COUN 635: Advanced Theories
Dr. Geri Glover
Murray Bowen is one of the founding fathers of family systems theory. He even coined the term “family systems”. His career began at the Menninger Clinic working with families of people with schizophrenia. He was the first therapist to look at the individual’s development in the context of family relationships. Bowen believed that family members adopt certain behaviors and patterns for those behaviors based on their family of origin. This research began with people with schizophrenia and their mothers, but soon led to fathers and to the rest of family in general as a major influential factor in people’s behavior patterns. Eventually, Bowen theorized that people are healthiest when they are emotionally independent yet still connected to their families. Bowen’s contributions to family systems therapy were significant and unique considering his psychoanalytic roots.
Basic Philosophical Assumptions
The general narrative of family systems theory is that individuals are products of their family. As stated above, the best way to understand an individual is to see him in the context of his family relationships. Families are systems; therefore, they are complex networks of interactions, relationships and patterns (Murdock, 2009). People never function alone; the people and groups around them continually influence them. To a family systems therapist, an individual is not understood alone. Individuals are seen as being similar to a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle; if he is seen without the other pieces (the family) he is not well understood. If he is seen along with the rest of the pieces, a bigger picture can be seen (Gurman, & Kniskern, 1981). Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy (BFST) is largely based on the concept of differentiation of self. When a person is differentiated from their family, they are not regulated by family roles or expectations. The goal is for the individual is to think objectively and rationally even when emotions are high. While objectivity is key, so is balance, therefore, being connected to the family is also still very important.
Motivation of Human Behavior
Bowen believed that humans are ruled by reason, and because of this, differentiation is a natural human desire for humans. That being said, people are also a product of their systems and, therefore are influenced by patterns within the system. It is easy to be pulled into family patterns of behavior and emotion when those have been a person’s main surroundings during their critical development. However, human’s desire to reason prevails and their desire to break free of the unhealthy emotional constraints of the family system can prevail (Good & Beitman, 2006). Bowen also believed that both humans and systems have the basic need to satiate their anxiety by involving other people therefore maintaining homeostasis of the self or the system. This struggle to maintain homeostasis is a perceived issue of survival. This will be discussed in the following paragraph about triangulation (Murray, 2009). Central Constructs
Bowen’s most significant and widely recognized concept related to his theory of family systems is differentiation of the self. Bowen believed that being able to balance individuality as well as a connection to the family is the key to a healthy life. Differentiation is a continuum. Those with low levels of differentiation are thought to respond through emotions and are reactive. Those with high levels of differentiation are able to see things more objectively and have a more solid idea of self. Although differentiation and acquiring a balance of togetherness and separateness is a lifelong process, one can make the transition between being reactive to having a solid sense of self.
A triangle is Bowen’s term for a relationship system where a dyad (two people) is stabilized by projecting anxiety onto a third...
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