2023 Clinical Application of Bowen Theory


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Deadline is February 23rd, 2023


Friday, February 24th, 2023
25th 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.


Sexual Reproduction: Nature’s Gift; Nature’s Challenge

Stephanie Ferrera, M.S.W.

Words often spoken by couples in family therapy: “We are very different people. We just can’t communicate.”

Sexual reproduction brings two “very different people” together in a partnership that has the potential to bring new life into the world, to form the foundation for a family, and to experience the deepest level of intimacy and complementarity of which humans are capable. It challenges them to work out their differences if they are to succeed in fulfilling the mission of mating and marriage. These differences are rooted in biology, economics, and culture.

“To diversify is to adapt,” writes Edward O. Wilson. (Sociobiology, 156). Sexual reproduction produces genetic diversity that enhances the ability of the species to adapt to a changing environment. Many differences between the sexes follow. Starting with the differences in the egg and the sperm, male and female diverge in anatomy, physiology, hormones, and psychology. There are obvious differences in the male and female roles in reproduction. Father and mother contribute differently to care of children and to providing resources to support the family. These roles are shaped within economic and cultural contexts that have strong influence.

Two sides of the enormously complex but endlessly fascinating subject of sex and reproduction will be considered here: the challenges it presents and the gifts that nature provides to help us meet those challenges. Bowen theory makes an original contribution to the question: how do couples and families work out their differences? By situating the mating pair within the context of the family as an emotional system and within the larger society, the theory provides a way of understanding the wide diversity of outcomes as couples address this central question.

10:10 A.M. Break

10:30 A.M. Video & Discussion, “Emotional Detachment in Family Therapy

In this recording, Dr. Murray Bowen describes the therapeutic significance of developing emotional objectivity while staying in contact with the family. Central to training in Bowen theory is learning to focus on process rather than content in one’s own family of origin, which then carries over into clinical work. It involves learning to be more of an observer than a reactor. One relates to the system without being part of the system.

12:00 P.M. Lunch

1:00 P.M. Workshops – Participants will be able to choose one workshop to attend from each of the two afternoon sessions.

Severe Symptoms and Potential Cut-off:  Coaching a Family Through a Crisis

Cecilia Guzman, M.S.

Modern clinical work provides therapists with a wide range of symptomatology in an individual’s or family’s presenting problem. “The problem” can range from the mild to the severe, from schizophrenia to situational depression. When a family presents with a symptom in one member that produces huge reactivity in the whole unit, there is the possibility that cut-off and/or more severe symptomatology can manifest.  In this presentation, Bowen’s concept of cut-off will be reviewed, and a case will be studied in which a disturbing symptom appears in one family member disrupting the homeostasis of the whole unit and where the potential cut-off of the disturbed member is possible. Strategies using BFST are used to coach the family through the crisis and avoid even longer more entrenched regression of the whole unit.

The Seesaw Effect: Over/Underfunctioning, Reciprocity in Relationships

Kelly Matthews-Pluta, M.S.W.

Bowen theory posits there are four approaches humans utilize to manage anxiety in their relationships. Of the four, over/underfunctioning is of particular interest. This reciprocal behavior is automatic and often outside one’s awareness. If a clinician can better understand over/underfunctioning, what might the implications be for the self of the therapist and clients?  This workshop will define and outline the factors involved in over/underfunctioning, its multigenerational context and possible management within the therapeutic setting.

Polyvagal Theory Through the Lens of Bowen Family Systems Theory

Lisa Moss, M.S.W.

This workshop will explore the Polyvagal Theory through the lens of Bowen Family Systems Theory. What does Polyvagal Theory contribute to the concepts in Bowen Theory? How does a deeper understanding of the social engagement system inform and deepen the clinician’s framework? What are some of the clinical applications of Polyvagal Theory? What does Polyvagal Theory contribute to understanding the family as the emotional unit? Can knowledge of the autonomic nervous system and social engagement system be useful in family of origin work and coaching? Key synergies and distinctions of the clinical application of Bowen Theory and Porge’s Polyvagal theory will be explored.

