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Bowen Family Systems Therapy

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Alexandra McCoy

on 5 November 2012

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Transcript of Bowen Family Systems Therapy

Alexandra Brown Bowen Family Systems Therapy Leading Figures Murray Bowen
Creator/founder of Bowen's Family Systems Therapy
1946-1954: Psychiatrist in Meninger Clinic
1954-1959: National Institute of Mental Health
1959-1990: Georgetown University
Michael Kerr
Thomas Fogarty
Philip Guerin
Betty Carter & Monica McGoldrick Theoretical Concepts Bowen's Framework What is Normal? Members are differentiated, anxiety is low, and partners are in good emotional contact with their own families Development of Dysfunction choosing a mate Therapeutic Techniques ... but Bowen disdained techniques Triangles rubber band activity Eventually, one or both partners will turn to someone else for sympathy or the conflict will draw in third party for help. Triangle fixed if third person stays involved ("lets off steam but keeps conflict in place") Major influence on activity of triangle is anxiety Most family problems are triangular, which is why working on only a twosome may have limited results. Differentiation of Self Emotional Cutoff Sibling Position Multigenerational Transmission Process Societal Process Personality characteristics based on position in the family
Firstborns display power and authority necessary to defend status in family
Laterborns identify as oppressed and more inclined to question the status quo
Triangle tends to include sibling conflict on one side and mother as the third party (anxiety stems from attempting to treat them exactly alike)
Siblings experience the same events in very different ways Describes the way people manage anxiety between generations
The greater the emotional fusion between parents and children, the greater the chance of emotional cutoff
View our families as "radioactive and capable of inflicting great pain" Capacity to think and reflect, not responding automatically to emotional pressures
Differentiated person is able to balance thinking and feeling: capable of strong emotion and spontaneity but also possessing self-restraint
Undifferentiated persons are driven by emotional reactivity to those around them, reacting with submissiveness or defiance cornerstone Emotional forces in families that operate over the years in interconnected patterns
Includes fusion, or undifferentiated ego mass that describes an excess of emotional reactivity
Fusion is unstable and leads to: emotional distance between partners, physical or emotional dysfunction, marital conflict, or projection Anticipated contemporary concern about social influence on how families function
Sexism, class, ethnic prejudice are toxic social emotional processes; however,
Individuals and families with higher levels of differentiation better able to resist destructive social influence
Differences in gender and ethnicity Family Life Cycle Stages:
1. Leaving Home
2. Joining of Families Through Marriage
3. Families with Young Children
4. Families with Teenagers
5. Launching of Children and Moving On
6. Families in Later Life Normally, people reduce contact with parents and siblings to avoid the anxiety of dealing with them (but this is not ideal) Symptoms result from stress that exceeds a person's ability to manage (function of differentiation)
Differentiation is not only a quality of individual (such as maturity) but a quality of relationships
According to Bowen, "the underlying factor in the genesis of psychological problems is emotional fusion"
Symptoms occur when vertical problems of anxiety & toxic family issues intersect with horizontal stresses (such as family transitions) Detriangulation Focus on Process Assessment Minimize
Emotionality Displacement Story Goal to help client lower anxiety to see one's own role in the interpersonal processes
"Understanding, not action, is the vehicle of cure"
Use process questions to explore what's going on inside people and in between them
Process questions are designed to slow people down, diminish reactive anxiety, and help them think
Use questions that explore personal progress & how problems affect others in family Atmosphere in therapy room designed to do this
Ask questions to foster self-reflection
Direct questions at individuals one at a time, rather than encourage family dialogues
Therapist must use an optimal level of emotional distance
Bowen says this "is the point where a therapist can see both the tragic and comic aspects of a couple's interactions"
Use a calm tone of voice and talk about facts rather than feelings

Experiment Designed to help clients experience what it's like to act counter to their usual emotionally driven responses
Help people discover their ability to move against the ways their emotions are driving them
Show family members that it is not just what other people do, it is how they respond to what other people do that can oftentimes perpetuate the problem Must modify the most important triangle in the family--the marital couple
Create a new therapeutic triangle by staying in contact with partners while remaining emotionally neutral
Fortify couple's emotional functioning by increasing their ability to operate with less anxiety from their families of origin
Bowen would focus on family of origin but second generation Bowenians would look at nuclear family
challenge confront explain Gather information and get a history of presenting problems with exact dates (remember for later)
Obtain history of nuclear family - ask when parents met, about their courtship, marriage, moving, childrearing
Also important to think about where they lived and moved in relation to family of origin, history of spouses (sibling position, childhood, past/current functioning of parents)
Use genograms, which are schematic diagrams listing family members & their relation to one another
Include relationship conflicts, cutoffs, and triangles A displacement story is about other families with similar problems
Use as a device for helping family members achieve distance to see their own roles in the family system
Use to frame process questions to avoid provoking defensive responses and denying client's feelings
"What do you think it is that makes that step so hard for people?"
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