Introduction To Murray Bowen Family Systems Theory - The Eight Family Theories Defined | BetterHelp Online Therapy 2022 (2023)

Who is Dr. Murray Bowen and what is Bowen family systems theory? Bowen was a medical doctor and army physician trained in traditional psychoanalytic approaches. He began his work on family systems theory in 1954 when he joined the National Institute Of Mental Health. Even after leaving the National Institute Of Mental Health, he continued his work over the decades, refining what would become the Bowen Family Systems Theory (or Bowen Theory for short).

Dr. Murray Bowenbased the concepts of the Bowen Family Systems Theory on the idea that human beings and families function as one emotional system and it is easier to understand them when they are viewed within the context of their family ties and human relationships. Understanding one’s family story can help one understand an individual’s psyche, their relationship systems, and how they operate within other aspects of their life. This information can lead to the understanding of their physical and emotional nature and processes as well.

Introduction To Murray Bowen Family Systems Theory - The Eight Family Theories Defined | BetterHelp Online Therapy 2022 (1)

How Has Your Family Helped or Hurt You in Your Life? It's Time to Find Out.

The Bowen theory is meant to be generalized to humanity and is not meant to focus on only those who have mental illnesses. It’s meant to look at big-picture patterns not only in the family systems but also in society and systems in general.

While not all families are close, families tend to be dependent on each other to an extent. What happens to one person will have a positive or negative impact on the other members, including their feelings and what their thinking about. Depending on what's happening at home, someone can go from feeling secure and happy to anxious and fearful. Each family system is unique, so, one family’s story and emotional system will be different from other families.

For instance, a child might suddenly become depressed, quiet, or withdrawn because her parents are going through a divorce. Having a clear understanding of how family systems operate emotionally and socially can help the therapist come up with an effective treatment program. Dr. Murray Bowen also theorized that the dependence between family members makes it easier to treat or solve a problem when the individual's family is involved in the treatment processes.

Bowen theorized that the functioning of family systems affected the medical, psychiatric, and social wellness of human behavior, and just because one member was showing signs of illness, that wasn’t necessarily the person that the treatment needed to be directed towards.

The foundation of Dr. Bowen's systems theory is formed witheight interlocking concepts.

  1. Triangles: Relationships that exist between at least three people who have emotional connections. Once you have those three people, you have the foundation for the relationship between two of those individuals to affect the third. Tension from one triangle can also spread to other triangles. Patterns can also change within one triangle.
  2. Differentiation of Self: Bowen’s concept of “differentiation of self”is based upon an individual’s ability to be able to think as an individual while still maintaining connections to others. Part of this also means balancing their need to be a separate self versus needing to be connected to others. Differentiation of self is a hallmark feature of emotional maturity. Someone with poor differentiation of self may have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others and may struggle to create boundaries and walk their own path in life.
  3. Nuclear family as an emotional process: There are four basic relationship patterns where problems can develop in a nuclear family: marital conflict, dysfunction in one spouse, impairment of one or more children, and emotional distance.
  4. Family projection process: How dependent a child is raised to be on their family relationships. Too intense of a focus can cause developmental delays.
  5. Multigenerational transmission process: We are likely to create families with similar attachments to the ones that we were born into.
  6. Emotional cut-off: To reduce tensions in the family by creating emotional distance. Bowen theory points out that this may allow an issue to go dormant, but it does not resolve the issue. Emotional cut-off merely suspends the human activity from physical interference, but the issue can continue to create vulnerable states and lead you to react differently to similar situations.
  7. Sibling position: The sibling position in which we grew up influences important personality characteristics. (This may sound the most familiar: the oldest sibling is usually seen as the most responsible and mature with the youngest as the most irresponsible.)

Societal emotional process: Each concept also applies to nonfamily groups, such as work and social organization, and is meant to reflect how society operates on a behavioral level. In turn, societal expectations affect the family unit, whether that be with expectations for individuals of certain gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, or creed. Coping mechanisms for dealing with such prejudice may be passed down through a family

(Video) Bowen Family Systems Therapy: Short Explanation

Introduction To Murray Bowen Family Systems Theory - The Eight Family Theories Defined | BetterHelp Online Therapy 2022 (2)

Is The Bowen Family Systems Theory Useful For Therapy?

