The Bowenian Approach to Family Therapy

Topics: Family therapy, Family, Murray Bowen Pages: 13 (2980 words) Published: March 12, 2015

The Bowenian Approach to Family Therapy
Summer D. Parrott
Liberty University
March 1, 2015

This paper will summarize the theory of family systems developed by Murray Bowen. It will describe the eight key components to Bowenian therapy and the techniques used during practice. Strengths and limitations will be exposed, followed by a summary of the importance of integration between psychology and family systems theory.

Keywords: Bowen, integration, family systems theory

Part I
Bowen family systems theory is based on the view that the family is an emotional unit. The theory uses systems thinking to describe the interactions and relationships within the family. Given families are deeply emotionally connected, family members can influence each other’s thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions. The connectedness of the members of a family provides for each person to unknowingly solicit approval, support and attention from the other members. (Brown, 1999). Likewise, when one person in the family experiences a change, it has a ripple effect as it carries out to the other family members. All families share some amount of interdependence. Anxiety and tension can cause more than one member to show stress due to the emotional connectedness of the members. The interaction is reciprocal. Bowenian therapy was designed for use with families, but has also proven to be useful in marital therapy (Glade, 2005). Development of Bowenian Theory & Leading Figures

Dr. Murray Bowen (1913-1990) was trained as a psychiatrist and originally treated patients using the psychoanalytic model. In the late 1940’s, he began to involve mothers in the therapeutic plan for schizophrenic patients. Originally practicing at the Menninger Clinic, he moved to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) in 1954. During this transition, he started to view patients as part of a family system rather than as individuals. As he continued to practice, Dr. Bowen invited more and more family members to be involved in the treatment of his schizophrenic patients (Brown, 1999) After moving to Georgetown University in 1959, he opened the Georgetown Family Centre. It was during his work here that he began to use his family approach to other clients as well. For the next few years, Dr. Bowen began to research families across generations, looking for commonalities and patterns in emotional health. As he found more and more similarities in family patterns, his theory began to take shape. He hypothesized that a psychosis in the patient was merely a symptom of a bigger family problem that had not been discovered (Becvar, 2009). In 1966, Dr. Bowen published his ideas for the first time. It was also during this time that Bowen used his developing theory on his own family, and subsequently used them as an example in a 1967 conference (Brown, 1999). His eight core concepts have not changed much since their inception, additional areas of focus such as the focus on life cycle stages and feminist approaches have been added. Concepts

Bowenian therapy consists eight interlocking concepts (Rabstejnek, 2012). These concepts include: 1. Differentiation of Self
2. Triangles
3. Nuclear Family Emotional Process
4. Family Projection Process
5. Cutoff
6. Multigenerational Transmission Process
7. Sibling Position
8. Societal Emotional Process
In family systems theory, dysfunction occurs when members are undifferentiated from one another (Becvar, 2009). Differentiation of self is at the foundation of Bowen’s theory. It is based on the psychological separation of the emotion and the intellect, and the ability to become independent from others (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). Differentiation of self is having the ability to independently think through an issue without reacting emotionally to pressures from others. People who are differentiated have the ability to choose between guiding themselves with their...

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Brown, J. (1999). Bowen family systems theory and practice: Illustration and critique. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy. 20:2, 94-103.
Butler, J. (2007) The family diagram and genogram: Comparisons and contrasts. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 36:169–180. doi: 10.1080/01926180701291055
Glade, A
Goldenberg, H, Goldenberg, I (2013)  Family therapy: An overview, Belmont,CA:  Brooks/Cole.
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York: W. W. Norton
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MacKay, L. (2012). Trauma and Bowen family systems theory: working with adults who were abused as children. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy. 33:3, 232-241. doi 10.1017/aft.2012.28
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Ripley, J. S. (2014). Couple therapy: A new hope-focused approach. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press.
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