2018 Winter Conference

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Deadline: FEBRUARY 18, 2018

Friday, February 23, 2018
20th 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.


8:30 am: Registration & Coffee
9:00 am: Keynote Address

Keynote Address
Our Hierarchical Instinct: In the Family, Work Systems, and Clinical Practice

Stephanie Ferrera, M.S.W.

Forming rank orders appears to be an instinct that humans have in common with other social species. Dominance and sub-ordinance are not inherent characteristics of individuals, but are postures that individuals take in relating to one another. As people interact, one gives way to the other, and a pattern of dominant/adaptive reciprocity emerges. Human hierarchies are sensitive to varying levels of tension; they range from the anxious/rigid end to the calm/flexible end of the continuum. With intentional effort and management of emotional reactivity, we can achieve hierarchies that provide the adaptive benefits of order and stability in the group while also leaving room for individual autonomy. Differentiation of self is the key that makes the difference. The presentation will include ideas on managing our hierarchical instincts in clinical practice.


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

Defining a Self in One’s Family of Origin: Part 1 (1980)
Video & Discussion

In this video Dr. Bowen discusses the development of his ideas about extended family work and some of the common misconceptions that have evolved from these ideas. Dr. Bowen discusses the theoretical principles that guide the effort at trying to be more of a self in one’s own family, and the significance of concepts such as triangles, emotional cutoff, and emotional process in a family. Sydney Reed, M.S.W. will lead a discussion following the videotape.


12:00 pm: Lunch
1:30 pm: Break-out Sessions (select one)

Bowen Theory and Mindfulness Study Group Experience
Lisa Moss, M.S.W. & Leslie Fox, M.A.

The CFC Bowen Theory and Mindfulness Study Group is an independent, self-directed learning group; its process gradually evolved into what mindfulness expert and Harvard professor Ellen J. Langer would describe as “mindful learning”, characterized as: “the continuous creation of new categories, openness to new information, and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective”. An important distinction reaffirmed for these presenters is that many theories offer techniques for practitioners; however, Bowen Theory challenges the practitioner to develop a theoretical understanding of human behavior grounded in science. Ms. Moss and Ms. Fox will review the challenges they experienced and the process that evolved in the study group from 2014–2017. They will each briefly discuss their independent study work; Ms. Moss on “Cultivating Mindfulness for the Practitioner”, and Ms. Fox on Bowen Theory, Mindfulness, and Organizational Success.


Engage: How to Address Polarization Using Systems Thinking
John Bell, M. Div.

There is wide variation in political and religious beliefs. Depending on the topic, individuals fall somewhere on a continuum of views. As tension in a community rises and fear increases, groups coalesce to promote polarized views. Compromise, collaboration, and cooperation are replaced with confrontation, obstinacy, and resistance. Each side escalates their rhetoric and behavior. Polarization takes a toll on communities and creates additional problems for institutions. Police departments, governments, not-for-profits, and religious institutions may become the target of controversy as they provide routine services to their constituents. Community leaders may feel hopeless and stuck when working with a fearful public. Anxiety overrides our capacity to engage others in thoughtful ways. When anxiety is high, our functioning becomes more automatic. For some, there is a reactive response to try and control the thinking, feeling, and behavior of others. For others, there is a reactive desire to run away. It is the classic fight or flight response. Bowen Family Systems Theory is a way of thinking that leaders can use to engage others. The application of Bowen Theory can lead to decreases in tension and polarization in a community and at the same time guide leaders in finding productive and effective ways to engage their community. This presentation will explore how Bowen Family Systems Theory addresses the challenge of polarization and the opportunities leaders have for engaging their community in ways that promote thinking.


Differentiation of Self and Clinical Practice
Robert J. Noone, Ph.D.

