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.