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53rd Symposium on Family Theory and Family Psychotherapy

November 4-5th, 2016

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: Jan Sapp, PhD
York University, Toronto, Canada

This year’s Distinguished Guest Lecturer is Jan Sapp, PhD. Dr. Sapp is a Canadian born historian of biology and faculty member at York University, Toronto. He has written extensively about evolutionary biology and the importance of symbiosis. Dr. Sapp has co-authored a monograph entitled, “A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals.” Mounting evidence suggests, “Animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical or physiological criteria because a diversity of symbionts are both present and functional in completing metabolic pathways and serving other physiological functions” (325). This paper and other writings by Sapp challenge the boundaries of the biological individual. His writings include the first extended history of symbiosis, “Evolution by Association: A History of Symbiosis,” (1994).

Dr. Sapp’s eye for history and understanding of biology coalesce in his thinking and writing as he tells the story of the microbiome shaping our existence, describes symbionts as a second mode of genetic inheritance, and studies the evolution of microorganisms. He suggests the immune system develops in dialogue with symbionts acting to integrate microbes into our animal cell community.

Murray Bowen, MD, shaped Bowen theory around the concept of the mother-child symbiosis and expanded the theory to include the “emotional oneness” of the family emotional system. Dr. Sapp’s work uses the latest research techniques to demonstrate symbiosis as the key to animal and plant development and how symbiosis may shape our everyday lives from the immune system to the microbiome.

Please join the Bowen Center in welcoming Dr. Sapp and discover if you really are a holobiont. Or could we all just be a community of lichens?



Welcome and Introduction —  Anne S. McKnight, EdD

Assessing Family Response to Challenge — Daniel V. Papero, PhD, MSSW
This talk will review a dimensional or continuum-based model of assessing a family unit’s response to challenge. The talk will outline the model and discuss its plusses and minuses.

Divorce and the Parental Pair Bond: Understanding the Influence of the Primary Triangle —  Margaret Donley, MSW
How the primary triangle operates in the nuclear family plays a significant role in the degree to which fathers are involved with their children as well as the nature of mothers’ involvement with their children. This process occurs in both intact and divorced family units.


The Symbiotic Self —  Jan Sapp, PhD
The classical one genome-one organism conception is giving way today to a symbiotic conception of the organism. This idea is not new. Research on and discussions of the importance of symbiosis as a source of evolutionary innovation have been carried out for over 100 years – close to the margins of biology and in virtual conflict with its central doctrines and aims. This presentation will explore and discuss why hereditary symbiosis and the microbial world were not included in the neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis, and why they were excluded from ecological studies of biodiversity.

Panel Discussion


Lessons from the Study of Emotional Systems in Nature and the Family  —  Victoria Harrison, MA
This presentation will describe what can be learned about human functioning from an evolutionary perspective on the multigenerational human family.

The Family Response to Death —  Eileen Gottlieb, MEd, LMFT
This paper will focus on the family response to three significant deaths, two in the past generation and one in the present. An attempt will be made to describe and account for the manner in which each death was managed using the concepts of Bowen theory as a guide for understanding the family emotional process.

Mechanisms Influencing the Disease Process from a Systems Perspective —  Mignonette N. Keller, PhD
Bowen posits that disease develops when there is a disturbance in the balance of relationships between family members. This presentation will illustrate the mechanisms influencing the development and course of the disease process in families included in a multigenerational Alzheimer’s study.


Cancer: One Outcome of a Disturbance in a Relationship System  —  Joan Jurkowski, MS
The presenter will provide a case study of Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of John Edwards, who died of breast cancer in 2010, and explore themes in the relationship system that may contribute to the progression of a cancer.

Panel Discussion


Family and the Intellectual System —  Robert J. Noone, PhD
The development of higher cortical systems involved in the ability to effectively manage self is embedded in the relationship circuitry of the family. The differentiation of the intellectual system and its relationship to the family will be discussed in its developmental and evolutionary contexts.

Moving toward a Science of Intuition and Bowen Theory —  Christopher East, PsyD
This presentation will focus on research that has effectively brought the study of intuition out of the realm of parapsychology and offered a number of cogent hypotheses to help us to understand how this neural process can be effective and functional in forming human behavior.


The Symbiotic Self —  Jan Sapp, PhD
We will see why recognition for the importance of symbiosis in evolution has emerged in recent years, and how molecular phylogenetic methods have led to a conception of a universal web of life, based on lateral gene transfer and symbiosis, which transcends Darwinian conceptions and contradicts its central tenets. We will also discuss how studies of microbiomes in recent years have further reinforced the organismal conception of the symbiome.

Panel Discussion


An Application of Bowen Family Systems Theory in Child Welfare —  Walter H. Smith Jr., PhD
The use of Bowen family systems theory to design and implement reforms in case practice in a large, urban child welfare agency will be described. The new practice shifts responsibility managing child safety to the family through extended family meetings with all professionals involved in services.

Flint, Michigan: A Bowen Theory View —  Barbara Laymon, MPH, MS
Using population health data, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan will be explored from the perspective of togetherness forces, societal regression, spiraling chronic anxiety, societal projection processes, linear thinking, and blaming.

Societal Emotional Process: A Critical Evaluation —  Anne S. McKnight, MSW, EdD
This presentation will explore Murray Bowen’s eighth concept on societal emotional process. Dr. Bowen and other Bowen thinkers have asserted that presently society is in an emotional regression. This period of history will be contrasted to other periods to engage that idea more fully. The role of differentiation in the process of social change will also be explored.


Do People Who Marry Have the Same Basic Level of Differentiation? — Randall T. Frost, MDiv
Bowen theory assumes that people who marry have the same basic level of differentiation. To test that assumption requires the ability to assess the intensity of the unresolved emotional attachment of each spouse to their family of origin.

Panel Discussion

Code Name Image Price Availability  
DVD-AS-53-Set 53rd Annual Symposium DVD Set   $300.00  
AS-53-16-MP3 53rd Annual Symposium MP3   $125.00  

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