Since its inception, Dr. Bowen's theory has been used extensively in a variety of family therapy techniques such as strategic family therapy, narrative family therapy, and functional family therapy. These different types of family therapy are used as an effective treatment option for many types of problems such as dealing with a death in the family, a mental illness, depression, addiction, substance use, or even relationship conflicts and issues.

Strategic family therapy is where a specific problem is addressed in a short time frame. Typically, a therapist will meet with the family to observe them, and then the therapist will ask questions to learn about what the problem is. While learning about the problem in more depth, the therapist will also observe the hierarchy of the family and how communication works within the family. After that, the therapist will help the family to set goals to work on the problem. The family is often given homework or tasks outside therapy to support the accomplishment of those goals. Strategic family systems therapy is sometimes used when a youth is involved with or at risk to become involved with substance use.

Narrative therapy focuses on the stories that we choose to tell about ourselves and our lives. It’s based upon the idea that reality is socially constructed and influenced by language. Therefore, having a narrative is how we understand reality as it exists around us. A narrative therapist helps people bring down the narratives they carry about themselves, their relationships, and their lives. They then help us develop a healthy story.

Functional family systems therapy is another short-term type of therapy that serves as either an intervention or prevention for youths who are at risk for delinquent behavior. The therapist works with the family to see what part of the family systems might be leading to the youth’s behavior and then works to modify those behaviors, such as improving communication skills or parenting skills.

Family therapy allows individuals to discuss their problems openly and helps establish a clear channel of communication between family systems. Therapy also provides individuals with essential tools and skills they can use in the future when confronted with other conflicts.

(Video) What is Bowen Family Systems Model? | MFT Model Reviews

It's important to note that, while family therapy can be used as part of a treatment program, it should not be used as a substitute for rehab or medication. If you're dealing with things like depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, etc., you need to contact a doctor and get help.

Introduction To Murray Bowen Family Systems Theory - The Eight Family Theories Defined | BetterHelp Online Therapy 2022 (3)

How Has Your Family Helped or Hurt You in Your Life? It's Time to Find Out.

An Online Counselor Can Help You With Family Issues.

(Video) NCE Study Guide

If you or your family are going through something and it is negatively affecting your lives, a conversation with a therapist might be a good idea. Make an appointment with your family doctor, a health professional, or check out BetterHelp, where professional therapists are available at all times from anywhere in the world.

Family systems therapy can provide so many benefits, including teaching you how to communicate more effectively with your family systems, problem solves better, and create healthy boundaries. Your counselor will work with you to find the approach depending on what you would like to work on, but it might also help to know some of the research on online therapy. The New York Times included some of that research in an article they wrote about the growth of online therapy at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It summed up that most common types of talk therapy are just as effective online as they are in person given that you’re not working with a very severe issue.

There are some other good reasons to consider online therapy. One of the most important aspects of therapy is finding someone you can connect with and trust. BetterHelp has smart matching and, if for whatever reason, you find that you would like to try a new counselor, that process is easy through BetterHelp. And while you might be put on a waiting list if you’re working with a traditional office, BetterHelp connects most people with a counselor within 24 hours.

If you’d still like some more information to consider, here are some recent reviews by BetterHelp users about working with their counselors.

“James is a wonderful active listener. His real-world, down-to-Earth approach helped me with some very difficult family issues and relationship issues. I value James and don’t know what I would have done without his help. Thank you, James!!” Read more on James Wilson.

“Molly helped me through one of the darkest times in my life. She understands family dynamics and can tell how I'm feeling before I even know myself. I can't recommend her enough, I never knew I would be able to form such a strong bond with someone over the phone. She is a very kind, empathetic person. I am very grateful to have had the privilege to work with her.” Read more on Molly Duncan.

FAQs

What are the 8 concepts of Bowen family systems theory? ›

The Bowen's family systems theory is composed of eight interlocking concepts: Triangles, Differentiation of Self, Nuclear Family Emotional Process, Family Projection Process, Multigenerational Transmission Process, Emotional Cut-Off, and Sibling Positions.

How do you explain the family systems theory? ›

And by Goldberg and Goldberg's book family therapy and overview Bowen family systems theory is a

What is Bowen approach? ›

Bowenian family therapy is an approach to treatment that was developed by the psychiatrist Murray Bowen. Bowen believed that patterns persist in families across generations, and problematic behaviors can be passed down and create similar conflicts.

What is the primary goal of Bowen family therapy? ›

Bowenian family therapy aims to balance forces of togetherness and individuality to create health and success within the family unit and for each family member. You can undergo this kind of therapy alone or with your family members. In any case, we are committed to finding what works for you.

