2021 Winter Conference: Clinical Application of Bowen Family Systems Theory

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Deadline: FEBRUARY 25, 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021
23rd Annual, Day of Workshops

Clinical Application of Bowen Family Systems Theory

Dr. Murray Bowen developed a comprehensive new theory of the family. Based on his view of the human as part of nature and the family as a natural system, Dr. Bowen described the emotional process and the automatic patterns of behavior among family members. He is best known for his concept of differentiation of self and the scale of differentiation that described the broad range of variation in human emotional functioning.


9:00 am: Keynote Address

Keynote Address

The Therapist’s Well-Being: A Family Systems Perspective on Practicing during COVID-19 Pandemic and Political and Social Unrest

Lisa Moss, M.S.W.

In 2020, people found themselves thrust into the realities of dealing with a pandemic, job loss, grief, school closures and remote learning, working from home, as well as social and political unrest. Therapists quickly had a glimpse into the havoc being wreaked on peoples’ lives as they faced stress, uncertainty and risk of mortality. The topic of every session shifted abruptly. Suddenly the nation was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Crisis management in the early days morphed into chronic stress and anxiety. The advice to “talk to a therapist” led to an exponential increase in demand for therapy services. What about the therapist? Suddenly, the challenges clients were confronting mirrored the therapist’s own challenges. 

The clinical applications of Bowen Family Systems Theory offer an opportunity to identify the intersections of the personal and professional self during a time of heightened anxiety.  The theory is best learned as a lived experience. The challenge of systems thinking and practicing in a time of heightened anxiety provides an opportunity to expand learning and increase functional differentiation of self. The concepts of differentiation of self and societal emotional process emerged as useful guiding constructs for getting perspective, reducing anxiety and improving functional self. The practices of identifying guiding principles, mindfulness and efforts to get a systems’ perspective will be explored using case examples. Differentiation as an ethic for self-care will be defined and discussed. 

10:10 am: Break
10:30 am: Video & Discussion

“An Overview of Bowen Family Systems Theory”, Murray Bowen, M. D.  

Video & Discussion

What distinguishes this 1980 tape is Dr. Bowen’s detailed description of what he calls the conceptual dilemmas that stand between the listener trained in conventional psychological theory and a full understanding of the theory. It is commonplace to grasp one or two systems concepts without really “knowing” systems and so not really comprehending this new way of understanding human behavior.  Robert J. Noone, Ph.D. will moderate the discussion. 

12:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 pm: Afternoon Workshops

Detriangling Family Triangles

Sydney Reed, M.S.W.

The ability to recognize and understand triangles in the therapist’s own family is an important step toward helping clients navigate the tensions and upsets that occur in every family. Detriangling cannot be taught to clients unless the therapist has learned to do this in her own family.

Distance in a Marriage: How One Remains Focused on Self

Kelly Mathews-Pluta, M.S.W.

Long-term marriages can create opportunities for growth and direction.  A couple can rely on one another for support, mutual respect, and friendship.  Each individual has enough space, emotionally and physically, to explore their interests and goals.  The “self” of each is maintained by each working at managing anxiety and keeping emotional reactivity low. At the same time remain connected and present to the other.  Marriages can also inhibit forward movement.  One-way direction and growth get derailed is through distance.  This often occurs when one or both partners get more reactive to the other and do little to halt it. Each can focus more emotional energy on the other than on self.  This presentation will explore the ways in which a clinician can identify and work with distance in a marriage through the lens of Bowen Theory.


Applying a Family Assessment Model to Organizations

Leslie Ann Fox, M.A.

In a 2018 article, “Developing a Systems Model for Family Assessment” published in Family Systems, Daniel Papero, Ph.D. presented a Continuum Model for Family Assessment featuring 5 key dimensions of emotional functioning in family systems based on Bowen theory. He reports that in addition to assessing a system on each of the dimensions on a continuum, additional sub-continua can be developed for each of the dimensions. Applying the dimensions and sub-continua in non-family groups such as organizations or social groups can lead to systems-based assessment tools for use by organizational leaders, coaches, consultants, and individual members of a system. During the workshop participants will identify relevant sub-categories for assessing and monitoring functioning in organizations over time.


