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The Family Systems Theory

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Omoye L

on 5 October 2013

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Transcript of The Family Systems Theory

The Family Systems Theory
The Theory
Developed by Dr. Murray Bowen
One of the major theories in behavioral and social sciences
Often referred to as the "Bowenian Family Systems Theory" (Galica, 2013)
Theory focuses on the structure of the entire family instead of the characteristics of each of its parts (Brown, 2004; Galica 2013)
For example...
Focusing on how the whole family is working together instead of the behavior of individual members
(Brown, 2004)
Seeing behavioral problems of individual members as symptoms of the problems in the family as a whole
(Brown 2004)
Foundation of theory: individual behavior cannot be understood without taking into account of the family system
Key Terms In The Family Systems Theory
The Family Systems Theory has 8 concepts: (Rabstejnek, 2012)
Differentiation of self
The Nuclear Family Emotional System
The Family Projection Process
Emotional Cut-Off
Multigenerational Transmission Process
Sibling Position
Societal Regression
Differentiation of Self
Families affect how people think, feel, and act
The opposite of differentiation is fusion (Galica, 2013)
"Fused" people lean towards their families to define how they think about certain issues (Brown, 2004)
People with higher levels of differentiation do not easily accept the attitude of the people around them but develop their actions and feelings on their own (Rabstejnek, 2012)
Differentiation of self is the ability to define who you are by having different values and opinions from family members but being able to stay emotionally connected to them
3 person emotional system (Galica, 2013)
Considered the building block of a larger emotional system (Rabstejnek, 2012)
When there is a disagreement between 2 people, they usually try to relieve the discomfort by forming a triangle with a third person (Galica, 2013)
When the two-person system is unstable , it tends to draw in a 3rd person to stabilize it (Rabstejnek, 2012)
Triangles form when tension in a two-person relationship runs high and goes into other relationships in the family (Galica, 2013)
When the anxiety gets too high in a triangle, it spreads to other triangles, going further into the family system (Brown, 2004)
The behavior can develop into patterns that can be passed on through generations
The Nuclear Family Emotional System
The 4 basic relationship patterns that define where problems develop in a family (Galica, 2013)
The 4 patterns are: marital conflict, dysfunction in one spouse, impairment of one or more children, & emotional distance (Galica, 2013)
Describes patterns of the emotional functions within a family
Patterns in the current generation is usually a reproduction of previous generations
Often repeats again in future generations
The Family Projection Process
Spread of emotional problems from a parent (s) to a child
Children inherit problems through the relationships with their parents (Galica, 2013)
The projection process follows 3 steps:
the parent focuses on a child out of fear that something is wrong
the parent interprets the child's behavior as confirming the fear
the parent treats the child as if something is really wrong
(Galica, 2013)
Emotional Cut-Off
people handling their unsettled emotional disputes with family members by decreasing or completely cutting off interaction with them (Elsiver, 2009)
Multigenerational Transmission Process
describes how small differences in the stages of diversity between parents and their children stay over many generations and the noticeable differences and variation among the members (Elsiver, 2009)
Sibling Position
concept that people who grow up in similar sibling situation would have common features (Elsiver, 2009)

e.g.; older siblings tend to form into leadership positions and youngest children often prefer to be followers

Societal Regression
an emotional system that oversees behavior on a societal level, encouraging progressive and regressive phases in a society (Elsiver, 2009)

Assumptions The Theory Is Based On
A parent constantly worrying that their child is sick and takes them to the doctor every week although the child is perfectly healthy. Due to the parent's fears, the child tricks themselves into thinking that they are "sick." The fear is confirmed in the parent by the child's behavior, and treats the child like a sick patient.
Four basic assumptions
System elements are interconnected
Systems can only be understood as wholes
All systems affect themselves through environmental feedback
Systems are not reality
(White and Klein, 2000)
The assumption is that all parts of the family influence one another. This essentially means that the behaviours and attitudes of a family member impact the behaviours and moods of other family members (White and Klein, 2000)
Systems Can Only Be Understood As A Whole
Essentially a family consists of more than just one part(White and Klein, 2000)
Families are viewed as a whole because interaction patterns emerge as a result of specific arrangements (Baxter and Braithwaite, 2006)
Systems & The Environment
Basically, systems affect the environment and environment affects the systems
Part of the output of the family is re-entered into the family system as feedback.
(White and Klein, 2000)

Systems Are Not Real
Systems are not real things because the assumption here is that by defining an object as a system composed of “sub-systems, inputs, and outputs is just one among many possible ways we might study the object”(White and Klein, 2000)

Limitations Of The Systems Theory
Closed and Open systems:
Boundaries are “emotional barriers that protect and enhance the integrity of systems” (Performance Competence Lifespan Framework, 1998).
Theory used as therapy:
First-order change vs. second-order change

Reference List
Baxter, L. A. & Braithwaite, D. O. (2006) Engaging Theories in Family Communication: Multiple
Perspectives. California: Sage Publications Inc.

Brown, J. (2004). Bowen Family Systems Theory and Practice: Illustration and Technique.
The Family Systems Institute. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from

Galica, J. (2013). Bowenian Family Systems Theory and Therapy. Counseling & Therapy
with Values. Marriage Counselor, Psychologist, Family Therapist. Retrieved September
27, 2013, from http://www.theravive.com/research/Bowenian-Family-Systems-Theory-

Magil, F&DelgadoH.(1949).Survey of Social Science. In Sociology Series (Vol.4,pp.1629).
California&New Jersey: Salem Press

Morgaine. C(2001).Family Systems Theory

Lazlo, A. & Krippner, S. Systems Theories and A Priori Aspects of Perceptio. J.S. Jordan
(Ed.). Amsterdam, Elsevier

Performance Competence Lifespan Framework. (1998). Retrieved from http://

Rabstenjnek, C (2012). Family Systems and Murray Bowen Theory. Houdinfo. Retrieved from

White, J. & Klein, D. (2000) Family Theories. California: Sage Publication Inc.

Family tension arises and the wife puts tension into the marriage. The wife focuses on what is wrong with the husband, and tries to control him
Marital problems between a husband and wife causes the husband to gossip about his marriage to his mother. The mother can either relieve the husband's stress, intervene, or support the husband's feelings.
Relation to Families
The family systems theory relates to families because it focuses on how family members are interdependent and rely on each other for support. An individual is heavily dependent on his/her family. It focuses on the importance each member in the family such as the mother, father and siblings. The family systems theory recognizes the patterns that form between these members over time and looks at different family relationships.
- Interrelated Elements & Structure
- Interact in Patterns
- Function by Composition Law
- Use of Message & Rules
- Subsystems
(Morgaine, 2001)

Relation to Society
-Individuals learn and then portray behaviour in enviornment around them

- Examples such as being rude or being nice
Murray Bowen - January 31, 1913 - October 9, 1990
- psychiatrist
- created theory and eight key concepts
- added information of human species and material from family research (Brown, 2004)

example - moving away from their families and rarely going home, people staying in physical contact with their families but avoiding sensitive issues
- created across generations through relationships
- difficult for families to raise children in period of societal regression than in calmer periods (loosening of standards in society make it difficult for less differentiated parents to correspond with children)
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