Practical experience shows that business families are exposed to special challenges due to the mixing of the two work and life contexts of business and family, which can have an influence on the mental health of individual members and the affected social system “family” as a whole. There are still no well-founded scientific answers to the question of how these challenges affect mental health.

In the literature, systemic family therapy perspectives (concept of invisible bonds in the sense of family loyalties, concept of balancing accounts in the sense of a balanced give and take, concept of delegations and related individuation) provide initial attempts at explaining the emergence, maintenance and change of mental stresses and disorders, but have not yet been empirically investigated in the context of business families.

The aim of the interdisciplinary research project is to empirically investigate mental health in business families, along a systemic psychological understanding of mental health and illness.



The project aims to open up the field of mental health in business families for research. A topic that has so far been kept rather quiet in society will thus be de-tabooed and members of business families will be offered a context in which an open exchange about mental stress can be possible. The results of the study are to be used to create a (family therapy) support service that can accompany and strengthen business families in dealing with mental stresses such as disorders and in promoting and maintaining their mental health.



3 graue Figuren stehen in einem Kreis

Source: Lehrstuhl Klinische Psychologie & Psychotherapie III, UWH



The project is a cooperation project between the Witten Institute for Family Business (WIFU) and the Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy III of the Faculty of Health at Witten/Herdecke University. The research team is made up of Prof. Dr. Tom Rüsen, CEO of the WIFU Foundation and Managing Director of the WIFU, Prof. Dr. Heiko Kleve, Chair of Organisation and Development of Business Families and Academic Director of WIFU, Prof. Dr. Christina Hunger-Schoppe, Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy III, specialising in systemic as well as family therapy, University of Witten/Herdecke, and PhD student Johanna Wichmann, M.Sc., Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.


Prof. Dr. Tom Rüsen (CEO WIFU Foundation/Managing Director WIFU)


Prof. Dr. Heiko Kleve (Academic Director at the WIFU/ Chairholder Organisation and Development of Business Families)


Prof. Dr. Christina Hunger-Schoppe (Chairholder Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy III)


Johanna Wichmann, M.Sc. (doctoral student in clinical psychology)


Title: Mental Health Business Families (MAIN-ERA)

Duration: since September 2022

Sponsoring: WIFU Foundation


The research project is divided into three sub-studies, whose common goal is to investigate the research topic as comprehensively as possible, using different scientific methods.
Participation in one sub-study can take place completely independently of participation in another sub-study and does not require participation in a subsequent sub-study.

In the first sub-study, interviews will be conducted with members of entrepreneurial families to find out what significant experiences they have had on the topics of mental health, mental stress and mental disorders. In sub-study 2, these experiences will be critically examined and further developed via an online survey with the use of psychological questionnaires. The third sub-study comprises a representative health survey via an independent opinion research institute.


Would you like to learn more about our project or can you imagine participating in one of our sub-studies?

Please fill out our contact form and we will get in touch with you!


Johanna Wichmann, M.Sc.

Doctoral student in clinical psychology & locally responsible project manager



    Böszörményi-Nagy, I. & Spark, G.M. (2015): Unsichtbare Bindungen: Die Dynamik familiärer Systeme (10.Aufl.) Klett-Cotta.

    Hörsting, A-K., & Rüsen, T. (2021). Psychische Störungen in Unternehmerfamilien. FuS, 5, 183-189.

    Hunger-Schoppe, C. (2021): Systemische Therapie. Kohlhammer.

    Kleve, H. (2020): Die Unternehmerfamilie. Wie Wachstum, Sozialisation und Beratung gelingen kann. Carl-Auer Verlag.

    Rüsen, T. (2021). Vom Schatten ins Licht – Tabus der Unternehmerfamilie. FuS, 4, 128-133.

    Rüsen, T.A., & Hörsting, A-K. (2022). Den psychischen Belastungen in einer Unternehmerfamilie als duales Beraterteam begegnen. Familiendynamik, 47(2), 142-146.

    Schweitzer, J., & v. Schlippe, A. (2015): Lehrbuch der systemischen Therapie und Beratung II. das störungsspezifische Wissen (6. unveränderte Aufl.). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

    Simon, F.B. (2007): Familienunternehmen als Risikofaktor. In: A.v.Schlippe, A. Nischak, & M. El Hachimi (Hrsg.). Familienunternehmen verstehen… Gründer, Gesellschafter und Generationen. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

    Simon, F.B. (2011): Die Familie des Familienunternehmens. Ein System zwischen Gefühl und Geschäft. Carl-Auer Verlag.

    Simon, F.B. (2012). Einführung in die Theorie des Familienunternehmens. Carl-Auer Verlag.

    Stierlin, H. (2005): Gerechtigkeit in nahen Beziehungen. Systemisch-therapeutische Perspektiven. Carl-Auer.

    Von Schlippe, A. (2014): Das kommt in den besten Familien vor… Systemische Konfliktbearbeitung in Familien und Unternehmerfamilien. Concordia Verlag.

    Von Schlippe, A., & Schweitzer, J. (2016). Lehrbuch der systemischen Therapie und Beratung I. das Grundlagenwissen (3. unveränderte Aufl.). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.


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