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Running head: Family Systems Theory- Murray Bowen Model

Family Systems Theory
Bosede Adedire, BSN, RN
Coppin State University
Urban Family & Research
Nurs 512
Dr. Philipsen
February 26, 2013

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Identify and describe the theory:

Field of study: Family Systems Theory originates from psychology.

Theorist

Dr. Murray Bowen was the pioneer of the Family Systems Theory; he was born in 1913. He
received his degree in 1937 at the Medical School of the University of Tennessee Medical School
in Memphis. He practiced for a while as a surgeon and enlisted in the military, he had his
military training followed by five years of active duty with Army in the United States and
Europe. During the war, his observation of the soldiers and evident mental illness inspired his
decision to change his career from surgery to psychiatry which he thought was a more valuable
goal. Over the years, Dr. Bowen’s work and research has been applied in different research
studies to answer different research questions in family studies. Furthermore, findings report that
Family Systems Theory (as cited by Rabstejnek, 1994) is one of the purest ideas that family
therapy has created. Dr. Murray Bowen was an American Psychiatrist and a professor in
psychiatry at Georgetown University where he started his research on the systems theory of the
family.
Dr. Bowen was “actively involved in the American Family Therapy Association from 1978 to
1982 before he died of lung cancer in 1990” (Rabstejnek, 1994, para. 6).

Main concepts or propositions, and how related: Dr. Bowen described eight interrelated
concepts in his model (Bowen, 1966, p. 345). These concepts are:

Differentiation of Self (the most important concept): The theory explains this concept of
self as individual’s ability to separate personal intellectual and emotional functioning
from that of the family. The outcome of which could be a low or high differentiation of
self. The concept describes those with "low differentiation" as dependent on others'
approval and acceptance, while individuals with higher levels of "self-differentiation"
recognize that they need others, but they depend less on others' acceptance and approval.

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Nuclear Family Emotional System: This concept describes pattern of relationship that
may create problems within the family, these are; marital conflict, dysfunction in one
spouse, impairment of one or more children, emotional distance.

Triangulation (triangles): Dr. Bowen describes that whenever two people have problems
with each other, one or both may "triangle in" a third member. Bowen emphasized people
respond to anxiety between each other by shifting the focus to a third person. He
illustrates with an example of a new mother, rather than talks with her husband and deal
with her frustration with him, she preoccupies herself with her new child. In the example
given, though anxiety may be reduced, however neither husband nor wife resolves the
source of their anxiety.

Family Projection Process: This concept describes the transmission of emotional
problems from a parent to a child.

Multigenerational Transmission Process: This concept defines the transmission of small
differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their children.

Emotional Cutoff: This idea describes the mechanisms people use to reduce anxiety from
their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other members from the
family of origin.

Sibling Position: The impact of sibling position on development and behavior.

Societal Emotional Process: The emotional system governs behavior on a societal level,
promoting both progressive and regressive periods in a society.

Describe the evidence on which the theory was based
Bowen did his initial research on parents, who lived with one adult schizophrenic child, which he
thought could provide a dimension for all children and families. The theory was based on the
assumption that “each member of a family is influenced by other members of the family and as
such treatment of a family member should involve treatment of the whole family unit” (Bowen,
1966, p. 349).
Describe the application or potential application of the theory

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To studies of the family: Family Systems Theory can be applied to different family studies to
help understand the influence of family as a whole in decision making in reference to
consumption, health care decisions, lifestyle, emotions, and also how cultural values
contribute to how different family unit interact within the environment. Similarly, the study
can be applied to organizations within and outside of nursing to examine the influence of
different leadership styles on the morale and job performance of subordinate employees, and
how it affects production, care or service outcome. Furthermore, the foundation of Family
Systems Theory is mostly based on mother – child relationship and influence on other
members of the family; future studies should incorporate fathers in their research to explain
concepts based on the theory.

To answer practice issues for nurses serving an urban family population: The theory
framework provide practical implications for family practitioners and other advanced
professionals in other health care settings. Family practitioners can use Family System’s
model to enhance quality care services for therapeutic treatment of families (i.e., conflict
resolution, support groups, and therapeutic techniques). For example, nurses and therapists
can use theory models to help families learn techniques for managing their family roles that
are more specific to their situation; married, working and being a student. Receiving
therapeutic counseling specific to individual’s life situation is a holistic view of caregiving
that may assist families in managing their multiple family roles (Bowen, 1966, p. 348).

For possible follow-up studies to test or to build this theory: Bowen’s theory analysis
provides implications for future test. First, the Family System Theory was conducted and
applied in developed nations: the U.S and Europe, which makes the theory less adaptable in
developing countries or third world nations. Future follow up studies to test the theory should

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seek to capture developing and third world nations to understand the potential impact of
environmental differences and culture on findings. Additionally, future research should
examine application of theory in same parent families to provide similarities or differences in
theory adaptation to such situations compared to conventional family units. The next step
will be to understand whether differences in background characteristics exist between all
parental role plays. Such research would provide further understanding of possible
differences found among parenting styles and outcomes.

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References
Bowen, M. (1966). The use of family theory in clinical practice. Comprehensive Psychiatry,
7, 345-374.

doi.org/10.1016/S0010-440X(66)80065-2
Brown, J. (1999). Bowen family systems theory and practice: Illustration and critique.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 20, 94 - 103
Rabstejnek, C. V. (1994). Family Systems & Murray Bowen Theory: Executive summary.
Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 20, 35-46. doi/10.632457/j.1752-0606