2021 Sigourney Award Recipients

November 23, 2021


Dear IPI Community,

We are pleased to share the news that David E. Scharff, MD, FABP and Jill Savege Scharff, MD, FABP, MRC.Psych. are recipients of the 2021 Sigourney Award.

The Sigourney Award is the highest distinction in the field of psychoanalysis. Founded by Mary Sigourney, the award honors innovative advancement of psychoanalytic thought and practice around the world. Eligibility criteria include initiatives that (1) heighten the visibility of the field of psychoanalysis and its applications to other disciplines; (2) interest young people in studying psychoanalysis; and (3) encompass diversity, equity, and inclusion.

David and Jill Scharff are the first couple to receive the Sigourney Award together in the same year.  The nomination, for which Otto Kernberg and Anne Alvarez wrote supporting letters, earned the Scharffs the award in recognition of their exceptional contributions as pioneers of teleanalysis and training in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and couple and family therapy on an international scale. A distinguished panel of independent judges evaluated submissions from five continents. The other two recipients awarded this year are the Erikson Institute for Education, Research, and Advocacy at the Austen Riggs Center and Jorge Claudio Ulnik, MD, PhD from Argentina.  For further information about the Sigourney Award and past preeminent award recipients, you may visit the Sigourney website at www.sigourneyaward.org.

David and Jill Scharff with the bird house given to them on IPI’s 10th anniversary.

Co-founders of the International Psychotherapy Institute (IPI), David and Jill Scharff have been passionate forerunners of distance education since the early 1990s. Prior to the advent of the Internet, the Scharffs and IPI utilized the telephone and later the Intranet (an earlier form of videoconference technology) to link teaching centers in the United States with the United Kingdom, and later with Latin America and beyond. David and Jill Scharff were inspired to deliver quality psychoanalytic teaching and practice and to bring psychoanalysis to nations and geographic areas (beginning with Panama, Long Island and Salt Lake) where psychoanalytic clinicians were absent or rare, and where daily travel would be prohibitively expensive. Their work united psychoanalytic clinicians from Austria, China, Greece, Israel, Latin America, New Zealand, Russia, and South Africa.

The Scharffs were key in legitimizing the field of teleanalysis and teleteaching, methodologies looked upon askance at that time as non-traditional and less effective. As early adopters of teleanalysis and teleteaching, the Scharffs required not only ingenuity, but also courage and tenacity as stalwart supporters of this pioneering approach. Their work in remote learning and practice began three decades before the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated such vital techniques to preserve our interconnected lives and work. Inside their professional home of the IPI, David and Jill Scharff still contribute by mentoring and teaching clinicians at all stages of their careers to promote the ongoing development of excellence in psychoanalytic treatment approaches with individuals, couples, families, and communities.

Jill and David Scharff have expressed their intention to donate to IPI their financial award that accompanies the Sigourney prize in acknowledgement of their gratitude to IPI and all the students, faculty and program partners who worked with them to build an international psychoanalytic distance learning community. Specifically, the Scharffs have suggested that IPI use their prize money to create a fund for an IPI annual distinguished guest lecture, an online event to reflect their pioneering devotion to teleanalysis and distance learning on a domestic and international scale. The terms and conditions of this initiative within the IPI will be developed and discussed between the Scharffs and the IPI over the coming weeks. David and Jill’s generous gift exemplifies their kindhearted spirit and tireless devotion to IPI and its promotion of worldwide access to psychoanalysis and the development of future generations of analytic practitioners, educators, and leaders.

Please join us in honoring David and Jill Scharff for receiving the prestigious Sigourney Award.

Warmest wishes,

Caroline Sehon, MD, FABP (IPI Director)

Caroline Sehon, MD
Rich Zeitner, PhD, FABP, ABPP (IPI Board Chairman)

Your Child Is Struggling. Could Your Marriage Be to Blame?

David Scharff, MD

The health of your partnership plays a major role in your child’s mental health.


  • Maintaining marital and personal satisfaction creates a huge benefit for the mental health of families and their children.
  • Research shows a link between the parents’ relationship and their child’s social and academic outcome.
  • Therapists should consider the parental dynamic when addressing mental health issues in children.

Well-documented research cites trauma, socioeconomic status, education, peer effects, parental bonding, nutrition, and sleep habits as clear contributors to a child’s overall health outcomes. But one unique area of research — and one not often addressed — has shown that the role of the parental couple’s relationship also has a hugely significant effect on the health of their children.

