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Volume 8 Number 2 Winter 2024

Systems Thinking:

A Path to Calming Societal Anxiety

I used to think of 2022 and 2023 as society’s “transition years” from the pandemic to a new “normal”; a more stable and familiar way of leading our lives, as we had in the past. With reduced mask usage and increased immunity to serious COVID strains, we are inching closer to a new normal. We go mostly mask-free to schools and work, as well as to theaters, concerts, clubs, bars, restaurants, retail stores, etc. Many corporations have encouraged or required employees to return to work in person; some allow a more flexible schedule with one or a few days a week working remotely. Business travel is reduced, cutting business expenses and allowing employees more personal and family time. Unemployment is the lowest in years, the economy is growing, and inflation is going down. I would like to think we have arrived at the “new normal”. Yet it is a new, more anxiety-driven normal than I recall at any time in my life, and I am not young.

Why more anxiety-driven? Change. Too much, too fast. Not enough time to successfully adapt. The exponential acceleration of change in human societies across the globe during the last several hundred years has surpassed all expectations. Implementing innovative solutions that may ultimately reduce system-wide anxiety is a double-edged sword. It can help society gain relief from the increasing anxiety around modern-day issues such as, infrastructure decay, trends in cultural diversity, and even the bigger existential threats to all life on earth. Part of the challenge to success is that most change processes temporarily amplify anxiety in human systems.

During the transition to the “new normal”, anxiety may be exacerbated by reactivity to both the facts of having no choice but to change, and the realities of a new way of life. The bigger the change, the longer it takes societies to enter a period of relative stability. Over the millennia, homo sapiens have gone from long periods of stability to shorter and shorter periods, bordering on a more vivid perception of constant change. The increasing societal anxiety ups the odds against survival. I wonder. Have 21st century homo sapiens exceeded their capacity for successful change? By the end of this century, what will a changed society look like in your community, in your country, across the entire globe?

Our human tendency is to seek homeostasis, not change. We mostly operate on auto-pilot; our emotional system automatically tweaks our behavior to cope with small changes, the ups and downs of our daily lives. In this new normal, many people find it necessary to muster more and more energy just to live, let alone to thrive physically, mentally and socially. As a social species, humans evolved to cooperate to accomplish the essentials—to reproduce, raise young, feed ourselves and our families, and protect against predators. To tackle these, and the great existential challenges of our time, our intellect urges collaboration. However, competition among humans is greater than ever; essential cooperation more difficult to attain. Anxiety helps us take action; too much anxiety holds us back. 

It is at times like this, when we are looking for balance, that I look to Bowen theory concepts and systems thinking for ways to reframe the challenges that lie ahead. Using the concepts of Bowen theory leads one away from individually focused, cause and effect thinking, toward systems thinking as a way to calm the nervous systems of individuals, families, communities and ultimately whole societies. Why? What is it about the Bowen family systems theory perspective on life that leads people to a calmer mental state, freeing up the intellect to have more influence on one’s behavior? Why is Bowen theory often counter-intuitive, yet so often effective in helping a tense system become unstuck, ready to work on more challenging or sensitive relationship issues? 

Why did Dr. Murray Bowen ground his theory in the study of the biological and natural sciences to better understand human behavior? Why do Bowen theory practitioners continuously strive to keep up with the latest developments in neuroscience, systems biology, and evolutionary biology, as well as in anthropology, archeology, and paleontology? Why is it important for life-long practitioners of Bowen theory to study their own families of origin? 

Does learning to look at the complex, multi-generational patterns of behavior in one’s own relationship systems, and one’s own role in them today, lead to a reduction in one’s own anxiety and jump start the calming of one’s own most important systems? Does this work help us to become more highly differentiated, more mature and less anxious adults? How does it enable us to contribute toward higher functioning families, and communities? Is that life’s ultimate research question?   

These thought-provoking questions form the basis of discussions at CFC, where our faculty engage with trainees in the CFC Post-Graduate Training program in Bowen Family Systems Theory. Our faculty and guest speakers from the Bowen Network, universities, research institutions, and leaders of organizations and societal institutions also engage around these questions with established Bowen theory practitioners who are seeking continuing education, life-long learning, and personal growth at CFC’s quarterly conferences, online courses, seminars and study groups.

