2020 Winter Conference: Clinical Application of Bowen Family Systems Theory

Register Now
Deadline: FEBRUARY 14, 2020

Friday, February 21, 2020
22nd 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
The Family as an Emotional Unit: Implications for Practice and Life
Robert J. Noone, Ph.D.

Murray Bowen’s discovery that the family functions as an emotional unit led to a radical shift in viewing behavior and in the practice of psychotherapy. The observation that the family functions as a self-regulating system governing the behavior of its members:

  • provided a way to move beyond diagnosing people
  • expanded clinical options for individuals
  • obliterated the polarizations of good/bad, victim/persecutor
  • provided a method for gaining self in the family

The ability to see the family as an emotional unit requires more than an intellectual process, it requires a solid grounding in theory and an effort to work on self in one’s own family. Moving beyond self-blaming and other-blaming, it provides one with the capacity to be both more connected and more self-directed – to be for the other and to be for self.

This presentation will focus on the depth of interconnectedness among family members and the contribution that being more of a self makes to a family. Clinical implications will be discussed.

Robert Noone, Ph.D. is a co-founder of the Center for Family Consultation and faculty at The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, Washington, DC. He is editor of the journal Family Systems and a co-editor of The Family Emotional System (2015) and Handbook of Bowen Family Systems Theory and Research Methods (2020).


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

“The Best of Family Therapy” (1985)
Video & Discussion

Bowen theory’s concept of an “open relationship” is the opposite of emotional distance. An open relationship is discussed at length in one of a series of video interviews I (Michael Kerr) did with Murray Bowen, titled, The Best of Family Therapy. This videotape, which was made in 1985, is available at www.thebowencenter.org. In an open relationships both parties are able to communicate their innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of hurting the other person. Such a relationship enhances the functioning of both people and is health promoting. In an interview with Bowen, he described four contexts in which an open relationship most often exists: (1) the early mother-infant relationship; (2) courtship; (3) a psychoanalytic relationship; and (4) a fantasied relationship with someone (Bowen & Kerr. 1985). – taken from Bowen Theory’s Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families, page 44.

John Bell, M. Div., will lead a discussion following the videotape.

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

How Families Adapt to Changing Economic Conditions
Stephanie Ferrera, M.S.W.

We will look back to what life was like for our early human ancestors. They made a living by hunting and gathering. Then came agriculture which transformed life, accelerated population growth, and created a host of new jobs. Two centuries ago, the discovery of fossil fuels opened up a source of energy that pushed societies to even greater growth and rapid change. Along with prosperity, these changes made life more complex, with new pressures that impact the way we marry and raise children, the way we make a living, and the way we connect with the natural world. How do 21st century families keep up with all of this?

Identifying and Changing Family Triangles
Sydney Reed, M.S.W.

Many people have described their discovery of the concept of triangles as life transforming. This workshop will look at the basic structure and functioning of triangles. Examples from my family of origin work will be used to illustrate the concept. There will be a focus on the need to understand and manage one’s automatic reactivity in order to bringing about change in the triangles.

Bowen Theory and the Business of Doing Business
Leslie Ann Fox, M.A., former CEO, Care Communications, Inc.

Bowen theory was the “secret sauce”! The way leaders, consultants, and staff navigate the treacherous waters of emotional process in their organization is often at the heart of its success. Ms. Fox used Bowen theory as a framework for consulting and leading for 25+ years at Care Communications, Inc. (CARE). She will discuss how using Bowen theory impacted the company’s executives, employees, and clients, and the success of the company over time. Applying the Bowen theory concepts, CARE’s leaders, consultants, and staff created fundamental change in the organization’s emotional system that changed the way it functioned under stress.


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

Living Thoughtfully in an Anxious World: Ideas from Bowen Theory
Regina Ferrera, M.S.W.

War, poverty, injustice, disease, famine, natural disaster, climate change. Clinicians are part of families and work with families who are affected by these societal challenges. The presentation will explore how Bowen theory applies to society by looking at the family of a historical figure. The family history of the late Mayor Harold Washington will be presented, tracing the adaptations that the Washington family made over four generations to extreme forms of societal projection and cutoff. What were the characteristics of the Washington family that allowed them to progress and achieve in the face of great adversity? There will be time for discussion and those in attendance are invited to share their own ideas about the family in society.

The Cost of Losing Self
Cecilia Guzman, L.C.P.C.

Differentiation of Self is the cornerstone concept in Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST). Yet, it remains difficult to completely grasp for many practitioners/coaches/clinicians. In this presentation, participants will learn about one way to understand differentiation: by comparing the difference between solid vs. pseudo self. In other words, what part of self gets negotiated in relationships. In addition, the phenomenon of “degree of fusion” will be discussed. A case will be described and discussed that illustrates these concepts and the cost of losing self not only for the individual but for the entire family emotional unit.

I Have Bad News to Share – How We Set Context in Relationships
John Bell, M. Div.

We create context whenever we interact with others. When we inform family members about a death, we begin by setting context, “I have bad news to share.” When we have good news to share, we begin with, “Are you sitting down?” We use language and non-verbal cues to establish a context before sharing information. It is one way to manage the fears and anticipated reactivity in others and ourselves. This presentation will explore the importance of setting context as it relates to Bowen’s concept of emotional process.

Date, Time & Location

Friday, February 21, 2020

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 Ave. & Lake Ave.)
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 14, 2020.

Registration Fees

Individual: $140
Student with current student ID: $85


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.