What Is Bowen Family Systems Theory?

By: Nadia Khan

Updated June 03, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

The Bowen Family Systems Theory is a theory put forward by Dr. Murray Bowen in the late 1960s. Dr. Bowen's theory was based on the idea that human beings function as one emotional unit and it is easier to understand them and their problems when they are viewed within the context of their family ties and relationships.

How Has Your Family Helped or Hurt You in Your Life? It's Time to Find Out.
An Online Counselor Can Help You With Family Issues.

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While not all families are close, they are nonetheless dependent on each other to an extent. What happens to one person will have a positive or negative impact on the other members. Depending on what's happening at home, someone can go from feeling secure and happy to anxious and fearful.

For instance, a child might suddenly become depressed, quiet or withdrawn because her parents are going through a divorce. Having a clear understanding of how a family operates emotionally and socially can help the therapist come up with an effective treatment program. Dr. Bowen also theorized the dependence between family members makes it easier to treat or solve a problem when the individual's family is involved in the treatment process.

The foundation of Dr. Bowen's theory is formed with eight interlocking principles.

  1. Triangles
  2. Differentiation of self
  3. Nuclear family emotional system
  4. Family projection process
  5. Multigenerational transmission process
  6. Emotional cut-off
  7. Sibling position
  8. Societal emotional process

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Since its inception Dr. Bowen's theory has been used extensively in a variety of family therapy techniques such as Strategic Family Therapy, Narrative Family Therapy or Functional Family Therapy. These different types of family therapy are used as an effective treatment option for many types of problems such as dealing with a death in the family, a mental illness, depression, addiction and substance abuse or even relationship conflicts and issues.

Family therapy allows individuals to discuss their problems openly and helps establish a clear channel of communication between family members. Therapy also provides individuals with essential tools and skills they can use in the future when confronted with other conflicts.

It's important to note that, while family therapy can be used as part of a treatment program, it should not be used as a substitute for rehab or medication. If you're dealing with things like depression, bipolar disorder or alcoholism etc., you need to contact a doctor and get help.

How Has Your Family Helped or Hurt You in Your Life? It's Time to Find Out.
An Online Counselor Can Help You With Family Issues.

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If you or your family are going through something and it is affecting you and their lives in a negative way, a conversation with a therapist might be a good idea. Make an appointment with your family doctor, a health professional or check out the world's largest e-counselling platform, Better Help, where professional therapists are available at all times from anywhere in the world.

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