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Family Systems Theory

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katie oconnor

on 29 December 2013

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Transcript of Family Systems Theory

Client and Counselor in therapy
The therapist is very active but seen as very different from that observed in other approaches.
Family Systems Theory
Central Concepts
Bowen introduced 8 interlocking concepts that go along with his developmental sequence.
Health and Dysfunction
Symptoms appear as a result of the characteristic style of emotional functioning of the family.
-symptom development depends on the amount of stress AND how the individual and family deals with the stress.
- Questioning
General Systems Theory
Ludwig Von Bertalanffy (1986) states that a system is a..

"Set of elements standing in interrelation among themselves and with the environment."

Families are considered systems because they are made up of elements, exhibit coherent behaviors, have regular interactions, and are interdependent on one another
Principles of General Systems
Applying the principles of the general systems theory helps us understand the family as an organized system
1. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
2. There is a hierarchial structure in systems
3. Homeostasis in a system
4. Adaptive self-organization
Overview of FS theory
Ideas Shared by FS theorists
Individuals need to be seen in a group context. Best way to help

The family is interconnected and one part will affect another

They resist the idea of problems in individuals

Causes of Behavior are irrelevant (circular Causality)

Emphasis on homeostasis
Bowen began his theoretical work with schizophrenia patients in the mid 1950's. He hypothesized that their functioning had something to do with interactions between members of their family.
Dr. Murray Bowen
Bowen Cont.
He was the first of the family systems pioneers to realize that the history of our family creates a template which shapes the values, thoughts, and experiences of each generation.
He suggests that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another but as a part of their family, the emotional unit.
He began hospitalizing the families and this allowed him to change his thinking of schizophrenia as an individual problem to having something to do with mother-child relationship.
Bowen's Family Systems Theory
The traditional form of Bowen therapy is long term and focused on getting the client to work on family-of-origin issues.

It is as likely to intervene in the present, as it is to focus on multigenerational issues.
Individual Psychology Vs. Family Systems Theory
Individual psychology obsesses over the causes and motivations behind an individuals behavior,
family systems theory looks at the child and the child's behavior with reference to the broader family system.
Individual Psychology emphasizes the importance of internal control
family systems acknowledges problems may arise because of internal and external factors.
Differentiation of Self
This is the basic construct in FS theory. It is a family and individual characteristic
High differentiated people are able to distinguish thought from feeling and their behavior is guided by their own principles and cognitions.
- Emotional Autonomy
Individuals who display low differentiation are reactive. they respond with their emotions.
- Underfunctioning-overfunctioning
Chronic Anxiety
Chronic anxiety is closely related to differentiation. It is the organism's response to imagined threat.
The main goal of Bowenian therapy is to reduce this anxiety by
1. Facilitating awareness of how the emotional system functions
2. Increasing levels of differentiation
"Chronic Anxiety is understood to be the primary promotor of all symptoms from schizophrenia to cancer, from anorexia to birth defects. The antidote and the preventive medicine always is differentiation." E. H. Friedman
Most basic unit of human functioning.
A two-person system is stable as long as anxiety is low, but when it rises it draws in a most vulnerable third person.

