Nineteen Years of Learning in the WPFC Basic Seminar in Bowen Theory

  • March 17, 2021
  • Mick Landaiche, Ph.D.

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

6 Replies to “Nineteen Years of Learning in the WPFC Basic Seminar in Bowen Theory”

  1. Thank you, Mick. You are a quiet but effective leader. I’m sorry you are stepping down. I’m grateful for your leadership especially during my first course through WPFC.

    1. Thank you in return, Norma.
      It was an honor having you as part of that community learning effort.

  2. Mick, I remember your pivotal learning experience with the Neurofeedback—the inside out experience that guides the future. I appreciate your description of the learning/“teaching” process you have been involved in. I look forward to learning of your next integrating experience!

    1. Priscilla,
      What a wonderful surprise to see your note, especially given your special “role” in my story! I thank you again for that learning experience. Mick

  3. Mick!
    I am glad to have the chance to read this piece of yours. From where I sit, your thoughtful writing flows in seamless continuity with your thoughtful and effective leadership in the Basic Seminar.

    I have a question for you, emerging from my observation of you. I think I’ve noticed different approaches in your facilitation of Basic Seminar. Sometimes speaking more, sometimes less, more or less interactive with both participants and presenters. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how you, as the facilitator, navigated choices of how much or how little to say, and if you noticed differences in how groups evolved being related to your greater or lesser spoken interaction.

    1. Thanks for these thought-provoking questions, Dave. 
      For me, the principle is to observe what motivates my speaking (or not).  That is, am I talking or staying silent out of anxiety?  Am I actually expressing myself, in words or with presence?  That awareness can help me correct course.  Still, many of my verbal interventions as well as moments of silence are often spontaneous, not planned, arising amidst the group’s process that I also am part of.  And those I can check as well for their relation to my reactivity and then examine further in regard to how my speaking (or not) affects my own growth in learning and that of the overall group’s learning process.  I think these principles and practices apply as well to my decisions to speak or to sit back in my family.  Moreover, in the Basic Seminar—as in my family—I also am observing and considering the integrating as well as anxiety-based contributions from others—presenters and participants alike—which I believe play an equally important role in the learning environment. 
      It’s a research approach as well as one of trial-and-error.  All told, I think we can learn from studying the impact of our expressiveness both on our own development and that of our systems.  So I appreciate this opportunity to begin thinking this through as a result of your deciding to express yourself here!

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