August 23, 2015
Dr. B. Utesch
Family Therapy Model and Application
There are various family therapy models that many counselors or clinicians use to help their clients. Most models have major concepts, theory of dysfunction, theory of change, stages of therapy, stances of therapist(s), methods and/or techniques, and diagnosis and/or assessments. All of these are important concerning the betterment of a client. In this essay, it will focus on Bowen Family Systems or also known as family systems theory or Bowenian therapy.
Murray Bowen (1913-1990) was trained as a psychiatrist, and had originally practiced within the psychoanalytic model. From there, he focused on mothers in his investigation with schizophrenic clients, in which led him to think that the cause of schizophrenia stemmed from mother-child relationship creating an unhealthy relationship. Bowen began moving away from his psychoanalytic training in 1954 to focus on the aspects of families as systems. He began to include members of families into his practice with psychotherapy. Five years later, he went on to build the Georgetown Family Center where he remained as a director till his death. The center was the starting point where his theory revolved around families that spanned several generations. Bowen, in 1963, realized that instead of working on a theory of pathology, he saw patterns emerging with emotions in family systems. According to Bowen (1988), he used to frequently remind that “there is a little schizophrenia in all of us” (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). He used his concepts to build the Bowen Family Systems.
Bowen’s theory had eight different concepts, in which explained functioning and family development, and the eight concept included family projection process, the multigenerational transmission process, the nuclear family emotional process, differentiation of self, triangles, emotional cutoff and societal emotional process and sibling position.
According to Rabstejnek (2010), “differentiation were Bowen’s terms to describe the extent to which people are able to separate their emotional and intellectual spheres” (Rabstejnek, 2010). From that explanation, it meant that those who were considered “highly fused” were able to respond automatically and emotionally to different situations in life, and while those who were considered “highly differentiated” have intellectual system that keeps their emotional system in check.
However, according to Nichols and Schwartz (2004), “undifferentiated people tend to react emotionally and when interacting with other people, can be submissive or defiant. They also find it difficult to maintain their own autonomy especially around anxious issues. Instead of saying what they think, they say what they feel and instead of saying what they believe, they echo what they have heard” (Nichols & Schwartz, 2004, p. 123). Bowen argued that a differentiated self is called the “pseudo self” in which explains how much an impact it does on the him- or herself, the more the person tries to control the impact – passively or aggressively – characteristics of the person is born. Family systems look at how family relationships occurring during adolescence or childhood “builds” characteristics or self in a person. This was the differentiation of self aspect.
Bowen also looked into emotional triangles. He described them as the “smallest stable relationship” (Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 20). He believed that if two people system is unstable, then it will have little or no tension, therefore a third person is needed to maintain a stronger relationship. Bowen also theorized that a triangle can have as much tension without another person involved since the triangle is focused on three people, or three relationships. For example, if tension is too much for a triangle, it can go on to create more triangles. According to Bowen (1999), “under calm