Contact Dr. Perelli (716) 886-4594

Training Programs in Family Systems Theory

The Center for Family Systems Theory offers four levels of training:

Basic Course

Our Basic Course is a 30-hour course covering the eight principles of Family Systems Theory.

Special Courses

The Special Course, scheduled for the fall of 2018, is a series of 8 two-hours sessions (Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 PM). Each session is comprised of: a 60 minute training tape by Murray Bowen, MD; class discussion; and, a recap by the course facilitator Dr. Robert J. Perelli, CJM. Sorry, sold out!

Thinking Systems Lecture Series

We also offer a Thinking Systems Lecture Series for anyone interested in the theory and its application to a wide variety of topics. Scroll down for details about our next lecture: What Happened? Thinking Systems About The Results Of The 2016 Presidential Election on Monday, May 14, 2018 at 7:00 PM.

Tailor-Made Presentations

Our Tailor-Made Presentations can be applicable to any network of inter-locking relationships, such as a workplace, educational institutions, family-owned businesses and communities of faith.

Basic Course in Family Systems Theory

Although many professionals may be familiar with the family systems movement and the notion of “systems thinking,” few have received an in-depth explanation of the theory. Therefore, the Center for Family Systems Theory has developed a 30-hour basic course that introduces students to the eight interlocking concepts known as Family Systems Theory or Bowen Theory.

Our basic training program is comprised of ten 3-hour classes. Each class is a healthy mix of didactic presentations, case studies and classroom participation.

By participating in this basic training course, students will learn to apply Family Systems Theory to the people who come to them for help as well as their own families of origin and the system in which they work.

Our basic course in Family Systems Theory is designed for:

  • Faith-leaders (clergy, pastoral associates, chaplains, youth ministers, religious educators, campus ministers, spiritual directors, pastoral counselors, seminarians, etc.)
  • Human Services Providers (social workers, psychotherapists, human resource professionals, case managers, etc.)
  • Educators (teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, principals and administrators, etc.)
  • Medical Personnel (physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, occupational & physical therapists, etc.)
  • Legal Professionals (Attorneys, Law Guardians, Attorneys for the Child, etc.)
  • Leaders of family-owned businesses
  • as well as parents, couples, individuals and anyone who is interested in “thinking systems.”

Download a printable Registration Form for the basic training course:

Basic Course Curriculum

Recommended Reading: The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory
by Roberta Gilbert, MD
Publisher: Leading Systems Press
ISBN # 0-9763455-1-X

Recommended Reading: Extraordinary Relationships, A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions
by Roberta Gilbert, MD
Publisher: Chronimed Publishing
ISBN #: 1-56561-008-3

Suggested Reading: The Family Crucible
by Augustus Y. Napier, PhD and Carl A. Whitaker, MD
Publisher: Harper & Row
ISBN #: 0-06-014568-4

Basic Course 2019 Schedule

We will meet on the following Tuesdays from 6:00-9:00 PM:

  1. September 17, 2019
  2. September 24, 2019
  3. October 1, 2019
  4. October 8, 2019
  5. October 15, 2019
  6. October 22, 2019
  7. October 29, 2019
  8. November 5, 2019
  9. November 12, 2019
  10. November 19, 2019

In the event that we have to cancel one of the 10 classes due to inclement weather, please save Tuesday, November 26, 2019 for a “make-up” class.

Location for the Fall 2019 course:

To be announced.

Class One: An Introduction to Family Systems Theory

Recommended reading for this class: None.

Suggested reading for this class: The Family Crucible

The first class will introduce students to “thinking systems.” The lecture will demonstrate the differences between Bowen Family Systems Theory and traditional psychological theory which is based on the medical model. Students will learn about the history of the family systems movement and the unique contribution of Murray Bowen, MD. Since each student will be encourage to think about the content of every class as it applies to their own personal family system, all participants will be sensitized to issues of confidentiality in the classroom.

Class Two: Genograms

Recommended reading for this class: Click here to view our GenoPro Quickstart Guide. The guide provides directions to download and activate a copy of the software, and steps to begin working on your genogram.

This session will introduce students to the meaning and construction of a “genogram” (or family tree) which functions as an excellent backdrop for the eight interlocking concepts that have come to be known as Family Systems Theory or Bowen Theory. Students will construct their own genogram and be introduced to GenoPro, a software program especially designed to construct computerized genograms.