We invite you to explore the many resources on the CFC Website, including over one hundred articles on our blog, “The Systems Thinker”. The blog posts have been written over the past 10 years by CFC faculty and guest bloggers from various centers of learning in the Bowen Network. They are our gift to you, our readers, to begin to explore the many aspects of Bowen theory as seen through the eyes of experienced systems thinkers. 

To conclude, yes, continuous and rapid change is with us, like it or not. Successful adaptation begins with increased awareness of self and our environment. Systems thinking is the beginning of a new way of perceiving and connecting to both the inner and outer world of your life experiences. 

Leslie Ann Fox, MA

CFC Faculty and Executive Board Member

What's the latest buzz around the CFC office?

The 26th Annual Clinical Day of Workshops

March 1, 2024 is back in person,  

registration is open!

The Annual Clinical Application of Bowen Family Systems Theory Conference, first offered by CFC in the late 1990’s, explores the application of Dr. Murray Bowen’s comprehensive theory of the family, based on his view of the human as part of nature and the family as a natural system. This year’s conference keynote address will be given by Jennifer Howe, M.S.W. Her focus will be on death and its anticipation as a most significant elicitor of emotional reactivity challenging the life processes of families. A quote from Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” captures the uniqueness of the human reaction to death, tying it to the view of the human as part of nature:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of the wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” 

Dr. Bowen asked how does the human get to an “easy come, easy go” relationship with the inevitable losses of life? This presentation will use BFST to look at the many ways humans struggle and adapt to live a life as mature adults that inevitably ends in death. 

Immediately following the keynote address, a video presentation of Dr. Bowen’s, “Family Reaction to Death”, will be shown. Sydney Reed, M.S.W. will moderate a post-viewing discussion. Ms. Reed is co-editor of the book, Death and Chronic Illness in the Family (2018, Routledge). 

Audience members will have a choice of attending 2 of 4 workshop offerings in the afternoon, each presented by a member of the CFC Faculty, Robert Noone, Ph.D., Stephanie Ferrera, M.S.W., Cecilia Guzman, M.S., L.C.P.C. and John Bell, M.Div.

For more details:

See the complete program description on the CFC website.

From the Pages of CFC’s Blog...

Why I Spent Christmas 2023 in a Mayo Clinic Hospital

by Sydney Reed, MSW, published January 31st, 2024

Due to the amputation of my husband’s foot, we spent Christmas this past year in the Mayo Clinic hospital. This is the twelfth year of a long story.  David has had a pain in his left foot when he walked on it for the last twelve years.  Medical opinion assumed the problem was neurological.  He was referred to countless doctors who referred him for x-rays, CT and MRI scans.  No one could find anything to explain the pain.  One pain clinic installed a nerve stimulator in his back that was controlled by a technician at Abbott Labs who determined the dosage and the frequency of the nerve jolts.  It didn’t work!

An alternative medicine doctor prescribed cannabis for sleep which did work.  He saw five different physical therapists over the years and five acupuncturists…continued

Reflections on Societal Regression

by Stephanie Ferrera, MSW, published November 9, 2024

Murray Bowen’s unique contribution to the science of human behavior was his ability to observe family interaction and to describe the underlying emotional process that governs all families to varying degrees.  He went on to describe an analogous emotional process in societies and introduced the concept of emotional regression:

“When a family is subjected to chronic, sustained anxiety, the family begins to lose contact with its intellectually-determined principles, to resort more and more to emotionally determined decisions to allay the anxiety of the moment. …The societal concept postulates that the same process is evolving in society.”  (Bowen 1978, 386)

Intrinsic to all human relationships is the challenge for…continued

CFC Faculty Out and About Through Spring 2024...