Chronic Anxiety, Sibling Position and Cancer

Sydney Reed, M.S.W.

Cancer is not a thing that happens to you.  It is a process.  Chronic anxiety appears to contribute to the  vulnerability in an individual.  An imbalance in the environment, inside the mind/body and outside, in relationships, is now seen as crucial in the development of cancer.  Coping mechanisms used to manage the anxiety, if prolonged and exaggerated, increase the level of stress in these two systems and the level of inflammation in the body.  Coping mechanisms are often formed in early life as tools for survival.  The presenter found her knowledge of Bowen theory and the new cancer research aided her recovery from cancer.  

2:20 P.M. Break

2:40 P.M. Workshops Continued

Lifestyle Medicine and Bowen Theory

Regina Ferrera, M.S.W.

Therapists and coaches work with clients to help them improve their mental health. Since the mind and body are interconnected, the health of the body should be a major consideration in that work. “Lifestyle medicine” is based on the theory that lifestyle habits, not medical treatment, are the main influence on a person’s health. The four areas it addresses are nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and relationships. The presentation will describe the lifestyle medicine program developed by Dr. Dean Ornish and how it appears to be compatible with and different from the concepts of differentiation of self and chronic anxiety in Bowen Family Systems Theory, as well as Michael Kerr’s “unidisease” concept. How knowledge of lifestyle medicine could be helpful to therapists for managing their own health and in their work with clients will be explored.

A Non-Mothering Approach to Psychotherapy

Robert Noone, Ph.D.

Murray Bowen developed a method of psychotherapy which differed significantly from traditional approaches. Central to this difference is the role of the psychotherapist. In traditional psychotherapy the clinician functions as the principal agent of change. It is based on providing a “corrective” relationship to assist individuals in overcoming life difficulties shaped by their early relationships, principally in the family.  Early in his research, when he could observe that the family functions as an emotional unit, Bowen developed an approach to remain outside the transference process and to keep it in its primary source. He originally referred to this as a “non-mothering” approach. In this presentation Dr. Noone will discuss this shift in orientation and what is required for those interested in basing their clinical practice in this family systems approach.

Bowen Theory as a Foundation for Leadership Coaching

Patty Sheridan, M.B.A.

Using Bowen Theory as a foundation for leadership coaching is a powerful coaching model that is complimentary but different than traditional leadership coaching models.  Impactful leadership coaching includes incorporating ideas related to anxiety and the concepts of differentiation of self, triangles, and the emotional system. Utilizing Bowen Theory as a foundation for leadership coaching can make significant differences in coaching experiences and outcomes.  This presentation discusses the relationship between Bowen Theory and Leadership Coaching; provides a review of contemporary leadership coaching models; and discusses ideas for applying Bowen Theory as a coaching foundation. Professional coaches, managers who coach their team(s) and leadership developers will have the opportunity to explore ways in which to build or deepen their own Bowen Theory coaching foundation.

Death, Observational Blindness, and Differentiation

Jennifer Howe, M.S.W.

A fundamental component of Murray Bowen’s concept of differentiation of self is human being’s relationship with death. An appreciation and understanding or denial of our mortality guides all human behavior. This workshop will attempt to examine how a family and society’ relationship to death guides and determines Differentiation of Self and the impact on others when death is accepted or ignored.



    Date:            Friday, February 24, 2023

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

    Location:     ZOOM

    Continuing Education Credits: 5.5 credit hours for full-day attendees approved for:

        Social Workers

        Professional Counselors/Clinical Counselors

        Marriage and Family Therapists

        Clinical Psychologists




Deadline to register February 23, 2022 at 11:59pm CST

Fees:   $125.00 ($75.00 for students with current I.D.)


Registration:  On the website: www.thecenterforfamilyconsultation.com. (Eventbrite is the online registration system for Center for Family Consultation (CFC). Click on the purchase registration button and it will take you to Eventbrite.com, a secure online system for registering for a program. Your credit card is 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 additional information, call the Center for Family Consultation 847-868-2654