Bowen Family Systems Theory: AnOverview                Barbara Cunningham,                Psy.D., LMFT
Objectives   Overview   Assumptions   Eight Concepts   The Role of the Therapist
Assumptions              Bowen developed his theory                under two assumptions  2)   Man’s emotional functioning...
General Concepts   Focus on system       Closeness and    dynamics               Distance    –   Not symptoms       –   ...
Eight Concepts   Triangles                    Multigenerational                                  Transmission   Differe...
Triangles “This concept describes the way three people relate to each other and involve others in the emotional issue betw...
Differentiation of Self   Solid Self   Pseudoself   Differentiation Scale
Nuclear Family Emotional System   Describes four basic relationship    patterns that govern where problems    develop in ...
Family Projection Process   Describes the primary way parents transmit their    emotional problems to a child            ...
Multigenerational transmission Process   Describes how small differences in the levels    of differentiation between pare...
Emotional Cut-off    Describes people managing their unresolved     emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other   ...
Sibling Position Walter Toman People who grow up in the same  sibling position predictably have  important common charac...
Societal Emotional Process   Describes how the emotional system governs    behavior on a societal level, promoting both  ...
The Role of the Therapist   Coach                        Teaching the theory   Calm and neutral             Defining a...
Precautions   Low level of self means rigorous    differentiation work is indicated   Discourage others’ reactivity by g...
Goals of Therapy   Increase level of    differentiation   Reduce reactivity in the      Detriangle    moment           ...
Interventions   Work first with the person more differentiated   Focus on thinking more than feeling (i.e. Do not ask, “...
Seven Steps to Defining Self1.   Clarify one’s own internal goals, mission, vision and values--     what is your bottom li...
ReferencesBowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. New York:   Jason Aronson, Inc.Gilbert, R.M. (1994). Extr...
Websiteshttp://www.georgetownfamilycenter.org/index.htmlhttp://www.ideastoaction.com/8concepts.htmlhttp://www.psychpage.co...
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Affordable Relationship Counseling (http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com): Bowen Family Systems as Model

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Dr. Murray Bowen, a pioneer in the field of marriage and family therapy, offered 8 interlocking concepts as a way to think about relationship functioning, especially in one's extended family, nuclear family, and couples' relationships. This is a model that assumes that problems can come from too much togetherness. It assumes that if one feels secure in one's ability to remain separate, one can go the distance in one's effort to remain connected to important people in one's life.

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Affordable Relationship Counseling (http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com): Bowen Family Systems as Model