Dr. Robert Noone will be presenting at:

4th International Conference on Bowen Theory

Miami FL, February 22nd–24th  

Topic: Family Relationship an Individual Variation in Differentiation of Self

Clinical Application of Bowen Theory, CFC

Evanston IL, March 1st  

Topic: Bowen Theory Development and Psychotherapy

Family Systems Institute,

Sydney, Australia, March 18th 

Topic: Is Bowen Theory Valid? A View from the Neurosciences

40th Midwest Symposium on Family Systems Theory and Therapy, CFC

Evanston, IL, May 3rd and 4th

Watch for details coming in March, 2024

Reverend John Bell will be presenting at:

4th International Conference on Bowen Theory

Miami FL, February 22nd—24th

Topic: From Family Research to Organizational Leadership: The Transferability of Theory and Its Application

Clinical Application of Bowen Theory, CFC

Evanston IL,March 1st 

Topic: From Family Research to Organizational Leadership: The Transferability of Theory and Its Application

John is also giving this presentation at The ELCA Systems Academy on March 4th 

What is CFC faculty reading and viewing this fall?

Cecilia Guzman recommends the book:

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

In the realm of groundbreaking science writing, Siddhartha Mukherjee stands as a luminary whose expertise transcends the boundaries between medicine and literature. Bowen enthusiasts will appreciate the case he makes for the importance of understanding cells from a more systems point of view. Highly recommended and you don't need a biology degree to understand his message!

Kelly Matthews recommends the book:

Hello Beautiful

by Ann Napolitano

This book is very rich in family dynamics. Cut-off, triangles and multi-generational emotional process are all there! 

Leslie Fox recommends the film:

Past Lives

written and directed by Celine Song

A 2023 American film playing in theaters and on various streaming channels. It follows two childhood friends over the course of 24 years while they contemplate the nature of their relationship as they grow apart, living different lives. The plot is semi-autobiographical and inspired by real events from the writer/director’s life. It was nominated for two Academy Awards. 

Robert Noone recommends the book:

Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity

by Denis Noble

A book for anyone interested in systems biology.

Recent CFC Faculty Publications

Sydney Reed, MSW

Death and Chronic Illness in the Family: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives. Edited by Peter Titelman and Sydney K. Reed. (Routledge, New York, NY, 2019,)

What does it mean to be ‘present and accounted for’ when a family member is facing chronic illness or death? How does one define a self in relation to the ill or dying member and the family? Rooted in Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, this edited volume provides conceptual ideas and applications useful to clinicians...

Stephanie Ferrera, MSW

“No one Wins the Blame Game” by Stephanie Ferrera, MSW, published in the “Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest”, December 12, 2023. 

Available at no charge online.

Robert J. Noone, PhD

Family and Self: Bowen Theory and the Shaping of Adaptive Capacity

by Robert J. Noone, published by Rowman and Littlefield, 2021.

Following Bowen’s mode, this book examines the interplay between the individual and the family in shaping the differential capacity to effectively adapt to life’s many challenges.

Upcoming CFC Programs and Conferences

The 26th Annual Clinical Day of Workshops 

back in person - March 1, 2024

registration is open

Bowen Theory 101 (begins March 14th 2024)

registration is open

Program Description

This series of eight, weekly one-hour lectures is designed to provide participants with an overview of each concept of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST). A basic understanding of the eight concepts offers participants the opportunity to begin conceptualizing clinical cases through the lens of BFST. Gaining a new, broader perspective on behavior patterns in families can significantly improve outcomes of the therapeutic process. Lectures and class discussions are conducted online using Zoom.

What recent participants had to say:

“I'm absolutely loving the Bowen 101 course with Cecilia. She is knowledgeable and shares lively, real life experiences to help make sense of the theory. My interest is piqued, I already want to learn more and am incorporating in to my own professional and personal work!” Aimee Duax, November 23, 2022

“Everyday life and relationships are hard enough, but when you’re a therapist, too, it’s doubly challenging. Bowen 101 showed me a path to be able to handle personal problems while also help clients handle theirs. Thank you!!" Amy Lepore LCSW, CAADC, November 11, 2022.

Registration now open. For further information see program description on the CFC Website and/or contact Cecilia Guzman.

Save the Date!

May 4-5, 2024

the 40th Midwest Symposium on

Family Systems Theory and Therapy

(Program details coming in March)

CFC News published quarterly

by Center for Family Consultation

"The to rise up out of the emotional togetherness that binds us all."

Murray Bowen, M.D.

Center for Family Consultation | 847-868-2654

820 Davis Street, Suite 504, Evanston, IL

E-mail:[email protected]


© 2024 Center for Family Consultation  : Bowen Theory: Research, Education & Training

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