The Center for Family Learning History and Development
History of CFL
The Center for Family Learning (CFL) had its origins in the
Family Studies Section of the Department of Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine. In the late 1960’s
and early 1970’s, Phil Guerin was the director of education there, and further developed
a format, originally designed by Ferber, Beels, and Mendelsohn, for teaching psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other
professionals a family-centered approach to behavioral and relationship
problems. In 1973, with his wife, the
psychologist Katherine Guerin, his students Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick,
and his long-time friend and colleague Tom Fogarty, Phil established CFL as an
independent, non-profit educational institute.
In 1978 it received a permanent charter from the Board of Regents of the
University of the State of New York.
Over nearly forty years, CFL has taught thousands of professionals a
unique cognitive systems model of family therapy, for the individual and the
family. CFL has produced three textbooks,
used widely in graduate schools and postgraduate clinical training programs, a quarterly journal, and three volumes of selections from
that journal; it developed and presented a “family systems training” for the
lay public; and, until the coming of managed care, it conducted a clinic in
which individuals, couples and families were treated by faculty and advanced
The Development of
Theory and Practice
The basic theory that forms the foundation of the Center’s
approach, family systems theory, was developed by Murray Bowen, MD, of the Georgetown
Family Center. Bowen theory is
predicated on the idea that the family is an emotional system with a baseline
level of anxiety and emotional arousal.
It affects all of its members depending on each one’s level of
vulnerability, ego strength, and functional connectivity. When individuals (adults or children),
couples, or whole families manifest psychiatric symptoms or relationship
problems, the theory and its derivative models provide a paradigm for viewing
those problems as caused, exacerbated, or maintained in the family
Tom Fogarty, influenced both by Bowen (triangles, for
instance) and by Guerin (the genogram and the importance of extended family,
for example), articulated over the years two quite different approaches to
family systems therapy. One was
structural, based on the notion of movement,
both within the parts of an individual and between people who are joined in an
emotional system. A prominent example is
his concept of emotional pursuit and emotional distance, and the therapeutic
use of reversal of movement to deal with it.
His second approach centered on the inner emptiness and incompleteness
of the individual. He believed that accepting one’s emptiness was a
precondition for genuine closeness with others.
Guerin’s contributions to the
development of the family systems approach involve the further refinement of family
systems theory, and its translation into practical, teachable methods for
therapists to use in clinical practice.
One important example of refinement of the theory is his elaboration of
the concept of the relationship triangle, including an extensive typology of
triangles and the notion that the extra-familial triangle is an externalization
of an unresolved (and often buried) intra-familial triangle.
Guerin’s contributions to the
practice of psychotherapy are legion.
One example is the staging of marital conflict and the finding that
severe (stage III) marital conflict will be refractory to direct work on the
relationship until the couple has
achieved some degree of self focus, resolved key triangles, and neutralized
their bitterness. A second example is
the three-fold typology of the clinical presentation: marital conflict, the child-centered family,
and the individual, combined with explicit, theory-based models and protocols
for each type’s treatment.
Behavioral and mental health professionals of all stripes
typically emerge from their training with a smattering at best of family theory
and therapy. At the time of CFL’s
founding, family theory and therapy was burgeoning, and many professionals
wanted to learn more about it and to practice it. Guerin developed CFL’s training program for them
and the program was widely recognized as one of the very best. It attracted a large number of applicants
The training program included two years of seminar-based
training and supervision. The most
successful of these students were invited to participate as clinical associates
in a third year of seminars and supervision, which included seeing cases in the
Center’s clinic. A fourth year, a
fellowship in the research projects, was offered to the best of the clinical
associates. The purpose of these
projects, staffed by faculty and fellows, was to test the efficacy of the
Center’s models of clinical intervention.
Two of CFL’s faculty, Eileen Pendagast and Randy Sherman
developed a program of “Family Systems Training” to be used in community education. Groups such as churches, schools and others
were visited by CFL faculty to educate the interested public about the notion
of the family as an emotional system, and about how people could navigate that
system to produce better results and less dysfunction.
One of the first
textbooks in the field of family therapy was Family Therapy: Theory and Practice, edited by Guerin. The
Evaluation and Treatment of Marital Conflict, written by Guerin, Fay,
Burden and Kautto, has been described in the professional literature as “one of
the best books ever written in the field of family therapy.” Working
with Relationship Triangles, written by Guerin, Fogarty, Fay, and Kautto, has
been called a potential classic. For
twenty years CFL published a quarterly journal, The Family, under the editorship of Eileen Pendagast. It contained original papers by CFL’s faculty
and students and by other professionals in the family therapy field. The Center has also published three
compendiums of the best articles from the journal, also edited by Pendagast.
offers, for anyone interested in reading them, all of Guerin’s and Fogarty’s
professional articles, as well as several selections from the books.
Guerin and his associates have also interested themselves in
finding treatment modalities that are based on the theory, yet geared to
specific kinds of clinical problems.
These have included the Guerin Models for treating children, marriage,