Class Three: Differentiation

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 2

“Differentiation” is the core concept of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Dr. Bowen describes differentiation as the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional function. Students will learn about the two different aspects of this concept namely the “differentiation of self” (i.e. the ability to distinguish between the “thinking” system and the “feeling” system) as well as “differentiation from the family of origin” (i.e. the ability of a family member to define his/her own life’s goal and values apart from the surrounding “togetherness pressures” that exist in all families). Using clinical case studies as well as their own genograms, students will begin to understand the importance of what is called “differentiating a self” as well as what Dr. Bowen called the “scale of differentiation.”

Class Four: The Emotional Triangle

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 3

According to Family Systems Theory, if you add tension or anxiety into a two-person relationship, a third person will automatically be pulled in or, more simply put, an “emotional triangle” will be automatically formed. Although emotional triangles are part of our daily interactions, they become troublesome when the interaction that should take place between two points of an emotional triangle (e.g. a mother and a father) is avoided, and the emotional content of that interaction is transferred to the third point of the emotional triangle (e.g. one of their children). The classic example of this concept is the case where two parents come for help because of a child who is acting out. When all three are in the room at the same time, it often becomes quite clear that the real issue exists between the mother and the father, and the child was the “identified patient,” that is, the one chosen to carry the symptom (i.e. acting out) on behalf of the family. Through lecture, clinical case studies and their own genograms, students will see how emotional triangles happen and, more importantly, how to “de-triangulate.”

Class Five: Nuclear Family Emotional Process

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 1

Each of us enters into a relation (e.g. marriage) with a specific level of emotional maturity or what Family Systems Theory calls “differentiation.” Depending on their level of differentiation (Family Systems Theory suggest that marital partners have similar levels of differentiation) and the amount of anxiety in their nuclear family (parents and children), couples will use mechanisms similar to those they learned in relationship to their parents. These mechanisms include: 1) emotional distance, 2) marital conflict, 3) transmission of the problem to a child, and 4) dysfunction in a spouse [also called “overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity”]. By using the genogram students will see how these four mechanisms play out in four different nuclear families.

Class Six: Family Projection Process and the Multi-generational Transmission Process

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 5 & 6

According to Family Systems Theory, the dysfunction found in the relationship between two parents can trickle down onto one or more of the children. When parents don’t solve their relationship problems one of their children will get pulled up into the world of adult relationships. Because mothers often have more responsibility for nurturing their children, the emotional attachment appears to be only between the mother and the child. But, when we think systemically, we see that the father’s support of his wife’s emotional attachment to the child or his withdrawal from the nuclear family means he is equally involved in the “family projection process.” Students will have the opportunity to see this concept as it plays itself out in a clinical case and to discuss how it may play itself out in their own nuclear families.

Once the students understand how issues are projected within the nuclear family (father, mother and children), they will be able to take a step back and see how those same issues can move from generation (grandparents) to generation (parents) to generation (children).

The genogram and the triangle will illustrate the wisdom of the old saying, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” Family Systems Theory recommends that we study at least three generations of a family in order to understand how that family works.

Class Seven: Sibling Position

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 7

The concept of Sibling position in Family Systems Theory is based on the research of Dr. Walter Toman. In 1961 Toman published Family Constellations: A Psychological Game based on the data he collected from several hundred families. While his conclusions are not etched in stone, they do indicate trends and patterns of behavior that generally characterize person occupying one of ten different sibling positions: 1) the oldest brother of brothers, 2) the youngest brother of brothers, 3) the oldest brother of sisters, 4) the youngest brother of sisters, 5) the male only child, 6) the oldest sister of sisters, 7) the youngest sister of sisters, 8) the oldest sister of brothers, 9) the youngest sister of brothers, 10) the female only child plus the middle child and twins. Understanding a person’s sibling position is an important part of the inheritance that we all receive from our multi-generational families. Brief genograms of these sibling positions, as well as a survey of each student’s sibling position, will bring this concept to life.

Class Eight: Emotional Cutoff

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 4

One person can live on the opposite coast as their parents and still be emotionally “enmeshed” with them, while another person can live next door to their folks and be emotionally “cutoff.” Enmeshed and cutoff are really not opposites because it takes about the same amount of emotional energy to be enmeshed as it takes to be cutoff. Enmeshed and cutoff are more like the same sock turned inside out. How people manage their emotional attachment to their parents and other important individuals in their lives can be an indicator of how they build other relationships in their lives. A better differentiated person stays connected to his/her family without getting enmeshed or cutoff. Through lecture, a clinical case presentation and studying their own families of origin, students will learn about emotional cutoff and the antidotes to it: a person-to-person relationship.

