Montecito Journal | In The News

Walking the Talk Don and Debra MacMannis, Authors of How's Your Family Really Doing?
(Montecito Journal – September 22, 2011)

Child psychologist Don MacMannis, 62, has churned out three books in the past four years. For his fourth, How’s Your Family Really Doing? 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family, he collaborated with his wife, Debra, a psychotherapist.

“It took twenty years to come together,” says Don, a director of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara. “We’ve had numerous revisions and honed down the process. It is the culmination of our experience training hundreds of therapists. “It was undoubtedly challenging. There was lots of debate. We walked our talk!”

Don is also a musician, acting as song writer and music director for the animated PBS hit, “Jay Jay the JetPlane.” The dynamic duo launched their new tome with an 85-guest party at their Montecito home…

Press Release

Click HERE to download our Press Release as a PDF document

Husband-­and-­wife team of psychotherapists—and parents—draw from extensive research to explain the 10 essential keys that define successful families.

Minneapolis, MN—For most people, family is valued above all else. But the kind of family we want and the family we’ve created can be as different as night and day. Families can be our greatest comfort or the source of our deepest pain. Unprecedented levels of stress, massive cultural shifts, and new technologies challenge the way we live. We are flooded with more information and one-­‐size-­‐fits-­‐all solutions than anyone can sort through, so it is little wonder parents feel at a loss for answers when their families are in crisis.

Because most of us haven’t had classes in how to be a family, Don MacMannis, Ph.D., and Debra Manchester MacMannis, M.S.W., have written How’s Your Family Really Doing? 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family (Two Harbors Press, $15.95), a guidebook that synthesizes contributions from family studies, psychological and brain research, systems theory and spirituality. The book highlights the 10 essential keys that define successful families and provides practical tools to personalize every reader’s experience.

As a society, we are relentlessly inundated with how-­‐to books focusing on symptoms that one or more family members may be experiencing—anxiety, depression, school problems, out of control behaviors, addictions and so on. But parents seeking information about specific issues often find themselves frustrated when trying new techniques without success. That’s because many books fail to explore what else may be going on in the family that can create or encourage problem behaviors. In contrast, How’s Your Family Really Doing? provides the reader with a checklist of the most important, underlying “family factors” that can augment their efforts at change.

The book begins with a 50-­‐point questionnaire—the Current Family Assessment—to evaluate the family, identify where it is thriving, and explore where improvements are needed. Upon completing the questionnaire, readers learn which of the 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family need attention and why. Providing practical tools for families in any stage of the life cycle, it is concise, engaging, and designed to capture the interest of working moms and dads who are often too busy to pore through lengthier works.

“As practicing psychotherapists for 30-­‐plus years, we have worked with thousands of couples and families who have reached out for help,” explain the authors. “Our model is positive, practical, and strength-­‐based, and this book is an extension of that affirming approach.”

How’s Your Family Really Doing? helps parents:

  • Recognize the characteristics of healthy families and how to bring out the best in one another.
  • Identify their family’s strengths and areas needing improvement.
  • Facilitate conversations about desired changes.
  • Create a working set of goals to focus efforts at improvement.
  • Examine the similarities and differences between their family of origin and current family.
  • Find specific ways to strengthen skills for each of the 10 Keys.

How’s Your Family Really Doing? provides parents with the knowledge and resources to create happier, healthier, and more loving families for a lifetime.


How’s Your Family Really Doing? 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family
by Don MacMannis, Ph.D.
Debra Manchester MacMannis, M.S.W.
ISBN 978-­1-­936401-­92-­5 • $15.95 • Softcover • 222 pp. • 5 1⁄2″ x 8 1⁄2″ • Parenting/Family

About the Authors

Dr. Don MacMannis Ph.D. and Debra MacMannis M.S.W., Authors of How's Your Family Really Doing?Don and Debra are a team both at home and at the office. Husband and wife for almost 30 years, they have simultaneously served as directors of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara, a nonprofit organization. In this capacity they oversee the clinical work of 14 therapists providing help to hundreds of clients each year. They are authors or coauthors of numerous articles on parenting and clinical issues. In 2009, Don won the title of “Best Family Therapist” in a poll taken by In 2010, Debra was honored with an Award for Service to the Community by local therapists and the mayor of Santa Barbara “for 30 years of inspiration, leadership, and training provided to thousands of clinicians, and the devotion exemplified in consistent visionary work for the community.”

