The Bowen Family Systems Theory


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This is a brief overview of the Bowen Family Systems Theory. Developed in the 1950s, still very useful in working with families.

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The Bowen Family Systems Theory

  1. 1. Bowen Family Systems Theory Relevant for more than half a century By
  2. 2. Bowen Family Systems Theory An Overview Dr. Murray Bowen Georgetown Family Center, 1975 Multigenerational Transmission of Family Problems An Eight-Factor Theory Looked at Multigenerational Trends By Examining Eight Concepts of Family Functioning Who What How Much Why How Created an Objective Theory for taking Intuitiveness out of Therapy
  3. 3. A way of thinking about the emotional functioning of people who belong to multigenerational, self-perpetuating systems • Nuclear family rather than the individual is viewed as the emotional unit to be treated. • Since change in one family member creates change in the others in this emotionally interdependent system, it is possible to do some level of family therapy with only one persont. Basic Tenets of the Theory Tied together in THINKING, FEELING, & BEHAVIOUR Family : Emotional unit-network of interlocking relationships
  4. 4. DIFFERENTIATED FAMILY • Members of healthy family can differentiate between own thoughts and feelings and those of others; • The opposite of differentiation is Fusion; • The greater the fusion between individual members, the poorer the functioning. • Un-differentiated person unable to distinguish between intellectual processes and the feeling process he or she is experiencing. • a conglomerate emotional oneness. UN-DIFFERENTIATED FAMILY Eight interlocking concepts are embedded in the basic ideas represented by this theory Ask about the ‘scale’
  5. 5. • Two members experience stress, and bring in another family member to relieve the tension, and a Triangle is formed • During intense stress, the triangle gets bigger and will bring in interlocking relationships with other triangles • When anxiety increases people need increased closeness (fusion) or distance. Triangles
  6. 6. • Anxiety Increases • Need for distance or closeness increases • Anxiety Decreases • Need for distance or closeness decreases Triangles Dysfunctional response to increased stress and anxiety
  7. 7. Fusion in Partner Relationship Dysfunction of a Partner Couple Conflict Projection to one or more children Dysfunction of partner can take a number of forms, including physical, emotional or social dysfunction and can include substance abuse or other acting out behaviours. The other partner is often unaware of the problem, and becomes stronger as the other experiences dysfunction. . Nuclear Family Emotional System
  8. 8. Distant Spouse Rejected Parent turns to children, especially one Anxious attachment to them, especially one Most infantile of children Child does not differentiate— fused to anxious parent Family Projection Process
  9. 9. Multigenerational Transmission Process Transmission of anxiety from generation to generation Dysfunctional Processes and Roles transmitted from generation to generation More anxiety focused on children, lesser differentiation Child most fused with anxious parent has lowest differentiation
  10. 10. Emotional Cut-Off The greater the fusion, the greater the cut-off A way of dealing with intense fusion & anxiety Distances self physically and emotionally A Way of Getting Away-- Escape
  11. 11. • Sib-line positions share common characteristics • Sibling roles complement each other • Research indicates positions people take on in relationships Sibling Position
  12. 12. • Coping strategies for life are passed down through generations • More highly differentiated people cope better with life’s stresses • How families deal with social expectations passed down. Societal Emotional Process
  13. 13. • Promote greater understanding of family as system • Focus on the Unit • Decrease Anxiety • Understand triangulation patterns Working with Families to…….
  14. 14. • Reduce triangulation • Reduce emotional cut-off • Genogram the family’s story • Teach healthy communication patterns and to…
  15. 15. That’s just the ‘nuts and bolts’
  16. 16. Invest in families Invest in life!