This year’s Distinguished Guest Lecturer, Karl Pillemer, PhD.
Dr. Karl Pillemer is Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Senior Associate Dean for Research and Outreach in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell. He conducts research on the development of the human across the lifespan, with a special emphasis on family and social relationships in later life. His interest in estrangement brought him to the Bowen Center to better understand the concept of emotional cutoff.
More about Dr. Pillemer: https://www.human.cornell.edu/people/kap6
Includes the following presentations:
- Welcome and Introduction - Anne S. McKnight, EdD, LCSW
- The Adaptive Function of Emotional Cutoff - Robert J. Noone, PhD
This presentation will briefly describe the evolutionary basis for the level of interdependence observed among the members in the family, necessary for the development of the complex human brain. Emotional cutoff serves the adaptive function of allowing individuals to separate from their parental families despite the level of unresolved emotional dependence remaining on reaching young adulthood, thus allowing them to move into the future. Maladaptive aspects of this process will also be described.
- Estrangement and Cutoff: How Do They Differ? - Anne S. McKnight, EdD, LCSW
At face value estrangement and cutoff look similar in the severing of contact between parents and adult children. Research on estrangement generally reflects sociological trends, tending to cite issues or differences in values between generations. Cutoff, which is a systems concept, addresses the intensity of dependence between generations which becomes overwhelming for one or both family members.
- The Emotional Process between Generations - Selden Dunbar Illick, LCSW
This presentation will consider the emotional process between mothers and first-born daughters in one family over five generations. The presenter will first discuss the unresolved emotional attachment and follow with a look at what happened over time when family members made efforts to become more aware of unresolved emotional attachment and worked to manage the anxiety that goes along with it.
- Panel Discussion 1
- Family Rifts and How to Mend Them: Findings from the Cornell Estrangement and Reconciliation Project - Karl Pillemer, PhD
The Symposium will be the first time Dr. Pillemer has presented major findings from this five-year program of research. It includes collecting first-person accounts of estrangement and reconciliation from over 500 people; a national survey of 1,340 American adults to determine the prevalence of estrangement; and a survey of 60 family therapists from a variety of orientations regarding their views about estrangement. He will review the study’s major findings and engage the audience’s interpretation of them, as well as exploring the study’s relevance to Bowen theory.
- Q&A with Dr. Pillemer
- Reexamining the Concept of Cutoff - Daniel V. Papero, PhD, LCSW-C
The concept of cutoff arose from Dr. Bowen’s observations of family behavior and his discovery that training psychiatrists who returned to their origin families to work on managing themselves more maturely showed rapid progress in addressing relationship challenges broadly in the family. He also observed that anxiety levels in a nuclear family appeared less intense when that family was in viable contact with earlier generations of the family. While those observations have significantly influenced clinical practice (the idea of “bridging the cutoff”), there has been little effort to develop the theoretical hypotheses concerning the interplay of pressures within the family that lead to cutoff and to cohesion. The presenter would like to take the opportunity provided by Dr. Pillemer’s visit to grapple with the theoretical underpinnings of cutoff.
- Discussion with Drs. Pillemer and Papero
- Distance and Cutoff: The Catholic Church, Sex Abuse, and the Family - Kathleen Cotter Cauley, MEd, LMFT
How does one face the challenge of remaining objective toward a topic as emotionally charged as the Catholic Church abuse scandals? And what does Bowen theory have to add to this discussion? Ms. Cauley will speak about her experience in gaining neutrality through the gathering of facts, encouraging person to person relationships, understanding distance and cutoff, and knowing one’s principles.
- Wealth, Leadership, and Family Functioning - Eileen Gottlieb, MEd, LMFT
Leadership is a principle component in the long-term viability of the family system. This presentation will focus on three families of wealth where a spouse has led the family through significant challenge toward progression and better functioning.
- A Father’s Early Death: A Family’s Response - Kent E. Webb, LCSW
Bowen family systems theory is used to account for the disruption that occurred within a nuclear family after the death of the father and his spouse. The presentation describes the emotional shockwave experienced within the family. Three variables are identified that impact the time it takes for a family system to establish equilibrium after a family member’s death and how each person in the family operated within the multigenerational family.
- Panel Discussion 2
- Physiology of the Triangle - Laurie Lassiter, PhD, MSW
Physical and social pain have similar nervous system effects. While threats of rejection trigger the same sense of sudden danger and alarm experienced with the threat of physical harm, social connection calms the nervous system. On a continuum, individuals more sensitive to social stress are more governed by the triangle, with an increased need to be in an inside position associated with approval and a greater reactivity to the outside position.
- Triangles in Guardianship and Contested Will Procedures - Jo Benson Fogel, JD
Ms. Fogel will demonstrate the impact of identifying triangles in court-related legal matters involved in guardianships (older adults and minors), will preparation, advanced medical directives, and distribution of estate assets. Conclusions are drawn from over 35 years of experience, approached through the lens of Bowen theory and birth order research of psychologist Walter Toman.
- Panel Discussion 3
- Research and Real Life: How Can We Translate Research Findings to Clinical Practice? - Karl Pillemer, PhD
Dr. Pillemer has thought and written for many years about how to better translate social science findings to practitioners, such as family therapists. In this talk, he will present the main barriers to building a bridge between the worlds of research and practice. Focusing on the different “worlds” of researchers and practitioners that create a need for cross-cultural communication, he will identify barriers to the movement of basic research into applications and ideas that therapists, coaches, and other providers can actually use. In an effort to stimulate conversation about what kind of knowledge Bowen theory practitioners think would benefit their work, and what kinds of studies could be done, he will propose some methods for better bridging the gap between science and service.
- Respondents: Carrie E. Collier, PhD, LPC and Laura R. Brooks, LCSW-C and Audience Questions
- The Pitfalls and Possibilities of Manualizing Bowen Theory - Jennifer Brown, PhD, MSc
This presentation will explore data from a pilot study of the use of a manualized parent intervention program based on Bowen theory. It explores potential pitfalls/distortions to theory, alongside emerging benefits in facilitating application of Bowen theory.
- Communication Patterns of Dr. Murray Bowen - John Engels, MA
Through more than 100 hours of research in The Murray Bowen Collection at the National Library of Medicine, the researcher has identified informal communication patterns in Dr. Bowen’s letters and interviews. This presentation will highlight the incisive questions, colorful descriptions, and self-disclosures that have been chronicled from his archives.
- Play as an Expression of Differentiation of Self - Jake Morrill, MDiv, LMFT
Playfulness can be anxious avoidance of responsible functioning. But it can also be principled, effective leadership. Drawing on research from Gordon Burghardt, Stuart Brown, and others into the origins and purpose of play across species, the presenter will compare playfulness with differentiation of self.
- Panel Discussion 4
- Roundtable with Dr. Pillemer, Victoria Harrison, and Randall Frost
- Audience Questions and Comments
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