Lennie Soo Mei Yoke
Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors
Comparison between Bowen Family System and Solution Focused Therapy
This essay aims to compare and contrast the classical Bowen Family System Therapy to the more modern Solution Focused Therapy. Comparison will be made in the following areas (1) broad theoretical formulations, (2) normal family development, (3) development of behavioural disorder, (4) goals of therapy, (5) conditions for behavioural change, (6) assessment methods and (7) techniques. Note that in the last decade, parts of Bowen’s theories have been criticized due to the paucity of empirical evidence. For example, his theories on sibling position and triangulation are not supported (Miller, Anderson, & Keals, 2004). For the purpose of comparison, we will include these concepts in this essay and not dispute its validity. The purpose of this essay is to place both the theories side-by-side in order to gain a perspective on the theoretical, conceptual and practical underpinning of both the theories. An interesting result of the comparison is a broad illustration of the evolution of family therapy since the 1960s to present day.
Theoretically Bowen Family System therapy and Solution Focused therapy are as different as night and day. Bowen family system opposes linear cause-and-effect thinking. On the other side of the coin, Solution Focused therapy is theoretically driven by cause-and-effect thinking (Piercy, Sprenkle, & Wetchler, 1996). Pioneers of both therapies are ambitious and revolutionary in their own way. Murray Bowen claims that his theory is universal and he approached his work with this goal in mind, to produce a universal theory for family system therapy (Bowen, 1978). The result of this goal is the Bowen Family System that provides by far, the most comprehensive view of human behaviour and problems (Nichols, 2010, pp 137). Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg co-pioneers of Solution Focused therapy were not interested in developing a universal family system theory. They were however, no less ambitious. They aimed to develop a therapeutic model that is more tuned to today’s fast paced lifestyle. The therapy that resulted from this mindset is not only brief but also highly effective (de Shazer & Berg, 1992a). Both theories are radical departures from the traditional theoretical thinking of their time. During a time when family therapy pioneers were focused on interventions, Bowen focused instead on system theory as a way of thinking (Bowen, 1978, pp 192). Underpinning his theory are firstly, the implication that multigenerational family network shapes the individual. He believed that clinical patterns that are often hidden come into focus when the family is viewed as a unit. Secondly, that the individual has less autonomy over their emotions than assumed and undifferentiated individuals have limited autonomous identity (Bowen, 1960; Nichols, 2010, pp 115). Following Murray Bowen’s radical thinking, Philip de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg similarly rejected traditional psychotherapy view that the presenting problem is a result of basic pathology. They turned the traditional view upside down by shifting the therapeutic view away from pathological problems to possible solutions (de Shazer & Berg, 1992b). Instead of assessing problem-maintaining system, solution focused therapy seeks to help clients identify exceptions to the time the problems exists. Their controversial approach reverses the order of the initial interview process. Instead of asking the client to describe the history of their problem, they help the client formulate a detailed resolution to their presenting problem (de Shazer, 1982a; de Jong & Berg, 2007).
Interestingly, both modalities appear to have quite similar opinions about what constitutes normal family development. Bowenian’s idea of normal family development is where...