Bowen Family Systems Therapy
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
CNS503S Family Systems Therapy
This paper was designed to fully describe Bowen’s Theory of Family Systems Therapy. The eight concepts that illustrate this theory will be thoroughly discussed and explained. References of professionals who have worked with and studied Bowen theory will be implemented and relied on in order to adequately understand and depict this theory. And finally, the second portion of this essay will include a case study. The case study will present a family profile, a treatment plan and goals, interventions and a projected outcome for the family’s recovery. Through this case study the reader will be able to identify Bowen techniques and get a more kinesthetic look on how Bowen’s Family System Therapy is applied.
Bowen’s Family System Theory is based on the family as an emotional unit. The theory is based on the idea that the family is so emotionally integrated that the effect each member has on the other members can be overwhelming. Bowen’s Theory focuses on that emotional connectedness and assumes that the family can either promote cohesiveness and cooperation or tension and anxiety. Therefore, according to this theory, a change in one person’s attitude or actions will be followed by a reciprocal change in the functioning of the other members. When anxiety levels rise within the family unit the stress levels will also heighten. Therefore, when this happens one or members will end up feeling overwhelmed, isolated or out of control and then the family unit will be shaken as a whole.
During this time of distress, the members who feel most out of control or stressed will work extra hard to accommodate the other members. This is part of the reciprocal interaction. This member who absorbs most of the tension is most likely the member who will end up most susceptible to problems such as illness, alcoholism and affairs. Eight Concepts
In order to implement this theory into a therapy session Bowen created eight interlocking concepts to assist the therapist in working with families. The concepts include triangles, differentiation of self, nuclear family emotional system, family projection process, multigenerational transmission process, sibling position, emotional cutoff and societal emotional process. However, it is important for any therapist to keep in mind that, according to Mike Nichols (1988), the core goal underlying the Bowenian model is differentiation of self, more specifically, the “ability to remain oneself in the face of group influences, especially the intense influence of family life”(p.2).
The eight interlocking concepts are key to understanding Bowenian Family Therapy. To begin, triangles are a three person relationship system. Triangles are considered the building blocks of the larger emotional system. The reason being that the triangle is the smallest stable relationship system. Three people can take on much more tension than two people. Additionally, a triangle can contain a large amount of stress without bringing in a fourth person because the tension can shift around to all three relationships. However, just because a triangle can bear more tension does not make it healthier. Someone is almost always left out and nothing gets resolved in a triangle formation. Triangles and their undesirable effects on the family unit contribute greatly to the development of clinical problems. Within triangles, members are pushed from outsider to insider positions of conflict. Within this inside/ outside drama members will begin maneuvering and manipulating their positions within the group, thus causing fights and with that heavy strain on the relationships. Getting pushed from inside to outside positions can trigger depression and even a physical illness. For example, two parents focusing on what is...
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