Becoming a “Bowen Therapist”

Jennifer Howe, M.S.W.

Murray Bowen maintained that learning therapeutic techniques is unnecessary, if one understands theory. In a profession that is consistently touting the next best technique, what does it mean to understand theory in this way? This workshop will provide a more detailed consideration of how we might utilize Bowen Family Systems Theory in our practice as professional helpers; what our responsibilities are to learn and understand theory, to know ourselves and our family systems, and how to stay present and accountable to self and other.


2:10 pm: Break
2:30 pm: Afternoon Workshops

Family as a Pathway to Differentiation of Self

Robert J. Noone, Ph.D.

The development of the family systems theory by Murray Bowen went hand-in-glove with the development of a clinical approach. Several clinical approaches were developed and modified based on the research. One approach involved “bypassing the nuclear family” and focusing on one’s family of origin and multigenerational families. This approach has been standard in the training of mental health professionals interested in using Bowen theory in their practice ever since. Bowen believed that professionals providing family therapy had a responsibility to make the effort to work on themselves in their own families. It is central for those interested in practicing Bowen theory-based family therapy. This presentation will discuss this approach and allow time for discussion.

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

Lisa Friedstein, M.S.W.

The focus of this presentation will be how to use the family diagram in Bowen Family Systems Theory. I will attempt to show how the diagram can reflect and provide a picture of the basic patterns of emotional functioning and basic intensities of the emotional processes that are present in the family system. I will discuss Bowen’s concepts of triangles, the multigenerational process and differentiation of self.  I will use case examples to illustrate.


Adapting to Crisis as an Opportunity for Differentiation of Self

Regina Ferrera, M.S.W.

The novel corona virus is moving through the human population in a way that humans are struggling to understand and respond to. Murray Bowen wrote about how one’s basic level of differentiation of self affects how one responds to a crisis. Those with better integration of the emotional and intellectual systems have a more realistic view of the threat and a more thoughtful response than those whose emotional systems tend are less tempered by their intellectual systems.  The presentation will explore the concept of differentiation of self in Bowen Family Systems Theory as a guiding principle in managing a response to crisis at the level of the family and society. There will be time for discussion and those in attendance are invited to share their own ideas on the topic.


Money, Inheritance and Emotional Cutoff

Eric Weiner, Ph.D.

Emotional cutoff, one of the eight concepts that comprise Bowen Theory, will be explored within a financial context. Money and inheritance are one of six pathways to emotional cutoff as cited by Karl Pillemer in his recent book “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them.” I will focus on the work of financial advisors and estate planning attorneys who observe cutoff and how I work with them and their client families.

Date, Time & Location

Friday, February 26, 2021

9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.: Conference



Conference Day Contact

Please call Kelly Matthews-Pluta: 847-691-5347


Register Now
Deadline: FEBRUARY 25, 2021

The registration deadline is February 25, 2021.

Registration Fees

Individual: $120
Student with current student ID: $75


5.5 credit hours for full-day attendees approved for Social Workers, Professional Counselors/Clinical Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists and Clinical Psychologists


Registration:  On the website: www.thecenterforfamilyconsultation.com. (Eventbrite is the online registration system for Center for Family Consultation (CFC). Click on the “Register Now” button and it will take you to Eventbrite.com, a secure online system for registering for events. Upon registration, your credit card will be processed by Eventbrite on CFC’s behalf, and you will receive a confirmation with their logo as well as CFC’s.  If you have ever purchased a ticket for another event from Eventbrite, your email address and credit card information may already be in their system. You need to make sure you use the same card that is associated with your email address, and it must not be expired.  Finally, make sure you add Eventbrite to your email contacts, so that email messages from CFC regarding the program you registered for will not go to your spam or junk mail folders.)

For More Information

For additional information, please call the Center for Family Consultation at 847-868-2654.