Bowen Theory
Family systems
Valerie Ditter
Bowen Counseling Theory
The founder Murray Bowen, M.D was an American psychiatrist and a professor in
psychiatry at the Georgetown University. Bowen was among the pioneers of family
therapy and founders of systemic therapy. Beginning in the 1950s, he developed a
systems theory of the family.Bowen's theory focuses on the balance of two forces. The
first is togetherness and the second is individuality. Too much togetherness creates
fusion and prevents individuality, or developing one's own sense of self. Too much
individuality results in a distant and estranged family. He introduced eight interlocking
concepts to explain family development and functioning.
They are:

Differentiation of Self

Triangles

Nuclear Family Emotional System

Family Projection Process

Emotional Cut off

Multi-generational Transmission Process

Sibling Positions
Differentiation of Self or the ability to separate feelings and thoughts: Undifferentiated
people cannot separate feelings and thoughts; when asked to think, they are flooded
Bowen Theory
Family systems
Valerie Ditter
with feelings, and have difficulty thinking logically and basing their responses on that.
They have difficulty separating their own from other's feelings; they look to family to
define how they think about issues, feel about people, and interpret their experiences.
Differentiation is the process of freeing yourself from your family's processes to define
yourself. This means being able to have different opinions and values than your family
members, but being able to stay emotionally connected to them. It means being able to
calmly reflect on a conflicted interaction afterward, realizing your own role in it, and then
choosing a different response for the future.
Triangles are the basic units of systems. Dyads are unstable, as two people will waver
between closeness and distance. When distressed or feeling intense emotions, they will
seek a third person to triangulate. In the family projection process the emotional
patterns in a family continue over the generations. The parent passes on an emotional
view of the world which is taught each generation from parent to child. Reactions to this
process can range from open conflict, to physical or emotional problems in one family
member, to reactive distancing
Bowen describes 'emotional cut off' as the way people manage the intensity of fusion
between the generations. A 'cut off' can be achieved through physical distance or
through forms of emotional withdrawal. Bowen distinguishes between 'breaking away'
from the family and 'growing away' from the family. Multi-generational Transmission
Process is the concept of Bowen's theory that describes how patterns, themes and
Bowen Theory
Family systems
Valerie Ditter
positions (roles) in a triangle are passed down from generation to generation through
the projection from parent to child which was described earlier. The impact will be
different for each child depending on the degree of triangling they have with their
parents Bowen considered that sibling position could provide useful information in
understanding the roles individuals tend to take in relationships. The oldest sibling was
more likely to be seen as overly responsible and mature, and the youngest as overly
irresponsible and immature for example. Murray Bowen received awards and
recognitions thru out his career:

1978-1982, Originator and First President, American Family Therapy
Association.

1985 June, Alumnus of the Year, Menninger Foundation.

1985 December, Faculty, Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Erickson
Foundation, Phoenix,

1986 June, Graduation Speaker, Menninger School of Psychiatry,

1986, Governor’s Certificate, Tennessee Homecoming ‘86, Knoxville.

1986 October, Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Bowen was the first president of the American Family Therapy Association from 1978 to
1982. He died of lung cancer in 1990.
Bowen Theory
Family systems
Valerie Ditter
References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Bowen
http://www.psychpage.com/learning/library/counseling/bowen.html
http://www.theravive.com/research/Bowenian-Family-Systems-Theory-and-Therapy