Note: this article was originally published on PsychPage. Richard Niolon, Psychologist and Professor of Psychology reprinted here with permission. However, Bowen was the first to realize that the history of our family creates a template which shapes the values, thoughts, and experiences of each generation, as well as how that generation passes down these things to the next generation. Bowen was a medical doctor and the oldest child in a large cohesive family from Tennessee. He studied schizophrenia, thinking the cause for it began in mother-child symbiosis, which created an anxious and unhealthy attachment.
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It does not assign blame on either the individual or the family but attempts to change the faulty pattern in which the family members have been interacting. Family counsellors look at the entire family as a system. A system is one in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Family therapy says that a family is a living system and change in one member causes changes in all the other parts of the family system. Family therapy has many different approaches and Bowenian Family Therapy is one of the most popular.
The basic tenet of this theory is that all human relationships are driven by two counterbalancing forces, individuality and togetherness, i.
These opposing forces often lead us through patterns of closeness and distancing from the people in our lives. Bowen stresses that our family of origin the family we were born to has a big influence on our ability to differentiate. Through his work with schizophrenics, Bowen discovered that there is a sensitive emotional bond between mother and child which causes them to react emotionally to one another. This bond or tie often influences the entire family.
Such families hold on so strongly to all their members that many of them do not get any personal freedom. This reactiveness also led to a repetitive pattern of cycles of closeness and distance dependent on the shifts in emotional tension between the mother and child. Bowen introduced eight interlocking concepts to explain family development and functioning, each of which is described below.
Differentiation of Self- The first concept is Differentiation of Self, or the ability to separate feelings and thoughts. They look to their family to define how they think about issues, feel about people, and interpret their experiences. This means being able to have different opinions and values than your family members, but being able to stay emotionally connected to them, 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.
For example, Swapna might repeatedly fight with her mother, Kanchana, saying her mother is too critical of her while Kanchana says her daughter is too touchy.
Swapna gets upset and the cycle repeats. She has not achieved differentiation. Triangles- Two people in a relationship might vacillate between closeness and distance. When distressed or feeling intense emotions, they will seek a third person to triangulate or ease the tension between them. Arun calls his mother or best friend to talk about the fight. His mother might either help them reduce their anxiety and take action, or calm their strong emotions and reflect, or sometimes make the conflict permanent by becoming the third wheel in their relationship.
People who are more undifferentiated are likely to triangulate others and be triangulated. The Nuclear Family Emotional Processes- These are the emotional patterns in a family that continue over the generations.
In families, the parent can pass on an emotional view of the world the emotional process , which is taught in 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.
Problems with family members may include things like substance abuse, irresponsibility, depression etc. The more they share this view with him, the more it makes him feel excluded and shapes how he sees himself.
He may act in accord with this view and behave more and more irresponsibly. The Multigenerational Transmission Process- This process entails the way family emotional processes are transferred and maintained over the generations. This captures how the whole family joins in The Family Projection Process, for example, by reinforcing the beliefs of the family. Sibling Position- Bowen stressed sibling order, believing that each child had a place in the family hierarchy, and thus was more or less likely to fit some projections.
This entails a complete or almost-complete separation from the family. The person will have little, if any, contact, and may look and feel completely independent from the family. However, people who cut off their family are more likely to repeat the emotional and behavioral patterns they were taught. In some cases, they have the same values and coping patterns in their adult family that they were taught in their childhood family without realizing it.
Because of this, Bowen believed that people tend to seek out partners who are at about the same level of differentiation. Societal Emotional Processes- These processes are social expectations about racial and class groups, the behaviors for each gender, the nature of sexual orientation… and their effect on the family.
Families that deal with prejudice, discrimination, and persecution must pass on to their children the ways they learned to survive these factors. The coping practices of the parents and extended family may lead to more or less adaptive emotional health for the family and its members. Bowen believed that optimal family development occurs when family members are differentiated, feel little anxiety regarding the family, and maintain a rewarding and healthy emotional contact with each other.
If what you have read about Bowenian Family Therapy interests you and you would like to know more, we can help you. At TalkItOver, we also provide f amily counselling using different family therapy approaches including Bowenian Therapy. If you feel that this is the approach that will benefit you and your family, you can contact us at TalkItOver.
Talk It Over. She has an M. A in Psychology from Christ University, Bangalore. She has worked in a de-addiction centre and a family therapy clinic in the US as well as with the Association for the Mentally Challenged, Bangalore in the past. She has also completed a research study for her MFT degree on Indian couples living in the US and their marital satisfaction. She has nearly hours of counselling experience. She incorporates a combination of systemic family therapies and cognitive-behavioural therapy CBT in her work.
She has a passion for couple and family therapy and group work. RSS Facebook. Book an appointment. Which Stage Are You In? Inspiring stories Read about how counselling has helped people and share your own story. Recommended books Buy these easy-to-read psychology based books, recommended by counsellors and psychologists, for your growth and well-being. All rights reserved.
Bowenian Family Systems Theory and Therapy
Bowenian family therapy
His family systems theory may be considered a main bridge from psychodynamically oriented views to systems perspectives. Bowen, who was an evolutionist, based his theory on the idea that people are the result of an evolutionary process, although all processes are common in nature. Thus, a downward spiral will continue from generation to generation until unresolved emotional attachments and cutoffs are dealt with successfully. Therapy, therefore, takes place from the inside out.