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Oral History Interview

Paulina McCullough, M.S.W.

Interview with Andrea Schara, Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Mrs. McCullough first encountered Dr. Bowen at the Georgetown Medical Center in 1962, his description of families with alcoholism resonated with her own knowledge of those families. She approached Dr. Bowen to allow her in his seminar then only open to residents. With persistence, she was the first non-resident admitted. She used this opportunity to apply the ideas in her clinical work. In her work with her own family, she was the sole client seen by Dr. Bowen while her family remained in Chile. The relationship with Dr. Bowen redirected her life. Her engagement with family system ideas eventually led to founding the Western Pennsylvania Family Center in Pittsburgh, PA. She has also taken the ideas to a study group in her native Chile opening access to this body of knowledge there.

Mrs. McCullough reflects on her observations of Dr. Bowen in those early years at Georgetown University and her relationship with him as she decided to found a center outside of Washington. This is a conversation between two colleagues, Schara and McCullough, who had the same mentor and who are steeped in the same body of knowledge. They exchange recollections of each one’s encounters with Dr. Bowen as he tried always to maintain a separate self.

About Ms. McCullough

Mrs. McCullough, originally from Santiago, Chile is the older of two sisters. She is a 1953 B.S.W. graduate of the National Health Service in Chile. In 1962, while serving as a Clinical Social Worker at Georgetown University Medical Center, she met Dr. Bowen who was teaching family studies to medical school residents in the Department of Psychiatry. With her well-known persistence, she was the first non-resident to attend his course. After receiving her M.S.W. at the University of Pittsburgh several years later, she married, had two children and remained in Pittsburgh working at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic where she also worked in family therapy.

Her guiding principle has been “Do well” and her life reflects that. Her interest in how other professionals would learn Bowen theory led to the founding of the Western Pennsylvania Family Center (WPFC) in 1985. WPFC, an educational center dedicated to being a resource for those wanting to pursue their own explorations of Bowen family systems theory, brought Dr. Bowen to Pittsburgh several times a year to present his ideas.

Though now retired and living in California, she remains on the faculty and remains a valued resource to the Center. Her book, "The Collected Papers of Paulina G. McCullough," published by The Western Pennsylvania Family Center, in 2001 is available there. In 1988, Mrs. McCullough interviewed Dr. Murray Bowen on videotape, titled "Scientific Thought and the Human Head." Within that, Bowen relates that the act of writing about theory prevents glossing over possible loopholes. He describes some of the thought processes in how he came to base his theory on Evolution. His subsequent research was directly informed by his theory, built on facts alone. He describes criteria for the selection of facts used in the theory. This interview is available through WPFC.

A fun fact about Mrs. McCullough that also speaks to her expertise with families is that in a 1988 Town & Country Magazine survey on the most respected family and marriage professionals in Pittsburgh, her peers named Paulina McCullough as that person.

Courtesy of Paulina McCullough.

Transcript (full text, 364 kb)