Coming to grips with Bowen Family Systems Theory in a collaborative learning environment.

FSI 2019 Conference review

July 17, 2019 Uncategorized 0 comments

“A person’s entire multigenerational system lives in each moment—in the present”Keynote speaker Priscilla Friesen

“It only takes one person – a family member, or professional who is able to “think systems” – to help a family become more mature and thoughtful”Keynote speaker – Kathy Wiseman

The Annual Family Systems Institute Conference held in North Sydney in June 2019 was a valuable time of deep reflection and learning. Attendees commented on the more intimate feeling at the conference this year. The tone was set by the exceptional international speakers associated with the Bowen Centre in Washington. Priscilla Friesen and Kathy Wiseman have been using Bowen theory to guide their own efforts in their lives and relationships for over 30 years.

The theme of the conference was applying a Bowen Family System lens to the different stages of the family lifecycle. These lifecycle stages are fluid and non- linear. The conference focus was on exploring Bowen’s idea of the reciprocal patterns that happen typically in families, particularly with life-cycle challenges. Current lifecycle challenges can often be further understood by seeing them as an expression of the way previous generations have adapted to the complex challenge of maintaining autonomy whilst staying connected (differentiation of self). The overriding message from both speakers reinforced the challenge of working out how to stay connected to family, while also trying to be autonomous. As someone who is newer to the ideas of Murray Bowen, the speakers consolidated my thinking both personally and professionally about the benefits of the approach.

Priscilla Friesen

Priscilla Friesen LICSW has been studying Bowen theory since the late 70s. She became a faculty member of the Bowen centre in 1987. Priscilla’s initial presentation focussed on her interest in how individual differences in differentiation (including self-regulation) develop from our earliest moments.   Her conceptualisation of differentiation as being developed through co-regulation with the mother was explained very thoughtfully and helpfully.  She shared her developing thoughts on the impact of emotional cut off on the brain and what each individual is up against when simply using cognition to try and override reactive processes. Her focus on the importance of the multigenerational family and the development of symptoms was very clear.  

Her second talk was about her experiences observing herself in relationship to her multigenerational family, particularly her father as he deals with aging.  Priscilla tracked 40 years of family history with various exits and entrances of family members using a Bowen theory approach. It was a nuanced look at the usefulness of the framework when using it over many years and in challenging family situations such as aging, with a particular focus on approaching death well.  

Kathy Wiseman

Kathy Wiseman MBA Ms. is a business consultant whose work is based on Bowen family systems theory. Kathy shared her own experiences with Bowen Theory and how it has aided her professionally when assisting families in complex financial situations. She clearly outlined how a Bowen theory lens can greatly assist with complex family decision making, particularly when considering how to preserve family relationships and legacy.  Kathy shared her own ‘mistakes’ throughout her career and the growth she experienced from these mistakes. Like Priscilla, Kathy also used her second talk to share her own personal experience in her family and how Bowen theory is helping her navigate some current family challenges. Kathy was a clear and dynamic presenter who brought a whole new angle to the usefulness of Bowen theory in understanding how individuals, groups and families adapt as part of a system to challenging life transitions.

Dr Emma Robinson

Clinical Psychologist

The Family Systems Practice

30 Grosvenor Street Neutral Bay 2089

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