Study: The couple relationship and children’s health

Both born in Toronto, Drs. Phil and Carolyn Cowan are both professors emeritus at UC Berkeley. When they began their work in the 1970s, there was no research on the role of the couple relationship on the outcomes for children’s health or overall adjustment. And many child therapists did not even allocate regular time to seeing parents at all. There was a fair bit of research on parenting — as well as John Bowlby’s pioneering work on attachment theory — but nothing that looked at the couple’s dynamic, in and of itself, as a cause for a child’s emotional health.

The Cowans’ research considered this dynamic. They noted that marital satisfaction and happiness decline after having children, and surmised that this decline adversely affects their children’s wellbeing. (The decline in marital and personal happiness in parenthood is well documented. Many couples never regain their pre-child levels of satisfaction with their lives, or perhaps not until the children leave home, and by then divorce has often intervened.)

The Cowans devised an intervention: a 16-week peer couples’ group, facilitated by clinically trained co-leaders. Two similar group interventions were designed. Each provided a similar curriculum, but with a different focus. After the unstructured opening segment of each week, the curriculum then focused on either (1) improving the couple’s wellbeing as a couple or (2) improving their parenting skills.


The most impressive gains resulted in the first group: Couples maintained (though did not improve) their previous level of satisfaction with their marriage. Other significant improvements did occur in the second group: fathers’ parental participation rates, children’s academic performance, and the parental relationship as it related specifically to their shared parenting.

To be more specific, both groups showed improvement, but the group that focused on the relationship between the parents talking about their own issues showed superior results, especially in supporting their children’s social and academic achievement. While the parenting-focused group did help with parenting, the relationship-focused groups did both that and also affected the quality of the relationship between the parents. (A surprising bonus came when the researchers discovered an unintended consequence: Overall, the families also increased their income.)


Over subsequent years, the Cowans have validated that initial finding: Maintaining marital and personal satisfaction and reducing couple conflict creates a huge benefit for the mental health of families and their children. The emotional challenges of having children are well known; we all know that having young or adolescent children in our lives — while very much worth the pain — is indeed often a pain! Never before has a research project looked at the toll this change can take on parents’ mental health and marital health, and then intervened with treatment intended to reverse the damage this inflicts on their children.

The intervention trials originally were conducted with working- and middle-class couples, but in the last two decades, in collaboration with Marsha Kline Pruett and Kyle Pruett, they have shown that the same curriculum and format leads to positive results for parents and children in more than 1,000 ethnically diverse low-income families.

Carolyn and Phil Cowan. Source: Photo supplied by authors.
Carolyn and Phil Cowan.
Source: Photo supplied by authors.

The Cowans’ work has been replicated in other countries, including Canada, Malta, Poland, and England. In England in particular, the government has funded a large project through Tavistock Relationships (TR), with the collaboration of the Cowans. So far, the British program is the only one that actually showed an increase in marital satisfaction! Phil Cowan guesses that is due to the advanced skill of the group leaders at TR.

The Cowans’ discoveries and research deserve to be more widely known as the groundbreaking work that it is. I recommend their work and that of their collaborators as basic reading for family, couple, and child therapists everywhere.


Cowan, C. (1970, August 1). Transitions to parenthood: His, hers, and theirs – Carolyn Pape Cowan, Philip A. Cowan, Gertrude Heming, Ellen Garrett, William S. Coysh, Harriet Curtis-Boles, Abner J. Boles, 1985. SAGE Journals. Retrieved October 25, 2021.

Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (2000). When partners become parents: The Big Life Change for couples. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cowan, P. (2019, March 1). Fathers’ and mothers’ attachment styles, couple conflict, parenting quality, and children’s behavior problems: An intervention test of mediation. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616734.2019.1582600.

Lawrence, E., Rothman, A. D., Cobb, R. J., Rothman, M. T., & Bradbury, T. N. (2008, February). Marital satisfaction across the transition to parenthood. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43). Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367106/.

McGreevey, S. (2018, April 16). Study flags later risks for sleep-deprived kids. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/study-flags-later-risks-….

Pauly, C., Cowan, P., and Cowan, C. (2017). Parents as partners: A U.K. trial of a U.S. couples … (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316456407_Parents_as_Partners_….

Parker, G., Tupling, H., & Brown, L. B. (2011, July 14). A parental bonding instrument. British Psychological Society. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2044-8341….

Putnam, F. W. (2009, July 14). The impact of trauma on child development. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1755-6988.2006.tb0011….

Robert H. Bradley and Robert F. CorwynCenter for Applied Studies in Education. (n.d.). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Reviews. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.1….


David E. Scharff, MD, is the Co-Founder and Former Director, the International Psychotherapy Institute, and a Supervising Analyst in The International Institute for Psychoanalytic Training, IPI’s analytic program. He is Co-Chair of APsaA’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee and a member of APsaA’s Distance Analysis Study Group. He also directs training programs in China and Russia.