What are the main components of Bowen theory? ›

The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory
  • Triangles.
  • Differentiation of Self.
  • Nuclear Family Emotional Process.
  • Family Projection Process.
  • Multigenerational Transmission Process.
  • Emotional Cutoff.
  • Sibling Position.
  • Societal Emotional Process.

What techniques are used in Bowen family therapy? ›

Bowen employed techniques such as normalizing a family's challenges by discussing similar scenarios in other families, describing the reactions of individual family members instead of acting them out, and encouraging family members to respond with “I” statements rather than accusatory statements.

What are the key principles of family systems theory? ›

Bowen's family systems theory include: 1) differentiation of self from the family as a whole; 2) the emotional system regulating the family and their relationships; 3) multigenerational transmission of issues from parent to child; 4) the family projection process, in which problems are projected by a parent onto a ...

What is the importance of family systems theory? ›

Family systems theory establishes a series of natural interactions within and between families that builds cohesion and stability. Many researchers have demonstrated that certain positive actions in everyday lives can help support thriving children.

What are the key concepts of family therapy? ›

Usual goals of family therapy are improving the communication, solving family problems, understanding and handling special family situations, and creating a better functioning home environment. In addition, it also involves: Exploring the interactional dynamics of the family and its relationship to psychopathology.

What can you not do after Bowen Therapy? ›

It is recommended that seven days after the treatment you don't receive any manual therapy as massage, chiropractic treatment, physiotherapy, acupuncture, magnetic therapy because they could interfer with the blance that has been achieved by Bowen technique.

How long does it take for Bowen therapy to work? ›

The person may experience relief after just the first session and significant resolution or recovery within three sessions. However, chronic or long-standing conditions or repeat injury may require additional treatments and if symptoms do not resolve, you should see your doctor.

What is the difference between Reiki and Bowen therapy? ›

Compared with techniques like reiki or Therapeutic Touch, Bowen is not specifically energy work; however, Bowen practitioners are very aware of the body's energy field, and the interaction between the client and practitioner can yield subtle sensations and vibrations throughout the client's body that may feel like ...

What is Bowen emotional cutoff? ›

Bowen (1978) employed the concept of emotional cutoff to mean “the process of separation, isolation, withdrawal, running away or denying the importance of the parental family” (p. 382).

What are family systems therapy techniques? ›

Some common family systems therapy techniques include psychoeducation, marital counseling (as a means to improve the system), behavioral management, improving communication, fostering coping skills, future planning, vocational/job related counseling, and in some cases, medication management.

What are the different types of family therapy? ›

There are four types of family therapists most often utilized by professionals: supportive family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic ideas and systemic family therapy.

What is unique about Bowen theory? ›

Bowen theory is grounded in the observation that the human family, like all of nature, is a living system. This means that individual members and the group as a whole influence one another's functioning in many complex ways.

What is the result of Bowens system theory? ›

Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the unit's complex interactions. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally.

What are the six characteristics of the family systems theory? ›

She summarized six key points for family systems theory: 1) family systems are an organized whole, and the elements within it are interdependent; 2) patterns in a family a circular rather than linear; 3) family systems maintain stability in their patterns of interactions (homeostasis); 4) family patterns change over ...

What are the 3 goals of family therapy? ›

Goals of Family Therapy

Develop and maintain healthy boundaries. Facilitate cohesion and communication. Promote problem-solving by a better understanding of family dynamics.

What are four common family therapy techniques? ›

There are numerous family therapy techniques, but four main models dominate the spectrum. This blog reviews the main therapy family techniques: structural, Bowenian, strategic and systematic.

What are the five approaches of family therapy? ›

There are five widely recognized family therapy modalities: Structural Therapy, Milan therapy, Strategic Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Transgenerational Therapy. These forms of therapy seek to improve familial relationships and create a more stable, healthy life at home.

What are the 4 types of families? ›

Some of the more common variations in traditional family structure include single-parent families, step families, extended families, and same-sex families.

Who is the founder of family systems theory? ›

The family systems theory is a theory introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen that suggests that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another, but rather as a part of their family, as the family is an emotional unit.

What is the strength of family system theory? ›

Healthier communication: Family systems therapy can help identify communication problems, power imbalances, and dysfunctional patterns that affect the well-being of each family member as well as the functioning of the entire family unit.

