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Oral History Interview

Laurie Lassiter

Interview with Andrea M. Schara, Sunday, April 14, 2013

From her first encounter with Dr. Bowen's "Anonymous" paper in 1976, Dr. Laurie Lassiter was intrigued with Bowen Theory. After she convinced him that her family was very interesting, Dr. Bowen worked with her as coach from 1986 until his death in 1990. Dr. Lassiter is a family therapist in the Amherst, MA area. With her advanced studies in the field of biology, and her pursuit of links between Bowen Theory and the life sciences, Dr. Lassiter's work and thinking are significant contributions to ongoing work with the theory.

About Dr. Lassiter

One day I asked Dr. Bowen, "What do you think made it possible for me to come out of it like I did?" and he replied "Everybody thinks they're more differentiated than they are." I know it's possible to increase basic level of differentiation (in my case it was a task of great difficulty) "within limits," as Dr. Bowen said. "You can't make a Winesap out of a crabapple," he added. With age comes an acceptance of limitations, including if necessary a low to middling level of functioning. It becomes easier to avoid big mistakes but maybe harder to change big.

I grew up with a low level of differentiation of self, as an oldest child most special to the parents. Both parents came out of sibling groups in which there was significant variation in functioning and moderate to severe impairment in one. Though neither were the most impaired in their families, my parents absorbed enough undifferentiation for it to be built into them to create impairment in one or more of their own children.

I married someone who was most involved in the intense triangle with his parents. Each of us has been motivated to change and to do the best to live responsibly. We have one child who was born when I was almost 40 in 1990. At least at this early time in his young adulthood, his social/emotional functioning appears to be a little more stable and flexible than that of his parents, and, if it is, results at least in part.

Dr. Bowen asked me to "go into the back wards" of psychiatric hospitals and to reach people without an opportunity to learn the theory. In addition to an ongoing private practice, I’ve worked in psychiatric hospitals and community mental health clinics, especially with parents.

Bowen's view of the family as a product of evolution intrigued me, and I changed career paths to study families. I had studied Eastern religions, existential philosophy, and literature at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I earned a PhD from NYU in performance studies, an anthropology-related degree that included the study of ritual. But I didn’t discover anything in the humanities that revealed as much about the human condition as Bowen theory. I wanted to learn more. From the 1990s I studied biology, neuroscience, and evolution at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, especially with Lynn Margulis until her death a few months after my father's death in 2011.

I have lived a few lifetimes from where I started. At least I know how to work on it, toward that mix of freedom and responsibility in face of challenge that Bowen theory offers. To work on it, to learn from colleagues and clients, to communicate the theory to interested persons—it's a good day.

Transcript (265 kb)