Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy Model


The paper examines Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy Model that is premised on the basic assumption that a family impacts its members’ feelings, thoughts, and actions to the extent that it appears as if they are living within a similar emotional skin. In order to create a better understanding of the model, aspects that have been covered include leading figures in the theory’s development, historical events, basic assumptions, key concepts, techniques, and similarities and dissimilarities between Bowen’s theory and other leading theories. The paper also goes ahead to compare Bowen’s theory with another leading theory by providing similarities and dissimilarities. Finally, the paper highlights new knowledge gained from completing the assignment.

Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy Model

            Family counselling is essential to families because it helps maintain healthy and functional relationships. The goal of the process is to identify and address problems that may interfere with the well-functioning of a family. Some of the issues may be psychological, emotional, or behavioural. Family counselling theories provide a framework that helps manage conflicts before they become pronounced. Therefore, problems that may affect the mental health or are well-functioning are addressed earliest. Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy Model is one family counselling and therapy model. The paper examines the leading figures in the theory’s development, historical events, basic assumptions, key concepts, techniques, and similarities and dissimilarities between Bowen’s theory and other leading theories.

Leading Figures

            Bowen Family Systems theory was developed by Murray Bowen, a medical doctor and army physician. Bowen had also been trained in traditional psychoanalytic approaches. He had developed an interest in psychiatry after witnessing the varying impacts of trauma on soldiers who had participated in the war. Bowen had also grown up in a small town in Tennessee that exposed him to families and prompted him to observe that each family works as a single unit (Erdem & Safi, 2018). The theory is critical to treating stress and other mental illnesses because it examines the variations that exist in the way individuals manage stressful circumstances. Bowen believes that human issues stretch beyond the unresolved issues that affect their psyche. He observes that human difficulties are embedded in one’s family system. Bowen views human beings and families as functioning as a similar emotional unit (Fishman, 2017). Therefore, it is easier to understand their behaviour when examined within the context of family ties and relationships. Thus, Bowen’s theory helps resolve problems that affect individuals by generalizing humanity. Problems that afflict individuals need to be examined within a family systems context.

See related post

Development of Theory

            Bowen’s theory falls under a broader categorization referred to as the family systems approach divided structural, strategic, and intergenerational family therapy. Salvador Minuchin designed structural family therapy. It considers family patterns, relationships, and behaviours exhibited within a therapy session to facilitate the evaluation of a family structure (Handley et al., 2017). The process involves activities that include role play in the examination of subsystems. Strategic family therapy examines family processes and functions by evaluating family behaviour. The processes that may be used are communication or problem-solving patterns. Intergenerational family therapy incorporates generational influences in examining family and individual behaviour (Goldenberg et al., 2017). Multigenerational behaviour patterns such as stress can understand current problems based on previous generations.

Like other psychoanalytic theories, Bowen’s Family System theory focuses on developing a scientific ad objective treatment process that helps resolve human difficulties. Bowen introduced the family systems theory in the 1960s after engaging in extensive research to understand family patterns of individuals with schizophrenia who were on treatment (Kerr, 2019). Initially, traditional individual therapy focused more on an individual’s psyche. However, Bowen’s research established that treatment should focus more on structure and behaviour to broaden the relationship system, which he believed was critical to character formation (Eppler, 2019). He thought that behaviour change in one member was likely to affect the functioning of the family. Therefore, each family acts as a single unit. A problem that affects a family member is expected to affect other family functions (Perez, 2019). Bowen uses systems thinking to formulate the theory and its eight interlocking concepts.

Basic Assumptions and Key Philosophy

            Bowen’s Family Systems theory views a family as an emotionally interdependent unit. Bowen utilizes systems thinking to explain the complex interactions within a family unit. The theory’s basic assumption is that a family impacts its members’ feelings, thoughts, and actions to the extent that it appears as if they are living within a similar emotional skin (Goldenberg et al., 2017). Individuals living as a family will solicit each other’s attention, support, and approval as they react to their expectations, needs, and disappointments. Bowen observes that while not all families are close, their members are dependent on each other to a certain extent (Goldenberg et al., 2017). What happens to one individual affects other members of the family. For instance, in a family where parents undergo divorce, the children may be affected emotionally and psychologically. The extent of the effect can be noticed through symptoms that include being quiet, depressed, or withdrawn. Therapists who understand how a family system operates can develop appropriate treatment or therapy methods.