Triangles can function to reduce anxiety of one or more members of a system when the comfortable closeness of two individuals is thrown out of balance.
Individual and Family Dysfunction
1. High emotional reactivity and poor differentiation in family emotional system
Emotional Cutoff
Can be achieved through physical distance or emotional withdrawal
People with high levels of differentiation can chose to distance themselves from one another because they are busy with other things. People with low levels of differentiation reactively distance from important others because of high levels of anxiety.
Sibling Position
Bowen stated that, "No single piece of data is more important than knowing the sibling position of people in the present and past generations."
-Terminating a past relationship will not end its affect on future relationships. Unresolved emotional attatchments will continue to hurt future relationships.
Deviation from what is expected provides information of levels of diferentiation.
Helps to understand roles individuals tend to take in relationships
Family Projection
Children develop symptoms when they get caught up in the previous generation's anxiety about relationships.
Child with least emotional separation from parents is most vulerable for developing symptoms.
-when a child responds anxiously to the tension in the parents' relationship, which then is mistaken for a problem in the child.
Multi-generational Transmission Process
Individuals transfer their levels of differentiation onto their members over time.
Bowen asserted that people marry others with the same level of differentiation as themselves. The two spouses then become the primary architects of the nuclear family emotional atmosphere and each child is incorporated into the atmosphere.
The total amount of chronic anxiety experienced and the ways in which it is bound, determine the average level of differentiation for family members.
Nuclear Family Emotional System
The observable mechanisms and patterns of emotional functioning of a family in a single generation.
Relationship fusion is the fuel for symptom formation
-Couples conflict, illness in a spouse, projection of a problem onto one or more children.
Emotional Process In Society
The tendency of people in a society to be more anxious and unstable at certain times than others
-overpopulation, scarcity of natural resources, economic forces.
Society has emotional forces that might diminish intellectual functioning and lead to a regression in society.
Differentiation of self and anxiety combine to determine the level of an individuals functioning.
2. When triangles form from two members (parents) avoid conflict and bring in a third (child)
3. Family projection process focusing parents anxiety on a child
4. Emotional cutoff by distancing
Main goal of therapy is differentiation. Even if one member of the family becomes more differentiated, that can help the general alleviation of stress and symptoms.
Altering the level of differentiation will help the client become more adaptive to stress and less reactive in relationships.
Therapist stays unemotional, or detriangled, and only deals with facts, not feelings.
The therapist is seen as a "coach" Most of what happens in therapy is the result of the clients work.
- one of the most common assignments of clients is to observe family interactions.
- Therapist teaches client about operations in family systems. client must watch how her family puts them into effect.
Bowen was dismissive of technique, preferring to emphasize understanding of the family system
-Process questioning: avoids emotionality of content questions
He does give three methods to help clients work toward better differentiation
1. person-to-person relationships
2. be better observer of interactions and controlling emotional reactions
3. detriangling
Meanings of the "system" metaphor in Family Systems Theory
1. In one perspective, the focus is on a common system that can be applied to families and all of nature. There is a meta pattern for families like other components of nature.
2. The second way the system metaphor is applied is on the interaction of family members.
the interaction process distinguishes systems thinking from the view of families in individual psychology.
Focus on the interaction of elements. not just elements themselves.
Research Support
Family systems theory is considered empirically valid and family therapy in general is found to be effective.
Evaluation of Family Systems Theory
Reviews of family and relationship therapy generally find that overall, this approach produces desired client change.
One study (Shadish et al 1993) showed though that behavioral approaches had greater effects than systems approach did.
Theory-Testing Research
Kids in triangulated families did not show more dysfunction than those in other families. The lack of difference was because of the coalition support.
Triangulation of adolescents into parental relationships had negative effects on the adolescents.
College students who showed a greater differentiation of self reported fewer symptoms when assessed 12 weeks later.
Issues of Individual and Cultural Diversity
Feminists are big critics of the FS theory.
They believe the neutral stance of the theory and concepts can result in excusing the perpetrators of battering and child abuse.
they argue the FS theory reinforces traditional family structure (patriarchal model)
It has also been pointed out that Bowen's construct of differentiation is stereotypical.
Issues of Individual and Cultural Diversity Cont.
Fs approaches are susceptible of cultural bias. Most models of ideal family functionig were developed based on the caucasian middle-class nuclear family.
Encouraging "differentiation" from the extended family could be culturally insensitive.
"Symbiotic relationships are a fact of nature and have an important evolutionary function.[Even]…the mother-patient symbiosis observed in schizophrenia was based on a deep (in the evolutionary sense) biological process as well as on a more obvious psychological process.”
Family Systems Theory
Family Therapy
1. Psychotherapy with both spouses
2. Psychotherapy with one family member
3. Psychotherapy with one spouse, in preparation for a long term effort with both spouses
In the 1960's Bowen began to exclude children from family psychotherapy. If the parents are able to modify their relationship, the children's problems would automatically disappear.
Case Study
Mom and dad fight a great deal and dad abuses alcohol (but denies that he drinks excessively). The daughter, Erika, has found that she can make things better in the household if she gets good grades and pacifies mom and dad when they are arguing. Being a perfect daughter is Erika's way of exerting some control over her environment; for the most part, she is able to avoid physical abuse from her father because she is so compliant. The son, Brian, is continually heartbroken over the pain felt in the family, and is particularly affected when his mother is being hurt. He is angry and has discovered (unconsciously) that when he is acting-out at school or in trouble with the law, his parents fight less and they work more like a team on his problems. Brian is also sensitive to the fact that any improvement in his behavior gives mom and dad the opportunity to focus on their own problems, which causes their fighting to increase.
Major Approaches
Structural (Salvador Minuchin)
Family Systems Theory of Murray Bowen
Existential/Humanistic approach of Virginia Satir
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