CFC Logo

Volume 8 Number 3 Summer 2024

Cutoff and the Role of a Bowen Coach

By Cecilia Guzman, MS 

Bowen Family Systems Theory, developed by Dr. Murray Bowen in the mid-20th century, revolutionized the understanding of human behavior within the context of familial relationships. One of the key concepts within this theory is "emotional cutoff" a phenomenon that describes how individuals manage unresolved emotional issues with family members by reducing or completely cutting off emotional contact. This essay delves into the concept of emotional cutoff, its implications, underlying mechanisms, and its impact on individuals and family dynamics.

Understanding Emotional Cutoff

Emotional cutoff occurs when individuals attempt to manage their unresolved emotional issues by distancing themselves physically or emotionally from their family of origin. This distancing can manifest in various forms, such as moving away geographically, avoiding family gatherings, or limiting conversations to superficial topics. While emotional cutoff might provide temporary relief from anxiety or conflict, it often exacerbates underlying issues by preventing resolution and perpetuating dysfunctional patterns across generations.

Bowen posited that emotional cutoff is a response to intense emotional fusion within the family unit. Fusion refers to the blurring of boundaries between family members, where individual identities and emotions are intertwined to an unhealthy extent. In highly fused families, members might feel overwhelmed by the need to conform to familial expectations or maintain emotional harmony, leading some to cutoff emotionally as a means of self-preservation...continued

Editor’s Note: For a deeper dive into the concept of cutoff and the Bowen coach’s clinical practice role, Dr. Anne McKnight, a nationally known Bowen theory expert will explore the concept of cutoff through presentations, discussion, and videotaped clinical interviews at the CFC Summer Conference on July 26, 2024. For more details and registration information, see the program description and Dr. McKnight’s biography below.

Early Bird Tickets Available Now untill June 20

CFC 2024 Annual Summer Conference 

In Person at The Carleton Hotel in Oak Park, IL

“The Complexity of Cutoff”

featuring: Anne S. McKnight, Ed.D.

The concept of Cutoff in family systems, one of the eight concepts in Bowen theory,  will be explored by Anne S. McKnight at CFC’s annual summer conference on July 26th. Cutoff refers to the severing of contact in a family as a way to manage tension. The conference will feature presentations, discussions, and videotaped clinical interviews to delve into this topic. Cutoff addresses how dependency between generations is managed through emotional and physical distance. Contrary to views of family rifts as resulting from different lifestyles or values, cutoff reflects efforts to manage intense interdependence in a family. It can diminish reactivity for an individual but also lead to isolation and the loss of resources of an extended family. The work of differentiation, the effort to define oneself calmly in a family as a stepping stone toward bridging cutoff, will be explored.

Anne S. McKnight Ed.D. is a family therapist who has presented on Bowen theory nationally and internationally. Appointed to the faculty of the Bowen Center in 1994, she has served in a variety of positions there, including as Director from 2010-2020. She recently edited a book of clinical case studies, Thinking Systems, and has two articles in publication, “Two Perspectives on Family Rifts: Estrangement and Cutoff”, and “Bowlby’s Attachment Theory and Bowen’s Family systems theory: What are the differences and implications for clinical practice?”

She is currently in private practice in Arlington, VA.

Conference Information

Date:      Friday, July 26 | 2024

Time:     9:00am to 4:30pm CST

Location:   Carleton Hotel - 1110 Pleasant St, Oak Park, IL 60302 (directions)

Deadline to register: Thursday, July 25th (11pm CST)

Fees: Early-Bird Registration (available untill June 20 at 12pm CST): $125.00

General Registration: $165.00

Continuing Education Credits: 6 CEUs will be awarded for full day attendance

Available to: Social Workers, Professional Counselors/Clinical Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, Clinical Psychologists, Clergy, Health Care Professionals.


From the Pages of CFC’s Blog...

Frans de Waal, Our First Symposium Speaker

by Sydney Reed, MSW

Frans de Waal, 75, Who Believed Apes Had Cognition, Dies so said the obituary by Alex Traub in the New York Times on Saturday, March 23, 2024.

“Frans de Waal, who used his study of the inner life of animals to build a powerful case that apes think, feel, strategize, pass down culture, and act on moral sentiments – and that humans are not quite as special as many like to think- died on March 14 at his home in Stone Mountain, Ga.”

Frans de Waal was our first symposium speaker 41 years ago when CFC began the Midwest Symposium. Murray Bowen was also a key-note speaker at that conference…continued

Reflections on the 4th International Conference on Bowen Theory

by John Bell, M.DIV.

Bowen theory has certainly come a long way even since the first international conference held in 2015 in Pittsburg, PA at the Western Pennsylvania Family Center. One of its founding members and long-term executive directors, Jim Smith was a pioneer in making theory available worldwide and in organizing this first ever international conference. Since then, international conferences have been held in Hong Kong (2018), Sweden (2022) and most recently, Miami, Florida.

The Fourth International Conference was held at Albizu University and sponsored by the Florida Family Research Network (FFRN) on February 22-24th. The conference title was, “Passing the Baton, the Next Generation.” Over the…continued

New Faculty Appointment

Terri Pilarski, M.Div., M.S.W.