Don has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth, a master’s in school–child psychology from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. Also a musician, he was songwriter and music director for the animated PBS hit, Jay Jay the Jet Plane. His public education efforts have culminated in the writing and production of Ready to Rock Kids, a series of songs and activities that help young children with social and emotional learning. His music has won more than 10 major awards.

Debra received her undergraduate degree in psychology with distinction from Stanford University and her master’s in social welfare from University of California at Berkeley with a specialty in family therapy and community mental health. Prior to founding the Institute in 1979, she was the executive director of Social Advocates for Youth in the San Francisco Bay Area, working with runaway teens and children at risk. She has taught marriage and family therapy at Antioch University, Pacifica Graduate Institute, numerous local agencies, schools, and mental health facilities.

Don and Debra have lived in Santa Barbara, California, for the past 32 years. They share a love of games, music, movies, biking, hiking, travel, and art.


Q: Describe what your book is all about.

Current and comprehensive, How’s Your Family Really Doing? is a guidebook that helps readers build strong, loving, and happy families for the new millennium. Weaving together contributions from psychology, neurobiology, systems theory and spirituality, it also draws from extensive new brain research to highlight 10 essential keys that define successful families. After completing a 50-point questionnaire, parents receive feedback about their family’s strengths and areas for improvement. Providing dozens of practical tools for families in any stage of the life cycle, it is concise, engaging, and designed to capture the interest of working moms and dads who are often too busy to pore through lengthier works.

Q: What is unique about this book?

This book is written by a husband-and-wife team and expresses both male and female perspectives. In addition to being parents ourselves, we each have more than 35 years of experience in treating families from all walks of life. It is also unique in that we’ve integrated the latest findings of studies on families and brain research into dozens of tips and tools that can be easily learned and applied.

Self-help books keep flying off the shelves, almost all with a particular focus on symptoms that one or more family members may be experiencing—such as anxiety, depression, school problems, out of control behaviors, or addictions. But parents buying books about fixing specific problems are often frustrated when trying new techniques without success. That’s because these books fail to include what else may be going on in the family that can create or even encourage problem behaviors. In contrast, How’s Your Family Really Doing? provides readers with a checklist of the most important, underlying family factors that can add to their efforts at change.

Q: How did you become inspired to write How’s Your Family Really Doing?

The inspiration for this book came from the thousands of families that reached out to us for help over the last 35 years. We have been asked the same question over and over: “Why didn’t we learn this information in school?” We’ve been able to uncover and synthesize the essential characteristics of healthy families to apply them in our practice, teaching, training of therapists, and in our own family. This is the course that we all wish had been offered in high school or college. Imagine the mistakes that could have been avoided had anyone taught us the essentials of healthy relating…

Q: Describe how you have used scientific research in your quest to present this material.

Research has demonstrated that successful families can achieve the task of raising children who live independently and establish stable and harmonious relationships. They can create a sense of closeness, a positive sense of family identity, provide support and encouragement through times of stress, and allow for the uniqueness of their members. Buried in piles of professional literature, we have uncovered the 10 Keys—the common factors or essential threads that are needed to build successful and lasting relationships.

Q: Is it just a parenting book for young parents, or more?

Our book was conceptualized and written to be more than just a parenting book. It can be used as a reference—like an encyclopedia of family relationships that can be turned to at pivotal moments in the family life cycle. The tips and tools can help family members regardless of whether the kids are still growing up or have left the nest. Equally appropriate for families with toddlers, teens or grandparents, evaluation and change in families is aided by the input of as many players and generations as possible. It can be used as a pre-marital tool, as preparation for the birth of a child, at a time when a child is symptomatic and the family wants to know why, at the blending of two new families, or at a break-up or a geographical move.

Q: How did you develop the Family Assessments?

As psychotherapists co-directing a training institute for the past 30 years, we have had the privilege of hand-picking and sponsoring dozens of workshops that featured internationally-renowned clinicians, researchers and experts on families. Add to this our own roles as professors, consultants and trainers. The responsibility for overseeing the well being of literally thousands of families has provided the impetus for our quest to understand how we can best help. Just as a blood test provides an objective means of evaluating physical health, we saw the need for assessing the strengths and needs of families in treatment. Once we had identified the 10 Keys that underlie healthy relationships, the specific questions became more obvious. We also borrowed from a number of assessment tools that have been used for research on healthy versus dysfunctional families.