  1. 1. Bowen Family Systems Theory: AnOverview Barbara Cunningham, Psy.D., LMFT
  2. 2. Objectives Overview Assumptions Eight Concepts The Role of the Therapist
  3. 3. Assumptions Bowen developed his theory under two assumptions 2) Man’s emotional functioning must extend beyond psychological constructs to recognize the human’s relatedness to all life 3) An adequate understanding of human behavior must rest on a foundation that includes a relational system. Bowen assumed that the family was a naturally occurring system. (Kerr & Bowen, 1988)
  4. 4. General Concepts Focus on system  Closeness and dynamics Distance – Not symptoms – two opposing forces creating the tension in human relationships Chronic Anxiety  Emotional system Over and (instincts) and Underfunctioning Intellectual system (capacity to think)
  5. 5. Eight Concepts Triangles  Multigenerational Transmission Differentiation of Self  Emotional Cut-off Nuclear Family Emotional System  Sibling Position Family Projection  Societal Emotional Process Process
  6. 6. Triangles “This concept describes the way three people relate to each other and involve others in the emotional issue between them” “A two person system is basically unstable. In a tension field, the two people predictably involve a third person to make a triangle. If it involves four or more people, the system becomes a series of interlocking triangles”. (Bowen, 1978)
  7. 7. Differentiation of Self Solid Self Pseudoself Differentiation Scale
  8. 8. Nuclear Family Emotional System Describes four basic relationship patterns that govern where problems develop in a family 1) Marital Conflict 2) Dysfunction in one spouse 3) Impairment of one or more children 4) Emotional Distance
  9. 9. Family Projection Process Describes the primary way parents transmit their emotional problems to a child Three Steps 1) The parent focuses on a child out of fear that something is wrong with the child 2) the parent interprets the childs behavior as confirming the fear 3) the parent treats the child as if something is really wrong with the child.
  10. 10. Multigenerational transmission Process Describes how small differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their offspring lead over many generations to marked differences in differentiation among the members of a multigenerational family
  11. 11. Emotional Cut-off Describes people managing their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact with them3. Feels like a child to adult relationship with the parent rather than adult to adult4. Feels guilty; must solve their conflicts or distresses5. Feels enraged that his parents do not seem to understand or approve of him/her
  12. 12. Sibling Position Walter Toman People who grow up in the same sibling position predictably have important common characteristics. Tomans research showed that sibling positions may affect relational dynamics in adult life
  13. 13. Societal Emotional Process Describes how the emotional system governs behavior on a societal level, promoting both progressive and regressive periods in a society Human societies undergo periods of regression and progression in their history. The current regression seems related to factors such as the population explosion, a sense of diminishing frontiers, and the depletion of natural resources
  14. 14. The Role of the Therapist Coach  Teaching the theory Calm and neutral  Defining and while still maintaining clarifying the emotional contact relationships Emotionally between family detriangled members Focus on facts more  Be a curious person: than feelings-- How, What, When objective presence and Where
  15. 15. Precautions Low level of self means rigorous differentiation work is indicated Discourage others’ reactivity by guiding them toward looking for facts that explain the sensitivity Avoid clients’ attempts to triangle in therapist Attempts to make others change must be redirected toward increased focus on self Anger Low motivation to change
  16. 16. Goals of Therapy Increase level of differentiation Reduce reactivity in the  Detriangle moment  I messages; self- Decrease chronic levels definition of anxiety  Reconnect Reduce fusion of  Increase the capacity thoughts and feelings for one to one Educate and model relationships differentiation
  17. 17. Interventions Work first with the person more differentiated Focus on thinking more than feeling (i.e. Do not ask, “How do you feel about…,” but rather “How do you think about…”) Detriangle Therapist = neutral presence Reduce interaction between dyad; each client speaks to the therapist I messages Teach about the function of the emotional system Identify triggers for reactivity Family diagram
  18. 18. Seven Steps to Defining Self1. Clarify one’s own internal goals, mission, vision and values-- what is your bottom line? What are your non-negotiables (what I will and will not do, despite relationship pressure)2. What are the obstacles within self?3. What are the obstacles in the important relationship triangles?4. Can you trace your relationship sensitivity to the nuclear family emotional process?5. What are the multigenerational processes that influence your values, strengths and weaknesses?6. What are the useful new and old strategies?7. How is feedback from the environment used for learning? (Jacobs, 2002)
  19. 19. ReferencesBowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc.Gilbert, R.M. (1994). Extraordinary relationships: A new way of thinking about human interactions. Minneapolis: Chronimed Publishing.Kerr, M. (1998, Spring). Darwin to Freud to Bowen: Toward a natural system theory of human behavior. Georgetown, 17-19, 44.Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York: Norton.Papero, D.V. (1995). Bowen family systems and marriage. In N. S. Jacobson & A. S. Gurman (Eds.), Clinical handbook of couples therapy (I, pp. 11-30). New York: Guilford Publications.
  20. 20. Websiteshttp://www.georgetownfamilycenter.org/index.htmlhttp://www.ideastoaction.com/8concepts.htmlhttp://www.psychpage.com/learning/library/counseling/bowen.htmlhttp://education.smsu.edu/counseling/COU633FamilyTherapyTheory.htmhttp://www.ideastoaction.com/bowencv.htmlhttp://ideastoaction.com/connect.htmlhttp://www.mindymac.com/Feminist_Family_Therapy.htmhttp://www.ideastoaction.com/murraybowenintro.htmlhttp://www.wholepsych.com/private/Reactivity.html

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