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Murray Bowen
Oldest of 5 children
Medical doctor Hospitalized entire families with schizophrenic member 1975 founded the Georgetown Family Center

Family = an emotional unit (network of interlocking relationships)

Etiology of an individuals dysfunction Families are tied in thinking, feeling, and behavior

Trying to take the intuitiveness out of therapy by having an objective theory

Multigenerational trends 8 key concepts

Differentiation of self
Occurs when an individual is able to distinguish between intellectual processes and the feeling

process he or she is experiencing

Greater fusion between individuals, poorer functioning
Cant differentiate b/w thoughts and feelings Have trouble differentiating themselves from others

Undifferentiated family ego mass

a conglomerate emotional oneness
In other words, an emotionally stuck together family Can be so intense family members know each others feelings, thoughts, dreams, and fantasies.

Originally characterized in psychoanalytic terms

Later referred to as fusion-differentiation

Amount of fusion-differentiation changes


Lowest levels Emotionally fused to the family Feelings dominate

Differentiation of self
Highest levels Separate thinking from feelings Over 60 is a small % of society

Smallest stable relationship system
A major influence on the activity of a triangle is

More anxiety = more distance, or closeness

Less anxiety = comfortable back and forth discussion

of feelings

Nuclear family emotional system Lack of differentiation > emotional cutoff > fusion in marriage Unstable fusion in marriage tends to produce
1. Dysfunction in a spouse 2. Marital conflict

3. Projection to one or more children

Family projection process

Parents transmit their lack of differentiation to their children Intensity of this process is related to:
1. Degree of immaturity/undifferentiation of parents 2. Level of stress/anxiety the family experiences

Multigenerational transmission process

Transmission of anxiety from generation to generation
Patterns, themes and roles are passed through generations Less anxiety focused on children = more likely theyll grow up w/ greater differentiation Child most involved in familys fusion has lower differentiation

Emotional cutoff
A way to manage intense fusion & anxiety Distance ourselves physically and emotionally Escape

Greater fusion = greater cutoff

The pattern remains unchanged

Sibling position
Provides info. about roles people take in relationships
People in same sibling positions tend to share characteristics Sibling roles are complementary

Reflected in later relationships

Influences triangulation with siblings & parents

Societal emotional process

How families deal with social expectations of things like gender, race, class, sexism, etc. Coping strategies are passed through generations

Those with higher differentiation deal better

Do not act as problem solver Coach clients to understand process & structure Encourage expanding familial ties Asks questions Neutral parts of triangles
Best if therapist observes from partially outside the family

Decrease anxiety, increase self-focus De-triangulation Balance fusion and differentiation Understanding, not action


Process questions Relationship experiments De-triangulation Coaching Taking I-positions Displacement stories

Nichols, N. P., & Schartz, R. C. (2008). Bowen family systems therapy. In Family therapy: Concepts and methods (8th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Bowenian family therapy. (2008) Based in part on Nichols, N. P., & Schartz, R. C. Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Retrieved from Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2009). Bowen family therapy. Retrieved from Brown, J. (1999). Bowen family systems theory and practice: Illustration and critique [Electronic version]. Journal of Family Therapy, 20, 94-103.4

Read each scenario and form an analysis using the 8 key concepts Taken from