Reflections on a Presentation by James P. Curley, PhD: Power Differentials in Social Hierarchies, Why and How They Emerge and Their Consequences for Behavior and Health

This report on the keynote address given at the Midwest Symposium on May 7 2021 was prepared by Dr. Rosalyn Chrenka, a student of the CFC Post-graduate Training program. I took notes and have commented below on some things that struck me as interesting in relation to theory.

Read More »

Anxiety, Stress and Triangles: Pressurized Human Relationship

Dan Papero’s review of the fundamentals, such as the automatic and instinctual reactions within the emotional system, the preferential sensitivity among the family members, and the constant flow and counter flow of emotions within the system was helpful in understanding triangles.  How the forces of togetherness and individuation are always in play, how anxiety increases the pressure towards togetherness and how too much closeness results in distancing.  The mechanisms of distancing include conflict, overfunctioning/underfunctioning and projection.  They are utilized to control the emotional flow and maintain regulation. Triangles operate to maintain equilibrium.  The example of the spinning top continuing to adjust the balance of the threesome in the triangle was helpful.

Read More »

Meditating towards Differentiation of Self

Bowen has theorized, that each human being is the culmination of the mass of ancestors who have preceded her, each human being generations in the making, If we assume that is true, then, like a diamond, it may take a fair amount of excavating before we uncover the shiny nugget of “self” be-neath all the accumulated rock. When we look at humans, we tend to focus on their individual be-haviors or at best the individual within the context of their nuclear family. Bowen advocated getting information on as many as five generations of family history, in order to understand the patterns we observe. He advocated doing this so that we might see the patterns that have been active in our families and begin to distinguish between patterns that we have chosen and ones we may have simply inherited. Kerr in his most recent book describes one of the components of differentiation of self as “the phenomenon of thoughts and feelings operating as a working team”, those who are least differentiated have achieved the least separation from behavior driven purely by instinctual responses to others. Achieving more “self” requires distinguishing between one’s thoughts and one’s feelings, so that one’s actions more closely reflect one’s thinking, and are not merely a reflection of how we are feeling at any given moment.

Read More »

The Family In Society: Navigating Through Turbulent Times

Dr. Murray Bowen originated a theory of human behavior in the 1950’s and continued to work on it until his death in 1990. Bowen Family Systems Theory is based on his view of the family as a natural system that functions as an emotional unit. Bowen described emotional process in families and how it shapes and is shaped by the responses of each family member.

Read More »

CFC Post-Graduate Training Program: Through a Lens of Leadership, Self-Care and Clinical Practice

I had little understanding of Bowen Family Systems Theory prior to attending the Winter Conference in 2012, where two faculty members presented on “Getting Ahead At Work.” They talked about managing self—not other people—and operating from a clear sense of values and principles. The ideas were simple, but also profound and they helped shift my thinking from focus on others to self. From that time on, I began to question my ideas about work (and family) that I had previously thought of as “dysfunctional or unhealthy,” (thinking I had nothing to do with it) and began instead to understand these ideas as normal functions of a system. I was intrigued by the application of Bowen Theory to a leadership approach in a faculty member’s business. I also recall my sense of wonder after watching another faculty member present about her family of origin, in which she described asking her parents to record themselves answering questions about family facts. I marveled about whether my own parents would ever be so supportive.

Read More »

Reflections on Bowen Theory Post-Graduate Training at Center for Family Consultation

I thought it would be a relatively straight-forward task to describe the impact the training program has had on my life and my clinical practice, but that was foolish, considering Bowen theory requires most of us, and certainly me, to rethink much of what I had learned in my family and professional training.

Read More »

Lincoln and Leadership

I went to see Spielberg’s “Lincoln” a second time this week in order to verify whether Lincoln was really the perfect example of Systems Based Leadership I had thought he was when I first saw the movie. Even though Lincoln was born more than a hundred years before Murray Bowen, he apparently had an instinctive way of defining himself that is remarkably congruent with Bowen’s ideas about leadership.

Read More »

Looking at Marriage: Seeing One’s Own Part

The husband had a way of erupting emotionally that led his wife to call him “the volcano.” He pursued; she distanced; he pursued more rigorously. Her way of retreating, seemingly impervious to his needs, led him to call her “the sphinx.” At times of high stress, this pattern left this truly devoted couple in considerable distress, he feeling shut out, she feeling pressured. They found their own language—volcano, sphinx—as a step to observing their reciprocal functioning and eventually to seeing the absurdity and humor in it.

Read More »

From Family to Society: The Broad Scope of Bowen Systems Thinking

“From Family to Society: The Broad Scope of Bowen Systems Thinking” was the subject of the Center for Family Consultation Summer Conference held in Oak Park on July 20, 2018. Dr. Katharine Gratwick Baker, a scholar of Bowen Family Systems Theory and historian, was the presenter. Dr. Baker has a PhD in Social Work and an MA in Russian History.

Read More »

The Ups & Downs of Social Status

The “self-evident truth” that “all men are created equal” is a cornerstone of American democracy, and an ideal toward which our society strives.  We hold individuals to be equal under the law; we legislate equal rights for all to access opportunities and participate in society.  However, despite the talk of “a level playing field,” progress toward equality has come slowly and only with concerted, organized effort.

Read More »