). Change. New York: W. W. Norton.