In the fall of 2002, I began my first formal training in Bowen family systems theory. I understand it to be a theory of human neurophysiological functioning and development, for both individuals and their human systems, with both inextricably intertwined as are the human mind and body.
I enrolled that year in the WPFC Basic Seminar in Bowen Theory, a 26-week intensive course that taught the history and concepts of the theory, and how that theory could be applied with individuals, families, organizations, communities of faith, and human systems of every kind.
My interest in this area of study and my appreciation of the seminar’s effectiveness led eventually, in 2007, to my taking on the role of the seminar’s coordinator and host. This involved engaging other WPFC faculty members to share in the processes of presenting material and of facilitating presentations by participants of their family systems. Over the years, I have felt particularly engaged by the learning process itself, by the way learning occurs. Nineteen years later, I am still learning.
A powerful example of this process occurred for me in 2009, during a talk given here in Pittsburgh by Priscilla J. Friesen, a Bowen Center faculty member and co-founder of The Learning Space where she provides systems-based consultation. Her presentation included material on neurofeedback, a technology for observing brain waves in the individual. She talked about how neurofeedback offers “knowledge about the [family] system’s multigenerational history as lived in the individual’s brain.” I volunteered to be a demonstration subject during her talk.
That experience of observing my neural functioning, my brain waves, led to a near-immediate, unfamiliar sense of calming a chronic anxiety so familiar that I had hardly noticed it. Later I realized I could observe, without any special devices or technology, learning processes as they occurred in individuals and in groups of many kinds. I could see that learning emerged not just by, say, acquisition of content but also in the way people conveyed a nonverbal sense of being organized within themselves, rather than appearing disjointed, conflicted, or agitated.
People who were learning showed up with more assurance, better able to articulate their experiences, their points of view, their values. Moreover, I observed a reciprocal process. Observing those learning processes in others—their ways of integrating in mind and body that seemed to put them more in touch with reality and so less prone to chronic anxiety—led to my own further calming and integration. Likewise, my calm, observing presence may also have helped the integration I was observing. That is, my interest in learning seemed to help others, just as their learning helped mine.
I thought this fit with Bowen’s observation about the effect on the larger system of even just one person working toward differentiation of self—toward that integration of mind and body that Kerr talks about in his book, Bowen Theory’s Secrets (pp. 108-109). Bowen noted that this work toward defining a self while in contact with the system led to further calming and integration elsewhere in that broader human system. The effect is offering leadership of a productively contagious kind.
So by offering what leadership I could and by following the leadership emerging especially from participants as they developed and integrated in our Basic Seminar, I am profoundly grateful for these many years of learning in that context. Of particular value is gaining in integration for myself by attending to the learning processes of those involved—whether in their roles as participants or as presenters—and of learning especially from those who are younger than I am, the next generation.
As I prepare to step down in April from my role as coordinator and host of the Basic Seminar, where else will I find occasion both to support the learning of the next generation as well as to gain from the teaching they will offer me? That is my research question, something to guide my next study of self-in-system.
Mick Landaiche, Ph.D.
WPFC Faculty Member