The Board of the Center for Family Consultation is pleased to announce the appointment of Ms. Terri Pilarski to a faculty position beginning in June 2024. Ms. Pilarski holds a Masters in Social Work from Loyola University and a Masters of Divinity from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. She has served congregations in Illinois, Arizona and Michigan as an Episcopal priest for twenty-five years and is a licensed social worker. These vocations feed and inform her interests in family systems, healthy mind and body connections, and working with people holistically. She is also trained in spiritual direction, meditation and massage therapy.

Ms. Pilarski has trained in Bowen theory since 1996. The hybrid program of the Center for Family Consultation’s Post Graduate Training Program enabled her to complete three years of in-depth study of Bowen theory from 2021 to 2024. She gained new insights into organizations from a course with Leslie Fox and Patty Sheridan, “Leading a Business in Anxious Times”, and this helped her apply Bowen theory for congregations and nonprofits even more effectively. Her meditation practice is inspired by the Bowen theory meditation study group, which explores many avenues of meditation, always with a connection to Bowen theory. 

As a parish priest Terri has grown in her capacity to adapt to and partner with people of different cultures. Since 2021, she has served as Executive Director and helped create and lead the development of a new intercultural community center nonprofit association in a diverse community. The center received a major grant in 2022 to support its growth and development and to develop training curricula and materials for leaders of other intercultural communities, much of which is based on her work with Bowen theory.

Terri is currently the Vicar of two small congregations in Arizona where she continues to explore family systems for congregations. She is an avid knitter, painter, dog walker, and is currently practicing writing Haiku as part of her morning meditation. Married for 39 years with two adult children, two grandchildren, two dogs, and an old cat.

What is CFC Faculty Reading, Viewing and Recommending this Summer?

Cecilia Guzman, MS, LCPC:

Cecilia’s book review of The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee has just been published in the latest issue of the Family Systems Journal, Volume 18.2., released May 30th, 2024 online. Print copies will be mailed to subscribers in about 2 weeks. 

The Song of the Cell is a book that Cecilia enthusiastically recommended in our last newsletter, describing Dr. Mukherjee “as a luminary whose expertise transcends the boundaries between medicine and literature.”  Adding to that recommendation, Cecilia says, “for a deeper dive into this subject, read The Epigenetics Revolution, by Nessa Carey. 

Cecilia also highly recommends a book by Don Miguel Ruiz. “If you haven’t already read it, The Four Agreements is easy to read, a profound book, and one she often recommends to clients. “It is highly relatable to Bowen Family Systems Theory”, says Cecilia.

Leslie Fox, MS:

Leslie recommends the film Benny and Joon. This 1993 film is available on various streaming channels. It is an endearing story about Sam, a quirky stranger who arrives in a small town and upsets the delicate balance between an overprotective brother, Benny, and his mentally challenged sister, Joon. “Bowen theory’s concepts, especially triangles and under and over functioning within the family as well as the community’s service providers, leapt off the screen for me throughout this movie”, reports Leslie.

John Bell, M.Div.:

Mike Sullivan shared this videoI hadn't seen it before. It's a short but useful summary of Robert Sapolsky's book, Behave. I thought he does a nice job of outlining the biology of behavior in a pretty succinct manner. It also seems timely”, says John.

Lisa Friedstein, MSW:

"Two Brothers" by Ben Elton is a historical novel that takes place in Berlin in 1920's. It tells the story of two boys, Otto and Paulus, who are raised as brothers but are not related by blood. Otto is Jewish and Paulus is Aryan. They grow up together in a loving family, unaware of how much their different backgrounds will matter later. Murray Bowen's Family Systems Theory concepts can be found throughout the book. Triangles can be seen when Otto's parents decide to adopt Paulus after their own son is born stillborn, and the adoption is kept secret. This makes family relationships more complicated as the Nazis start rising to power. Two Brothers really brings to life the concepts of Differentiation of Self, Family Projection Process and Societal Emotional Process. 

CFC's 2024-25 Post Graduate Training Program

Final deadline for applications due August 1.

for more information

Interested persons can contact John Bell, program director, for an initial interview and to request an application. Applications for the Training program are currently being accepted through August 1, 2024. 

Space is limited. 

Upcoming CFC Programs and Conferences

July 26, 2024

2024 Summer Conference

Learn More

August 1, 2024 – registration deadline (program begins 9/6)

2024 CFC Post Graduate Training Program

Learn More

Starts September 26th, 2024 (online course)

Bowen Family Systems Theory 101

Learn More

September 27, 2024

Fall Conference - Bowen Theory, Science, and Research

Save the date

CFC News published quarterly

by Center for Family Consultation

"The goal...is to rise up out of the emotional togetherness that binds us all."

Murray Bowen, M.D.

Center for Family Consultation | 847-868-2654

820 Davis Street, Suite 504, Evanston, IL


Website: www.thecenterforfamilyconsultation.com

© 2024 Center for Family Consultation  : Bowen Theory: Research, Education & Training

Facebook  Linkedin