Q: What is the essence of family systems theory and why is it so important?

There is a saying that resonates with many parents that “you can only be as happy as your least happy child.” This feeling comes from the fact that our health and well being are so closely connected to that of our loved ones. Systems theory explains how and why individuals are best understood within the context of the family, by examining the important patterns, rules, roles and dynamics in relationships. Knowing about these influences helps everyone learn how to bring out the best in each other.

Q: How did you find the process of writing this book as a couple?

Writing a book, alone or with a co-author, is an intense experience. To be honest, we probably could not have done it successfully until we had learned to put the 10 Keys into practice in our own relationship. We have learned about teamwork and collaboration, conflict and consensus, and respecting each other’s differences through our prior collaborations: the raising of our two kids and the co-directing of The Family Therapy Institute. It was certainly a struggle at times, but the good news is that we’re still married and in love!

At the practical level, we bring different strengths and interests to our projects, and divide tasks in ways that work for us. We really each contributed 50 percent of the effort. Don provided the ongoing inspiration and motivation, and the addition of very practical tips and tools, while Debra is more the academic, who loved to pore through the research to expand and validate the concepts. She’s also the one who carried the content into a more poetic and flowing form. We’ve even included one of her poems as an inspirational message and conclusion to the book.

Q: Can you share a story from your own family’s experience?

We share a number of personal stories in the book, but one of the most significant events in the life of our family occurred when our younger son, Cree, was in a near-fatal mountain biking accident. We faced, as a family, the trauma of his coma, traumatic brain injury, five months of hospitalization and subsequent years of outpatient treatment. In order to help with his care, Deb’s mother moved to Santa Barbara from the area where she had lived her entire life, and our older son transferred his job to live

back home with us until his brother was back on his feet. We learned in the deepest way about the importance of teamwork, family and community connections, accepting help from others and what happens when a family is struck with loss or tragedy. Now grateful for his recovery, we live with more awareness of the fragility of life and treasure each moment that we have with loved ones.

Q: Many families find strength in their shared faith, but others take comfort from other sources. Is there a spiritual component to your book?

One of the essential threads of our book is the importance of a shared set of values, beliefs, and ethical practices in families. This topic is addressed primarily in the eighth key, “Seeing the Positive.” Uncovered as an emphasis in every religion we studied, we talk about the Golden Rule as a universal principle that helps us honor our connections to all of humanity and to the earth herself.

Q: Why do you also include an assessment of the reader’s family in which they grew up?

The Family of Origin Assessment offers ways to examine the similarities and differences between current family and family of origin patterns. This process highlights how we can either repeat or make unwise compensations for childhood experiences. Sometimes we’ve buried old feelings as a way of avoiding the pain associated with them. Unfortunately, the “unfinished business” from our childhood and previous relationships also tends to get projected onto and played out with our partner and/or children. It is sad but true that the people we love the most in the world become victims of this process.

Q: How do you see this research and material being used in the future?

Beyond the book, one dream is to get this information out there to teens before they get married and have children. Think of the problems and heartache that could be prevented! Perhaps it could be integrated into high school or college curricula in the form of a course that could include an animated series of DVDs—first taking students through the assessment process and then highlighting and teaching each of the keys.

Another goal is to have this information available in graduate schools of training as well as to clinicians in practice. We would love to give therapists the opportunity to improve their rates of success with clients.

Q: Is the book designed to be read and used once or over and over?

Our hope is that How’s Your Family… becomes well worn and dog-eared with use over many years. Part of what makes it different is that it can be read from beginning to end, or start with the test and then flip through to the keys that need immediate attention. It also can be pulled off the shelf to look up a book in our list of self-help references. We hope that folks will take notes in the margins, track their progress, and share it with friends.

Q: What is the music that is connected to your 10 Keys?

In addition to being a child psychologist, Don is an award-winning songwriter and producer of children’s music. In order to make these same concepts accessible to young children, the keys have been adapted into songs and activities that are ideal for 3-to-8 year-olds (but beloved by kids of all ages). They provide a fun and entertaining way for children to learn and apply these same concepts in their own lives. Links to companion songs for each of the 10 Keys can be found at


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