37th Annual Midwest Symposium

Friday, May 1, 2020

Family Systems Theory and Therapy—ONLINE

Due to the self-distancing strategy in effect to prevent the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19, CFC is presenting a unique online version of its annual Symposium featuring presentations and panel discussions by Michael Kerr, MD, Daniel Papero, Ph.D. and Robert Noone, Ph.D.

Michael E. Kerr, M.D.
Daniel V. Papero, Ph.D.
Robert Noone, Ph.D.

Program Topics and Schedule

9:00 to 10:30am—Michael E. Kerr, M.D.

Rapid Growth of Natural Systems Thinking in the Biological Sciences

The failure of Cell-Centered cancer research, after forty years of investigation, to link successfully genetic mutations (oncogenes) with an adequate explanation of carcinogenesis has forced cancer researchers to broaden their field of study to include the context in which carcinogenesis unfolds. The complexity of variables to be studied now requires the introduction of systems thinking. Relationships among cells is now the area of study. This shift in thinking is exactly the shift that Murray Bowen saw was needed to study the family relationship systems. Just as a rapidly increasing number of cancer researchers are now focusing on cellular relationships and the individual as a whole, family studies discovered that the cause of the “pathology” in schizophrenia did not reside in the patient, but encompassed the family as an emotional unit. This trend in cancer research is likely to spread increasingly to the full range of clinical dysfunctions. The fields of systems biology and their parallels with Bowen Theory will be described.

Michael E. Kerr, M.D.
President, The Bowen Theory Academy, Islesboro, ME


10:45 to 11:45am—Dan Papero, Ph.D.

Returning to the Basic Level of Differentiation of Self: Its Development, Stability, and Potential for Change

Murray Bowen proposed a theoretical distinction between what he referred to as the basic level of differentiation of self and the “pseudo self”. The basic self, he proposed, developed in the family and was fairly firmly established (stable) by late adolescence. It could, however, be modified later in life by small changes that the individual sustains. The development of the basic level may be best explained as a process that combines epigenetic modification of the basic genome, gene by environment interaction, basic associative learning, and context dependent behavioral expressions. The basic processes of transference and reciprocal interaction may reinforce the genetic determinants in producing the stability of the phenotype. In addition to genetic foundations, the development of the brain, responding to internal and environmental cues, produces a complex nest of interconnected circuits that support the behavioral expressions of the self. The most likely area for modification of the basic level of differentiation lies in modifying the interconnected neural circuitry supporting the basic behavior of differentiation of self.

Dr. Daniel Papero

Dan Papero, Ph.D.
Senior Faculty Member at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family in Washington, DC


11:45 to 12:15—Panel & audience discussion with Drs. Kerr, Papero & Noone


12:15 to 1:00pm—Lunch Break


1:00 to 2:30pm—Michael Kerr, M.D.

Assessing Basic Level of Differentiation

This presentation is built on a recent biography of philosopher Denis Diderot, a central figure during the French Enlightenment, by Andrew Curran. The book provides a cradle to grave description of Diderot’s life. The story is fascinating in that Diderot, a devout atheist, led a courageous and principled fight to challenge “virtually all of his century’s accepted truths, from sanctity to monarchy” (quote from book cover flap). I chose his story because of a marked discrepancy between Diderot’s high level of emotional functioning in society in contrast to a significantly lower level in his personal life. In two previous presentations, I have challenged the audiences to estimate his Diderot’s basic level of differentiation and the reasons for their estimates. Like the Chicago audience, most attendees at previous presentations were seasoned Bowen theorists, but the estimates of differentiation ranged widely. Recently, among many Bowen theorists around the country a lively discussion exists about whether some observations of emotional functioning, such as work performance versus personal life performance, are more accurate for making estimates of basic level than others. The debate has punched up the distinction between what are the components of solid “self” as distinct from observations of the manifestations of “self.” I will be issuing the same challenge to the Chicago audience as with the two previous audiences. All of us have much to learn about this central variable in Bowen Theory.

Michael E. Kerr, M.D.
President, The Bowen Theory Academy, Islesboro, ME




2:45 to 3:30pm—Robert Noone, Ph.D.

Family, the Brain and Differentiation of Self

The concept of differentiation of self entails two primary aspects based on the observations of Dr. Bowen. The first is that individuals vary in the degree to which they differentiate or develop emotional autonomy in relation to the family in which they grew up. The second aspect is the degree to which an individual’s higher cortical systems, referred to by Bowen as the intellectual system, differentiate over the course of development. The differentiation of this function underlies an individual’s capacity to utilize the intellectual system in self-regulation and self-direction over their life course. This presentation will describe the above and place these processes in the context of the co-evolution of the family and the brain.

Robert Noone

Robert Noone, Ph.D.
Co-founder, Center for Family Consultation, Evanston, IL
Faculty, The Bowen Center for the Study of Family, Washington, DC


3:30 to 4:00pm—Panel & audience discussion with Drs. Kerr, Papero & Noone




Date, Time & Location

Live Online Zoom Conference

Program participants must have access to a computer or mobile device to join the online conference. There is no additional cost to participants to use the online technology. Upon completion of registration and prior to the program, CFC will email each participant a link to use to sign into the meeting. When the participant clicks on the link, zoom will download an app to your computer or device which you will use to access the conference. CFC will send detailed instructions prior to the meeting about the sign-on process for individuals who are not already familiar with zoom. Additional training will be available upon request.


6 credit hours will be offered for full attendance
Approved for social worker, psychologist, marriage and family therapist, and professional counselor education credits. Certificates will be e-mailed to participants following the program.


Registration Deadline: Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Fee: $150 per person; Student rate: $125 (includes CEUs) Certificates will be e-mailed to participants following the program.