Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research  

Laurence Kirmayer, MD 

Laurence J. Kirmayer, MD, FRCPC, FCAHS, FRSC is James McGill Professor and Director, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University. He is Editor-in-Chief of Transcultural Psychiatry, a Senior Investigator at the Lady Davis Institute, and Director of the Culture & Mental Health Research Unit at the Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry, Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, where he conducts research on culturally responsive mental health services, the mental health of Indigenous peoples, the integration of culture in global mental health, and the anthropology and philosophy of psychiatry. He founded and directs the annual McGill Summer Program in Social and Cultural Psychiatry (www.mcgill.ca/tcpsych). In Canada, he founded the National Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research, the Cultural Consultation Service, and the Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre. His publications include over 300 articles and book chapters as well as the co-edited volumes: Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Healing Traditions: The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (University of British Columbia Press, 2008); Cultural Consultation: Encountering the Other in Mental Health Care (Springer, 2013); Re-Visioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health (Cambridge, 2015); and Culture, Mind and Brain: Emerging Concepts, Methods, and Applications (Cambridge, 2020). He is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada (Academy of Social Sciences). 

I am deeply honored to receive the 2020 AFTA Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research Award. This recognition from AFTA is especially meaningful to me because family theory and therapy have been central to my thinking over the whole span of my career. Although only a few of my papers explicitly address family dynamics, a family systems perspective undergirds everything I have done in my research, teaching and clinical practice. 


As a medical student in the mid-1970s, and later a resident, I had the good fortune to be trained at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, where Nathan Epstein, Herta Guttman, John Sigal, and others had made family therapy a central component of psychiatric training. The systemic thinking this inculcated was crucial to my later practice in consultation-liaison psychiatry and to all of my subsequent research in cultural psychiatry and psychological anthropology. My earliest research on somatization aimed to integrate cognitive and social perspectives informed by a systemic view and this has been a constant in my subsequent work on culturally responsive mental health services, resilience and mental health promotion with Indigenous communities, and recent efforts to elaborate an embodied-enactivist paradigm on cultural affordances, we call “thinking through other minds.” 


I have always held that family theory and therapy provide the most natural path to cultural psychiatry. The research my colleagues and I have done on cultural consultation often hinges on understanding family systems. My onoing work on mental health promotion for Indigenous youth brings family and cultural perspectives together to support communities in building local culturally adapted versions of a family-centered program. In short, this recognition from AFTA, an association dedicated to the advancement of family therapy, affirms a shared vision of a truly integrative, ecosocial approach to mental health that recognizes the ways we are constituted by family, culture, and community.