2019 Winter Conference

Register Now
Deadline: FEBRUARY 15, 2019

Friday, February 22, 2019
21st 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
Family Reaction to Death and the Emotional Shock Wave
Sydney Reed, M.S.W.


“Direct thinking about death, or indirect thinking about staying alive and avoiding death, occupies more of man’s time than any other subject.”
—Murray Bowen

Bowen recognized that all families deal with death and often chronic illness. How they managed the emotional intensity that accompanies these events determines the nature of the experience and the outcome for the family. The ability of at least one person in the family to be “present and accounted for” at times of high anxiety in the family contributes to the entire family functioning at a better level. The corner stone concept of Bowen theory, differentiation of self, provides a guide for the effort of managing one’s own anxiety and reactivity while staying in contact with other family members.

Bowen described the “emotional shock wave” that can occur at the time of death in which the heightened anxiety moves between relationships and across generations resulting in symptoms in certain family members, even those at a geographical distance. Sydney Reed will illustrate the emotional shock wave that occurred in her family. She will demonstrate the usefulness to clinicians of knowledge of the emotional shock wave and the use of the family diagram to track emotional process and symptom development. The significance of these clinical practices was the motivation for Reed to co-edit the book, Death and Chronic Illness in the Family. Copies of the book will be available at a conference rate.

Sydney Reed, M.S.W. is a co-founder of the Center for Family Consultation and co-ordinates the Post-Graduate Training Program. For the last 45 years she has maintained a private family psychotherapy practice in Evanston, IL.


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

Family Reaction to Death (1978)
Video & Discussion

In this video Dr. Bowen discusses the emotional impact of a death in the family. He points to the factors that influence the level of anxiety around the loss of a family member; he introduces the concept of the “emotional shock wave” to explain the ongoing reactivity that follows the death of a key family member. With a case example, Dr. Bowen describes how one family dealt with the sudden death of a young mother in a way that led to a better long-term resolution of the loss.

Robert Noone, Ph.D. will lead a discussion following the videotape.

12:00 pm: Lunch
1:30 pm: Afternoon Workshops 1 (select one)

Togetherness & Individuality: A Key to Understanding Differentiation of Self
Cecilia Guzman, L.C.P.C.

Bowen’s description of the togetherness and individuality forces are an essential key to understanding the emotional process in a family unit and symptom development in individual(s). It is also an important key to understanding Bowen’s concept of Differentiation of Self. The presenter will review these two counterbalancing forces, and participants will learn how to use this perspective to assess the functioning and symptom development in families. The presenter’s own family diagram will be used as an example of a family during a period of high emotional intensity.


Getting to the Bottom of Anxiety: Using Bowen Family Systems Concepts to Examine the Impact of Family Interaction Patterns on Children’s Social and Emotional Functioning at School
Robin Shultz, D.S.W.

This presentation will share the results of a small study conducted in a public school system which looked at whether any of the Bowen Family Systems Theory concepts, Differentiation of Self, Emotional Cutoff, Emotional Reactivity, “I” Position, and Fusion with Others were correlated with children’s academic performance in reading and math or their social and emotional functioning at both home and at school. The presentation will also discuss ways in which the Child Focus process may inadvertently be propagated within our public educational system as well as in society through the notion of “helicopter parenting” as it has become popularly known.


Working at Neutrality: On-Going Work with Clients
Kelly Matthews-Pluta, L.C.S.W.

Many clients present to family systems’ therapists with a history of treatment in traditional psychotherapy. It can be an ongoing challenge to remain focused on a neutral understanding of the previous work a client achieved. While Bowen’s Family Systems Theory has 8 distinct concepts, how a client defines self, known as differentiation of self, is key. Two case studies will be used to illustrate the client’s previous work in traditional therapy and their current work with Bowen theory. The clinician’s neutrality will be key in allowing clients the emotional space to explore differentiation of self.


2:40 pm: Break
2:50 pm: Afternoon Workshops 2 (select one)

The Childhood Adversity and Adult Functioning of Alexander Hamilton
Robert J. Noone, Ph.D.

Alexander Hamilton was one of the principal contributors to the founding of the United States. His childhood was highly unstable with a significant number of early losses. His development, as reported by Ron Chernow in Alexander Hamilton, raises interesting questions related to his level of differentiation of self and his level of functioning, both in public and in his family. In this presentation, Dr. Noone will present Alexander Hamilton’s family diagram and a timeline of events in his life. Factors contributing to his functioning will be discussed.


Parent/Child Relationships: Disturbances in the Atmosphere of the Nuclear Family
Lisa Moss, M.S.W. and Lisa Friedstein, M.S.W.

Murray Bowen’s conceptualization of the family emotional process and the transmission of anxiety in families offers a framework to explore the challenges families confront. Predictable patterns emerge in the nuclear family emotional process, often erupting at key developmental junctures. This workshop will include strategies to assess the family as a unit, identify the family projection process, and will present interventions that strengthen the family and strategies that empower families to solve their own problems. Case presentations will used to illustrate key concepts.


The Family in Society: Navigating Through Turbulent Times
Regina Ferrera, M.S.W.

Clinicians and their clients grapple with the challenge of how to manage themselves in their families and in society. Clinicians who are observing and defining their own functioning have a better chance of helping clients to do so. The presentation will focus on the connection between family emotional process and societal emotional process, including the concepts of emotional triangles, the projection process and emotional cutoff. A case study of a family affected by a societal crisis will be shared. Ideas from Bowen Family Systems Theory about “managing self” in one’s family, particularly the concept of differentiation of self, will be applied to the societal context.


Date, Time & Location

Friday, February 22, 2019

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 Street and Chicago Ave (3 blocks north of the conference location).

Upon arrival, use the entrance under the archway between the Church and main building.


Conference Day Contact

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


The registration deadline is February 15, 2019.

Registration Fees

Individual: $135
Student with current student ID: $80


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