BOWEN THEORY AND THERAPY
The 8 theoretical concepts of this family systems approach tell a story about the attitude of the therapist and the client. Observing oneself in the family, work or community system is task number 1. Keeping a research attitude about problems and symptoms makes change more possible. If one person changes in a family (marriage, family with children, extended family group) the others will have to adapt and change in response. Although "change back moves" (Murray Bowen) are expected, therapy helps the family member attempting to make changes stand firm while remaining connected to the rest of the network. A good systems assessment includes the concepts below.
The 8 Concepts of Bowen Theory
1. Differentiation of Self: Working on one's own goals and direction. Working on change in self vs. focusing on how one wants others to change. Learning to differentiate between one's feeling and thinking systems and improving one's ability to choose from which system to respond. Working on one's emerging maturity through the decades.
2. Triangles: Eight-year-old girls understand the basic principles of triangles - 2 against 1! Triangles are what's happening when one gossips. Relating directly, one-on-one, to each person in each significant triangle in one's life is a signal of emerging maturity in any significant system, whether family, work, community.
3. Nuclear Family Emotional Process: There are 4 ways we humans manage anxiety in our relationship systems: distancing, conflict, triangling and overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity. In the nuclear family, distance is part and parcel of each of the three ways anxiety that can't be managed directly is processed: marital conflict, dysfunction in a spouse, or overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity, and dysfunction in a child. This is not psychopathology, rather, just the way things are. One can't avoid doing these things, but one can work to decrease the intensity of doing these behaviors.
4. Family Projection Process: Describes how parents can send down the anxiety in selves or the marriage to children.
5. Multigenerational Transmission Process: Describes how chronic patterns through the generations can unfold.
6. Sibling Position: We're each born into a functioning position in our families, e.g., oldest brother of a sister, youngest sister of a sister, a middle between an older sister and younger brother, etc. One can work to modify the intensity of behaviors of one's sibling position.
7. Emotional Cut-Off: Describes extreme emotional distance between the generations or even no contact at all between some family members. Research by family systems clinicians has shown that the more people we're connected to in our families, the better we do in life. "Our symptoms are softer" (as heard from Dan Papero, Ph.D.).
8. Societal Emotional Process: AKA societal regression. Describes how the theoretical principles play out in the broader world, e.g., in a country, in the world.
The therapy, also called coaching, involves improving management of self in the relationship system, whether one's marriage, with a child, with elderly parents, in a work system, other organizational system, or the community.
Working with Children
If you bring your children to my office, you may expect that I would consider the parents as the primary clients. Children do not have the brain power or maturity of influence needed to make solid change in families. Children would be seen for counseling, however, parents would be coached, as the primary clients, to modify functioning in support of the child with symptoms and in support of the nuclear and extended family system. This necessarily requires significant commitment on the part of parents. Any change that is solid in a family system will occur through concerted efforts on the part of the parents as the leaders.
EMDR is a trauma treatment approach applicable also to work with phobias, stress, anxiety and more. Work on management of self in relationships can be difficult to impossible if one has had a trauma - loosely defined as "a threat we're not prepared to handle" (Katie O'Shea, MS). Areas of possible traumatic impact for humans are childhood sexual or physical abuse, rape, marital violence, war, auto accident, natural dissasters, etc. Being able to pursue the best one can be in one's family system, workplace and community, let alone get over the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress are outcomes from doing the EMDR work. The benefits show up in one's ability to regulate better one's breathing, heart rate, sleep and to slow down thinking, e.g. One is more able to behave how one wants to behave in all one's relationship systems.
Family Therapy In Clinical Practice. Murray Bowen, M.D.
Family Evaluation. Michael Kerr, M.D. and Murray Bowen, M.D.
Bowen Family Systems Theory. Dan Papero, Ph.D., MSSW
Bowen Theory’s Secrets: The Hidden Lives of Families. Michael Kerr, M.D.
Looking Through the Eyes of Trauma and Dissociation: An illustrated guide for EMDR therapists and clients. Sandra Paulsen, Ph.D.
Light in the Heart of Darkness: EMDR and the Treatment of War and Terrorism Survivors by Steven M. Silver and Susan Rogers
Healing the Heart of Trauma and Dissociation. Carol Forgash and Margaret Copeley, Editors
EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: The Breakthrough "Eye Movement" Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma. Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. and Margot Silk Forrest
Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.
The Dance of Anger, The Dance of Intimacy and Marriage Rules by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions by Roberta M. Gilbert, M.D.
Connecting with Our Children: Guiding Principles for Parents in a Troubled World by Roberta M. Gilbert, M.D.
The Heart of Parenting by John M. Gottman, Ph.D.
More to come