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Social Threats in Challenging Times: How Families and Other Human Systems Adapt

October 23 - October 24

Social Threats in Challenging Times: 
How Families and Other Human Systems Adapt

41st Pittsburgh Family Systems Conference and Symposium
October 23rd and 24th, 2020 – 9:00AM – 4:00PM
Online Conference via ZOOM

Families, organizations and social institutions function as well as they adapt and manage countless threats and challenges.  The universal threat of the COVID-19 virus has challenged families and social groups.  While the threat is new and sudden, the ways families and social groups adapt are grounded in natural emotional processes and long-term patterns of functioning as a family or group.  Furthermore, the virus illustrates how we adapt as a family and social group, and not merely as individuals.  Adaptation is an interactive relationship between us and our environment that is reciprocal and constantly changing.  As we adapt, threats change in response, prompting further coping responses.  Successful adaptation is a long-term, complex interplay between threats and response that is not simply the actions of each person.  Instead, a family and group has interlocking relationships that function as a system shaped by emotions, patterns of functioning, events and relationship forces.

Bowen family systems theory provides a way to understand how families and social groups adapt to challenges and threats as a single, interlocking unit and relationship system.  The theory explains how emotional systems adapt based on natural emotional processes.  It describes how these adaptations can shape future coping of a family or social group.  The conference and symposium provide an opportunity for presenters and attendees to explore the functioning of families and social groups as emotional systems.  Each presentation does not focus on COVID-19.  However, each presentation explores the functioning of emotional systems and ways they adapt to challenges and events.  The COVID-19 virus will be a common discussion theme throughout the conference and symposium.


Conference Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of the program, participants will be able to:

      • Recognize how symptoms, threat and event challenge families and social groups and shape the functioning of interlocking relationships
      • Better understand how the impaired functioning of some members of a system contribute to the overall system’s adaptive efforts
      • Better understand how various levels of functioning of members of the same family and social group function as an interlocking unit and relationship system
      • Better derive hypotheses that explain and guide interventions with families and social groups facing social threats
      • Better understand the basic concepts of Bowen family systems theory and how to apply them to clinical and organizational settings


Conference Description

The WPFC annual conference and symposium provides an opportunity for local lay and professional persons to present their efforts to observe, study and apply Bowen family systems theory.  The opportunity for students, seasoned professionals and others to present their perspective, thinking and work promotes an understanding of natural systems, nature and human functioning.  Persons from many fields of science are encouraged to present and attend the conference and symposium.  

This is an online conference and all presentations and discussions will occur utilizing ZOOM technology.  Registrants for the conference will be emailed information to connect to the conference and participants are asked to connect fifteen minutes before conference start time.  Participants will be given written instructions for how to ask questions and make comments during the conference.  Participants are strongly encouraged to become familiar with the use of ZOOM technology before the meeting.

Each presenter will use slides that will accompany their presentation in order to enhance learning and participation.  Introductions of presenters will be brief as their biographies are listed in this brochure.  During a portion of the lunch period, interested participants can attend a brief breakout room meeting about family center programs and services.


Lead Presentations

Disinformation Playgrounds for Bots and Trolls

By Kathleen M. Carley, Ph.D. – Professor of Computer at the Institute of Software Research at Carnegie Mellon University

Presentation Description:  Today most people turn to the internet and social media for news and to converse with others.  This cyber information environment is the home of bots and trolls.  These actors employ diverse tactics, to shape who is talking to whom on social media, which web pages are read, and who is writing about what.  They can and are being used to spread disinformation in ways that individual humans often cannot spot.  Our ability to interact and debate without undue influence is threatened in this cyber-information environment, this is the social-cybersecurity threat.  In this session the nature of social cybersecurity, the cyber=information environment and disinformation will be discussed.  Information on how social media operates, and the way bots and trolls can shape that environment and spread disinformation will be examined using case examples drawn from elections and COVID-19. The session will conclude with a review of what is known about reducing the threat and being more secure in this space.


Who’s Got Time for a Theory when All Systems Are Screaming “Fire!”

By N. Michel (Mick) Landaiche, III, Ph.D. – Dr. Landaiche has worked since 1989 as a psychotherapist and training supervisor with individuals, couples, and families in agency, university, and private-practice settings. He has also applied a systems approach to consulting for nonprofit and government organizations. He currently coordinates the Basic Seminar in Bowen Theory for the Western PA Family Center.

Presentation Description:  When threat levels spike, sometimes the first thing to go is our capacity for thoughtful action.  Overrun with a sense of urgency, we may take steps that actually make the situation worse, that only increase the threat levels in a cycle of escalating panic and impulsive, reactive behavior.  Sometimes only when the dust has cleared do we look around to see the damages we have unwittingly contributed to.  The sense of ensuing grief can persist for generations, sometimes haunting us like unseen ghosts.  And yet in the midst of a stressful time, with all alarms blaring, the last thing that may seem useful is a theory, a way to think, a set of ideas and practices.  So arguably, those are exactly the times when we do so desperately need something to organize our minds and bodies.  And Dr. Murray Bowen has bequeathed one such possible resource—a natural systems framework for taking constructive action during the more challenging times in our families, organizations, and communities.

Other Presenters

John Rushofsky, Arthur Zipris, PhD, Sandra Caffo, LCSW, Catherine Murphy Rakow, MSW, Rosemarie Perla, MS, MA, PC, Walter H. Smith, Jr., PhD

Continuing Education Credits: 

LSW/LCSW, LPC and LMFT continuing education credits will be provided for a fee of $25.00 for one day / $40.00 for two days.  

This program is offered for 12 hours (6 hours for single day) of social work continuing education through co-sponsorship of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, a Council on Social Work Education-accredited school and, therefore, a PA pre-approved provider of social work continuing education. These credit hours satisfy requirements for LSW/LCSW, LPC and LMFT biennial license renewal. For information on social work continuing education call (412) 624-6902.

Application for Psychology continuing education credits is pending.


Registration Fee – $140.00 for two days; $70.00 for one day

Student Discount – $80.00 for two days; $40.00 for one day*

*Please send a copy of Student ID or other proof of enrollment to rebecca@wpfc.net to receive discount code before registering.

Contact Information

Conference Registration and questions:  Contact Rebecca Keller at rebecca@wpfc.net
WPFC programs and services: Cynthia Larkby, Ph.D. at Cynthia.larkby.phd@icloud.com



October 23
October 24
$25.00 – $140.00


Western PA Family Center
(412) 362-2295


The numbers below include tickets for this event already in your cart. Clicking "Get Tickets" will allow you to edit any existing attendee information as well as change ticket quantities.
Two Day Registration
$ 140.00
One Day Registration
$ 70.00
Two Day ( 12 CEUs) Social Work
$ 40.00
One Day ( 6 CEUs) Social Work
$ 25.00