The family systems theory developed by Murray Bowen provides a conceptual framework for psychotherapy whether one is seeing an individual, couple, or family. The eight concepts of the theory are interrelated and enable the clinician to consider the broader context of each individual and family as well as a direction for the course of therapy. The use of Bowen theory in clinical practice requires the clinician to devote considerable effort to becoming both knowledgeable about his or her own family and to more effectively managing self in relation to them. The concept of differentiation of self, which is core to this theory, provides a way of thinking about self in one’s family of origin and provides a direction for the individual motivated to enhance one’s functioning both as a therapist and in other relationships.


Making Contact with the Multi-Generational Emotional Process: The Clinician’s Use of the Family Genogram
Jennifer Howe, M.S.W.

How does an individual start to see his/her place in the emotional system, and how does a clinician support an individual’s efforts toward understanding the patterns in an emotional system and the role one plays? Is differentiation of self an inevitable outcome of this effort or does the emotional system have other plans? The family genogram can be an invaluable visual tool for highlighting the movement of emotional maturity throughout families. In this workshop, the role of the family genogram in both the short and long-term efforts to understand the family system and the part one plays in the multi-generational transmission process will be examined.


2:40 pm: Break
2:55 pm: Break-out Sessions (select one)

Triangles and Interlocking Triangles in High-Conflict Relationship: Remaining Neutral as a Coach/Therapist
Cecilia Guzman, M.S.

This presentation will focus on the difficulty therapists face in remaining neutral and non-reactive in the face of challenging symptoms. Bowen’s concept of triangles and interlocking triangles will be reviewed as one method for managing anxiety. A case presentation will illustrate how a couple employs polyamory (the symptom) as a triangulation strategy for the management of high anxiety & conflict in a long term committed relationship.

“I Am Formless”: Reciprocal Functioning in the Marriage Relationship of Jean Stafford and Robert Lowell
Robert Williamson, M. Div.

Dr. Murray Bowen identified several patterns which are used to manage immaturity in families. This case study of the marriage of writer Jean Stafford and poet Robert Lowell will describe the dominant-adaptive pattern (overfunctioning-underfunctioning reciprocity) which characterized the years of their marriage, including the way beliefs functioned to express and support that pattern.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Lisa Friedstein, M.S.W.

The presenter discusses a clinical case in which the focus will be on the use of the family diagram in Bowen Theory. She will show how the diagram can reflect and provide a picture of the basic patterns of emotional functioning and basic intensities of the emotional process that are present in a nuclear family as well as the multigenerational family. The data that was collected can be used to show the mechanisms used to bind anxiety throughout the system. She will discuss Bowen’s concepts of triangles, multigenerational process, differentiation of self and the coach’s management and use of self when working with a family.

A Medical Journey: Belief and Relational Changes
Chris Miller, D. Min., & Cherie Miller, D. Lit.

The program provides an example of Bowen’s theory of family systems, including the effect of existential anxiety requiring adaptive under-and-over-functioning in a marriage, the changes in the balance of individuality and togetherness (dependency) in a 42-year marriage, and the awkward restoration of that balance during recovery. Reactivity spiked appropriately throughout this journey and togetherness forces within and surrounding the trouble are apparent in the narrative, some of them requiring unanticipated conflict resolution long ignored. Questions about differentiation of self are observable and defining a position for self in near-death ventures is a big topic. A discussion will follow.

Date, Time & Location

Friday, February 23, 2018

8:30 am: Registration & Coffee
9:00 am—4:00 pm: Conference Hours


First Presbyterian Church of Evanston
1427 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois
(Southeast corner of Chicago & Lake)
Upon arrival, use the entrance under the archway between the Church and main building.

Note: The conference is not affiliated with First Presbyterian Church of Evanston

First Presbyterian Church has limited first come-first served parking in their adjacent lot. All day parking is available at the Self-Park facility at Church St. and Chicago Ave (3 blocks north of the conference location).


Conference Day Contact

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


The registration deadline is February 16, 2018.

Registration Fees

Individual: $130
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

For More Information

For more information, please call the Center for Family Consultation 224-567-2888.