Class Nine: Emotional Process in Society

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 8

The eighth concept in Family Systems Theory takes the notion of the emotional process that is seen in multi-generational families (c.f. Lesson Five) and applies it to society in general. As in the family, the critical factor for the emotional process to have a negative impact on society is the degree of anxiety in society at a give point in history. And a higher level of anxiety in the general population results in societal regression marked by: 1) an erosion of individuation in large groups of people, 2) the increase in togetherness forces in society, and 3) scapegoating. Examples of societal regression might be: extreme political movements, fundamentalism, riots and cults.

Class Ten: Researching One’s Own Family of Origin

Recommended reading for this class: None

This session will bring us full circle as students consider the importance of “researching” their family of origin for the purpose of differentiating a self. In this light, the end of the course means that each student now has knowledge of a theory that will help them begin the journey to become a more emotionally mature person! During this time will students will also have the opportunity to evaluate the course and to celebrate their “graduation.”

Special Courses in Family Systems Theory

Sorry, this offering sold-out in two weeks! Stay tuned for other “special courses” in the near future.

Periodically, when the Basic Course is not being offered, The Center for Family Systems Theory will offer Special Courses in Family Systems Theory. These unique offerings are designed to both introduce adult learners to the theory and to advance the knowledge of those who are already familiar with Bowen Family Systems Theory.

The next Special Course, scheduled for the fall of 2018, will give participants the opportunity to “meet” the founding father of the movement via eight taped presentations featuring Dr. Murray Bowen himself. Each “chalk talk” is a theoretical presentation of Dr. Bowen explaining the theory in his own words. Each DVD is approximately 60 minutes long and will be followed by a 45 minute discussion and a 15 minute recap by the course facilitator Dr. Robert J. Perelli, CJM. The title for each of the eight lectures can be found below.

Because of the interactive nature of this course, attendance will be limited to about 20 people. Participants will be admitted to the course on a first come, first served basis. Early registration is recommended. The tuition for the upcoming Special Course is $250.00. A printable registration form can be found by scrolling down this page.

There are no prerequisites for taking the Special Course which is geared to any life-long learner who interested in “thinking systems” especially:

  • Human Services Providers (social workers, psychotherapists, human resource professionals, case managers, etc.)
  • Educators (teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, principals and administrators, etc.)
  • Medical Personnel (physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, occupational & physical therapists, etc.)
  • Legal Professionals (Attorneys, Law Guardians, Attorneys for the Child, etc.)
  • Leaders of family-owned businesses
  • Faith-leaders (clergy, pastoral associates, chaplains, youth ministers, religious educators, campus ministers, spiritual directors, pastoral counselors, seminarians, etc.
  • as well as parents, couples, individuals and anyone who is interested in “thinking systems.”

Download a printable Registration Form for the Special Training course:

Special Course Curriculum

Recommended Reading for seasoned students:
Family Evaluation, An Approach Based on Bowen Theory
by Murray Bowen, MD and Michael E. Kerr, MD
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN #:0-393-70056-9

Recommended Reading for first-time students:
The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory
by Roberta Gilbert, MD
Publisher: Leading Systems Press
ISBN # 0-9763455-1-X

Recommended Reading for first-time students:
Extraordinary Relationships, A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions
by Roberta Gilbert, MD
Publisher: Chronimed Publishing
ISBN #: 1-56561-008-3

Suggested Reading for first-time students:
The Family Crucible
by Augustus Y. Napier, PhD and Carl A. Whitaker, MD
Publisher: Harper & Row
ISBN #: 0-06-014568-4

 

Special Course 2018 Schedule

We will meet on the following Tuesdays from 6:30-8:30 PM:

  1. September 25, 2018
  2. October 2, 2018
  3. October 9, 2018
  4. October 16, 2018
  5. October 23, 2018
  6. October 30, 2018
  7. November 6, 2018
  8. November 13, 2018

In the event that we have to cancel one of the 10 classes due to inclement weather, please save Tuesday, November 20, 2018 for a “make-up” class.

Location for the Fall 2018 Special Course:

Catholic Charities Administrative Office Building
741 Delaware Avenue [@ the corner of Summer Street]
Buffalo, New York 14209

Ample free, secure parking directly behind the building.