What are the limitations of family systems theory? ›

Rosenblatt (1 994) suggests that family systems theory has often obscured the importance of cultural differences, prejudice, and socio- economic disadvantage with regard to such issues as family goals, rules, boundaries, control, and generational structure.

What are the three major family systems? ›

The most common systems in the family systems theory are parental relationships, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, and the overarching family system, which each system in connection with the other systems, known as systems thinking.

What strategies does a family therapist use to assess a family's level of functioning? ›

Usually assessment involves multiple methods, such as history interviews of a person and his or her family, behavioral observations, and formal tests for gathering information about the person and family (Lovler, Miller, & McIntire, 2010). Family counseling without assessment is similar to a car trip without a map.

What are the key principles of family systems theory? ›

Bowen's family systems theory include: 1) differentiation of self from the family as a whole; 2) the emotional system regulating the family and their relationships; 3) multigenerational transmission of issues from parent to child; 4) the family projection process, in which problems are projected by a parent onto a ...

What are the six characteristics of the family systems theory? ›

She summarized six key points for family systems theory: 1) family systems are an organized whole, and the elements within it are interdependent; 2) patterns in a family a circular rather than linear; 3) family systems maintain stability in their patterns of interactions (homeostasis); 4) family patterns change over ...

Which is the central principle in the family systems theory? ›

The guiding principle is that “what happens to one member of the family, happens to everyone in the family.” This aligns with the family systems theory, in that emotions like stress or anxiety begin to spread from one person to all of their relationships, and the tension can lead to more serious problems over time.

What is the importance of family systems theory? ›

Family systems theory establishes a series of natural interactions within and between families that builds cohesion and stability. Many researchers have demonstrated that certain positive actions in everyday lives can help support thriving children.

What are family systems therapy techniques? ›

Some common family systems therapy techniques include psychoeducation, marital counseling (as a means to improve the system), behavioral management, improving communication, fostering coping skills, future planning, vocational/job related counseling, and in some cases, medication management.

What is the goal of family systems therapy? ›

Usual goals of family therapy are improving the communication, solving family problems, understanding and handling special family situations, and creating a better functioning home environment. In addition, it also involves: Exploring the interactional dynamics of the family and its relationship to psychopathology.

What are the 3 major family systems? ›

Practitioners generally have focused on three primary subsystems: marital (or couple), parental, and sibling. Each subsystem is distinguished by the members who comprise the subsystem as well as the tasks or focus of the subsystem.

What are 5 characteristics of the family? ›

Still, there are several characteristics that are generally identified with a well-functioning family. Some include: support; love and caring for other family members; providing security and a sense of belonging; open communication; making each person within the family feel important, valued, respected and esteemed.

What is family systems therapy PDF? ›

Family systems theory places primary focus on exchanges of behavior that take place in a given moment of interaction between members of the family. The theory maintains that patterns of interaction between family members call forth, maintain, and perpetuate both problem and nonproblematic behavior.

What are four common family therapy techniques? ›

There are numerous family therapy techniques, but four main models dominate the spectrum. This blog reviews the main therapy family techniques: structural, Bowenian, strategic and systematic.

What are some of the key concepts in family therapy? ›

Some of the facets of family therapy you will explore in Basic Concepts in Family Therapy are:
  • the importance of spirituality and religion in family therapy.
  • generational boundaries, closeness, and role behaviors.
  • managing a family's emotions.
  • defining problems and generating and evaluating possible solutions.

What is an example of a family system? ›

For example, a typical family systems model of a nuclear family includes two parents of the opposite sex, or two parents identified as LGBTQ, and a child or children. The child may be biological or adopted. The nuclear family consists of a model made up of two parents and a child or children.

What are the four subsystems in family systems theory? ›

Within the family are subsystems such as the parental subsystem, the sibling subsystem, and the individual. Relative to the family in the other direction are the supra-systems-the extended family, the community, the nation and the human race.

Videos

1. SW/NCE Group: Family Systems Theory- Dr. Pam
(Dr. Pam Turner)
2. Family Systems Therapy | Applications & Interventions | NET-JRF/GATE/MPhil Psychology
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3. The Murray Bowen Archives Project: Advancing Bowen theory through Murray Bowen’s Archival Legacy
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4. The Bridge Between: Contextual Therapy and its Founder Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy
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5. Minuchin and Structural Family Therapy (Deep Dive) (2018 Rerun)
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