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51st Symposium on Family Theory and Family Psychotherapy

November 7-8th, 2014

Recordings of the Symposium are available as an audio MP3 set. Please order online or contact the Center at or 202-965-4400 to reserve your DVD set.

Distinguished Guest Lecturer: Larry Young, PhD
William P. Timmie Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine.

This year’s Distinguished Guest Lecturer is Larry Young, PhD. Dr. Young is the William P. Timmie Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. He conducts research on the neurobiological bases of complex social behavior and social cognition. He is interested in understanding the neural circuitry and genetics underlying social information processing and the formation of social bonds. He is also interested in understanding the biological bases for diversity and the evolution of social behaviors.

Much of his research examines the mechanisms underlying pair bond formation in monogamous prairie voles, and has highlighted the roles of oxytocin and vasopressin in regulating social behavior. This work has important implications for psychiatric disorders characterized by disruption in social cognition, including autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Dr. Young’s lab is now using this basic understanding of social cognition to identify novel drugs to treat social deficits in psychiatric disorders.



Welcome and Introduction —  Anne S. McKnight, EdD

The Predictability of the Family Emotional System — Randall T. Frost, MDiv
The ability to predict natural phenomena is a hallmark of science. The family emotional system as described by Bowen theory enables, within limits, the ability to predict family functioning.

Anxious Focus across Generations —  David S. Hargrove, PhD & Elizabeth Grady, DO
Levels of functioning and the level of anxiety in the family influence the behavior of families as parents encounter end of life decisions. Early child focus appears to be a factor in how families manage the care of their dying members, which influences the functioning of palliative caregiving teams.

Love and Other Drugs —  Margaret Donley, MSW
The neural circuits that mediate rewards in the human evolved to support the social attachments necessary for life and reproduction. Through the activation of the reward system, addictions can serve as a substitute for social relationships.


Symbiosis, Epigenetics, and Differentiation of Self —  Robert J. Noone, PhD
Reciprocally influencing family interactions over the course of development and over multiple generations are seen as regulating the level of maturation attained by individuals. Epigenetic processes may provide an explanation for how the functioning of the family system can have such a profound influence on individual differences in cognition, physiology, and behavior over the life course.

Panel Discussion


The Chemistry Between Us: Brain Mechanisms of Social Bonding - Part I  —  Larry Young, PhD
Dr. Young will discuss his work on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying pair bonding and parental care as well as the consequences of family dynamics and nurturing during development on later life social relationships. Much of his work comes from studies in monogamous prairie voles, where oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine interact in forming social bonds.

The Chemistry Between Us: Brain Mechanisms of Social Bonding - Part II  —  Larry Young, PhD
Dr. Young will also discuss the consequences of loss of a partner on brain neurochemistry and behavior in prairie voles. Genetic variation in the oxytocin and vasopressin systems predict bonding abilities as well as susceptibility to early life social stressors on later life behavior. Finally, Dr. Young will present some remarkable parallels between his findings in voles and studies in humans which suggest that similar mechanisms underlie family relationships in rodents and man.

Panel Discussion


The Family as an Emotional Unit: Ethical Issues Raised in Family Psychotherapy — Anne S. McKnight, EdD
After one year of research with families of schizophrenics at NIMH, Dr. Bowen described the change in the orientation of the project from analyzing the symbiosis between the mother and child to researching the family as an emotional unit. This shift from viewing the individual to the family as the unit of research laid the groundwork for the rest of his theory. That shift also brought changes to the practice of family psychotherapy which have implications for today’s practitioners. The unique ethical questions which emerge from seeing the family will be reviewed.

Fooling Self and Others: Theory and Practice of Bowen Theory —  James Smith, MS
I will describe a four decade family dance and how hard it is to be objective about how well one is doing in the process. One relatively objective measure is to just watch what self and others are doing and have done.

On Motivation and Bowen Theory —  Daniel V. Papero, PhD, MSSW
What I am attempting to do with this talk is to begin a longer term effort to specify the components that ultimately merge to form a level of differentiation of self.


The Puzzle of Autism  — Michael E. Kerr, MD
This presentation will draw on the work of Dr. Leo Kanner, a recent paper that followed up on the first patient he ever diagnosed with autism, and detailed family research on the Sandy Hook shooter and his family to support Bowen theory's idea of extreme unresolved symbiosis as underlying the severe forms of clinical problems. It may be impossible to distinguish where the autism problem begins and the family problem ends. They are intricately intertwined.

Panel Discussion


Trauma-Informed Thinking and Bowen Family Systems Theory — Douglas C. Murphy, MA
Trauma based thinking currently is a predominant explanation in mental health for variation in human behavior. Bowen family systems theory contains different concepts which account for this variation from a complex systems perspective. This presentation will discuss these differences.

Connecting Bowen Theory with the Chinese Community —  Peggy Chan, MEd
This paper examines the emotional processes and challenges of introducing the Bowen theory to the Chinese community of Hong Kong, amidst the frequent concerns of new learners about the relevance of the theory for the Asian culture. Specific areas of relevance will also be discussed.

The Triangle, Anxiety, and Being a Self —  Joan Jurkowski, MS
Who, what, and when are three people a triangle? This presentation will address the theoretical question “can a third outside person be emotionally detached from a person who talks about another, or are the three people automatically a triangle?”


Physiological Reactivity Reflecting Emotional Fusion and Levels of Differentiation of Self in Family Triangles  — Victoria Harrison, MA
This presentation reports on the observations and challenges in measuring physiological reactivity as an indicator of emotional fusion and differentiation of self between family members. The value of this study for understanding symptoms and the part that family members can play in recovery will be discussed.

Panel Discussion

Code Name Image Price Availability  
DVD-AS-51-Set 51st Annual Symposium DVD Set   $300.00  
AS-51-14-MP3 51st Annual Symposium MP3   $125.00  

For more information, please contact The Bowen Center at 202-965-4400 or