Class One: Triangles and the Scale of Differentiation
Class Two: Nuclear Family Emotional Process
Class Three: Multigenerational Transmission Process and Sibling Position
Class Four: Differentiation of Self and the "I" Position

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 3

According to Family Systems Theory, if you add tension or anxiety into a two-person relationship, a third person will automatically be pulled in or, more simply put, an “emotional triangle” will be automatically formed. Although emotional triangles are part of our daily interactions, they become troublesome when the interaction that should take place between two points of an emotional triangle (e.g. a mother and a father) is avoided, and the emotional content of that interaction is transferred to the third point of the emotional triangle (e.g. one of their children). The classic example of this concept is the case where two parents come for help because of a child who is acting out. When all three are in the room at the same time, it often becomes quite clear that the real issue exists between the mother and the father, and the child was the “identified patient,” that is, the one chosen to carry the symptom (i.e. acting out) on behalf of the family. Through lecture, clinical case studies and their own genograms, students will see how emotional triangles happen and, more importantly, how to “de-triangulate.”

Class Five: Symptom Development in the Nuclear Family

Recommended reading for this class: The Eight Concepts, Chapter 1

Each of us enters into a relation (e.g. marriage) with a specific level of emotional maturity or what Family Systems Theory calls “differentiation.” Depending on their level of differentiation (Family Systems Theory suggest that marital partners have similar levels of differentiation) and the amount of anxiety in their nuclear family (parents and children), couples will use mechanisms similar to those they learned in relationship to their parents. These mechanisms include: 1) emotional distance, 2) marital conflict, 3) transmission of the problem to a child, and 4) dysfunction in a spouse [also called “overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity”]. By using the genogram students will see how these four mechanisms play out in four different nuclear families.

Class Six: Family Reaction to Death
Class Seven: Emotional Cutoff: A Clinical Example
Class Eight: The Best of Family Therapy

Thinking Systems Lecture Series

In addition to our 30-hour basic training course The Center for Family Systems Theory offers a “Thinking Systems” Lecture Series for anyone who is interested in the theory an its applications to a wide variety of topics. It is not necessary to have completed the Basic Training Course before participating in the “Thinking Systems” lecture series. No matter what your level of understanding of the theory, everyone is welcome to attend.

Below, please find a description of the next presentation as well as a list of the most recent presentation by Dr. Perelli:

What Happened?
Thinking Systems About The Results of the 2016 Presidential Election

Monday, May 14, 2018

Description: Now that we are well into the second year of the Trump presidency we have enough data to take a deeper look at what may have happened in this country that resulted in the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States.

And that data suggests that we are well into a period of “societal regression.”

Family Systems Theory proposes that, just as a multigenerational family can become more or less functional from generation to generation (from rags to riches or from riches to rags); so, when a critical mass of the population cycles downward, society enters a phase called “societal regression.” This is a time when the bulk of the population reaches such a high level of anxiety [the fear of a real or perceived threat] that folks begin to look for leadership that will provide easy answers to difficult questions. Systems thinkers suggest that the reign of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the “Second Red Scare” (1947-1956) were earlier examples of “societal regression” in American history.

Join us for a bipartisan analysis of the 2016 presidential election as seen through the lens of Family Systems Theory!

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

 

Thinking Systems About:
Addiction to Religious Fundamentalism

Monday, May 8, 2017

Attendance: 184

Description: As you know, people can become addicted to many things: drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, food, prescriptions, sex…and even religious fundamentalism! Despite the complexity and magnitude of the addiction problem, Family Systems Theory offers a new way of thinking about this issue that will help us find a solution. Using religious fundamentalism as an example of one of the many expressions of addiction, this presentation will: describe how a person can become addicted to a substance or an idea; offer a detailed definition of “religious fundamentalism;” and, show us how to respond to the crisis of addiction in a more compassionate and effective way.

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

 

Thinking Systems About:
The Upcoming 2016 Presidential Campaign

Monday, September 26, 2016

Attendance: 281

Description: What is going on in our country? What has happened to the quality of political discourse? Systems Theory can help us answer important questions like these! The last developed and least understood principle of Bowen Family Systems Theory is “The Emotional Process in Society.” The concept suggests that, just as a multi-generational family can become more and more emotionally immature and troubled from one generation to the next or more and more emotionally mature and content from one generation to the next, so can all of society become more or less emotionally mature. When a majority of the population becomes very emotionally mature we have an era of “societal progression” (e.g. the renaissance). And in a similar way, when a critical mass of society becomes very emotionally immature we have a period of “societal regression” (e.g. pre-WW II Germany). Most Family Systems theoricians believe America has been in a period of societal regression since the end of the 20th century. Join us as we ask some serious questions about whether or not the tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign is an indicator that Americans are on a slippery slope towards societal regression.

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

Thinking Systems About:
Addiction To Alcohol, Drugs, Food or Religion

Monday, March 7, 2016

Attendance: 182

 

Description: Many of us think of addiction as a character flaw while others think of it as a genetic trait rooted in the brain that is transmitted from one generation to another. Family Systems Theory takes a different – but not necessarily contrary – view of addiction. Join us as we “think systems” about what happens in a family when one member of that systems “binds” her anxiety on food or another person “binds” his anxiety on beer or yet another person “binds” his/her anxiety on sex or or drugs or sports or pornography or religion or…. If we think about addiction as a symptom of a family that solves its problems in just such a dysfunctional way, then the antidote to addiction might very well be the quality of our relationships with family members and other people who are important to us.

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

Thinking Systems About:
How Not to Create and All-American Child-Focused Family

Monday, February 29, 2016

Attendance: 144

Description: What do you do with a child who wants to rule the roost or a preteen daughter who has turned into a mean girl or an adolescent son who thinks the rules are for other kids but not him? The social science call then “highly prized children” and tends to explain the problem in terms of a “Dragon Mother” who does too much or an “absent father” who doesn’t do enough. But Family Systems Theory take a much broader approach to explaining the American family in which one or more of the children becomes the proverbial tail that wags the dog. Even if you don’t have young children or teenage grandchildren or any children at all, this session will open you eyes and you mind to “thinking systems” about how to build a more emotionally mature family where young adults get launched into the real world with the emotional maturity they need to succeed.

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

Thinking Systems About:
If Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, Then Good Boundaries Make Good Families

Monday, February 22, 2016

Attendance: 176

Description: This session will introduce you to the art and science of respecting the boundaries of the important people in your life: family, friends and colleagues. At a time when so many people default to enmeshment (too close) or cutoff (too far), Family Systems Theory offers us a paradigm for building healthy relationships. By using the examples of “co-parenting” (i.e. parents who are divorced from each other but both mother and father are actively involved in raising their children) and “blended families” (i.e. families where one or both divorced parents are now remarried to someone who also may have children from a previous marriage), this lecture will demonstrate how good boundaries are an essential part of creating an emotionally mature relationship. This session is not exclusively for divorced or divorced-and-remarried people; but, will use this social phenomenon (40 to 50% of Americans divorce) to help all of us – married, divorced and single – to avoid the “emotional trespassing” that can damage our relationships at home, work & in society.

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

Home For The Holidays:
Thinking Systems About Your Family-of-origin

November 23, 2015

Attendance: 124

It’s true, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! This presentation will introduce you to the art and the science of “researching” your own family-of-origin and how unresolved issues can move from grandparents to parents to children in what Family Systems Theory calls the “multi-generational family projection process.”

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

Thinking Systems About:
The Second Vatican Council and the Fear of Change

October 19, 2015

Attendance: 158

Using the Catholic Church as an example of a “system” – a network of interlocking relationships – this presentation examined why change is so difficult in any system: a family, a friendship network, a workplace or a church. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the closing ceremonies of Vatican II (Dec. 7, 1965), we studied how the fear of change (homeostasis) interfered with the full implementation of Vatican II’s teachings, and so, affected the trajectory of the Roman Catholic Church in the USA for the last five decades.

St. Joseph University Church (next to UB Main St. campus)
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
7:00-8:00 PM
Optional Q&A 8:00-8:30 PM

Suggested Donation: $5

Tailor-Made Presentations

Family Systems Theory is applicable to any network of inter-locking relationships: the workplace, educational institutions, family owned businesses and communities of faith, to name a few. Below you will find a list of some of our most recent offerings.

  • Thinking Systems About Sibling Position, Why Mom Likes You Best
  • Thinking Systems About Couple Communication Skills
  • Why Old Problems Never Fade Away, Thinking Systems About the Family Projection Process and Skeletons on the Family Closet
  • Thinking Systems About the Recipe for a Good Relationship
  • Thinking Systems About How Not to Create a Child-focused Family
  • Thinking Systems About Keeping Good Boundaries: Co-parenting and Blended Families
  • Going Home for the Holidays, Thinking Systems about Researching Your Family of Origin
  • Thinking Systems About Student Behavior and Achievement
  • Thinking Systems About Cutting and Self-injurious Behavior
  • Thinking Systems About The New School Year
  • The Emotional Side of Business, Applications of Family Systems Theory to the Workplace
  • Is That All There Is? Managing Life After Success
  • An Introduction to Family Systems Theory for Leaders in Organizational Development
  • An Introduction to Family Systems Theory for Chaplains and Pastoral Care Providers