Key Concepts

            Bowen’s Family Systems theory comprises eight concepts: emotional triangles, differentiation of self, nuclear family emotional systems, societal emotional process, sibling position, multigenerational transmission process, emotional cutoff, and family projection process.

Emotional Triangles

            Emotional triangles are a representation of the smallest stable human relationship system network. Having an extensive relationship system helps create a network of interlocking triangles (Papero et al., 2018). For example, a three-person system is preferable to a two-person dyad because it provides necessary resources for managing and reducing anxiety that may exist in a relationship. Two-dyad systems are at risk of becoming unstable due to anxiety. While the triangles help enhance stability, they have their own rules that lead to two sides existing in harmony while one side remains in conflict (Kerr, 2019). In the case of children, they may become triangulated in their parents’ relationship.

See related post

Differentiation of Self

            It represents Bowen’s central concept. It means the ability of persons to separate thoughts and feelings while responding to anxiety (Bridge, 2019). They can also adapt to life variables in pursuing their personal goals. Individuals who exhibit high differentiation maintain individuality better while still pursuing emotional contact with a group. On the contrary, a person with a low differentiation level experiences emotional fusion due to a lack of sufficient interpersonal boundaries with other family members (Eppler, 2019). They have a less developed self that prompts them to seek validation from other people. Highly differentiated persons are more individualistic because they gain contentment from their personal efforts.

Nuclear Family Emotional Systems

            It provides that nuclear family experiences issues in four major areas: problematic behaviours, intimate partner conflict, impaired functionality in children, and emotional distance (Perez, 2018). When there is anxiety in relationships, arguments, fights, and criticism may emerge. It also leads to the distancing of behaviour and over or underperformance of responsibilities. Bowen emphasizes that the family emotional system impacts the development of issues based on relationship patterns.

The Societal Emotional Process

            The process indicates how principles impact a family’s emotional system and affect a society’s dynamic system. Periods of regression enhance anxiety and instability among individuals in the community (Thompson, 2019). It also indicates parallels between societal and familial emotional functions. Regressive periods are influenced by numerous factors that include the availability of natural resources, overpopulation, and the economy’s health.

Sibling Position

            Sibling position in the family determines their roles in the system. In most cases, roles are assigned based on the oldest to youngest children. The roles within the family are distributed based on a specific order due to differences in parental discipline, expectations, and other factors (Popovic, 2019). For instance, older children may be required to be more responsible and act as younger parents to the other young children in a family setting. Parents’ and relatives’ sibling positions may influence the roles.

The Multigenerational Transmission Process

            The process provides that individuals seek partners that possess the same level of differentiation, resulting in the passage of particular behaviours and conditions to other generations (Thompson, 2019). For instance, parents with low differentiation levels may have children with a lower level of differentiation. The children are highly likely to bring up children with lower differentiation levels. However, enhancing levels of differentiation breaks the pattern, thus, saving a family from the low-level differentiation systems.

Emotional Cutoff

            It is a situation where an individual manages their emotional difficulties within a family system by cutting relations with other family members. Cutting emotional connections is considered by such individuals to reduce tension and stress in a relationship (Keller & Noone, 2019). However, it results in enhanced anxiety and stress in relationships due to unresolved interpersonal issues. Bowen observes that emotional cutoff results in individuals focusing on new connections, creating stress in the relationships.

Family Projection Process

            It involves the transmission of family, parental issues, and other concerns to the children. The problems may include relationship difficulties, parental anxiety, and emotional concerns (Goldenberg et al., 2017). They result in the development of emotional issues in the child. Family members may be further impacted by the concern to fix the problems. When parents better manage their concerns, their children’s development can be improved.


            Bowen’s Family Systems Theory provides techniques that can be used in therapy to manage family difficulties. The methods employed are based on the understanding that a family is an emotional unit. Therefore, individual functioning is observed as a reciprocal of the other members of the family influences. In anxiety, a therapist keeps an individual and family functioning to understand the problem. Following the patterns helps in understanding how a family or group operates. Another technique involves considering family history and compiling records of important events. Recording helps in the clarification of the process.

See related post

Similarities and Dissimilarities

            Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy model has similarities and differences with family development theory. The first similarity is that both approaches consider the family an essential aspect of an individual’s development. While beliefs and culture also impact development, it is impossible to cut off the link between members’ development and the family system (Eppler, 2019). The second similarity is that therapies should be framed by understanding individual and family functions. The patterns help determine the source of a behavioral problem and design resolution methods. The difference between the theories is that Bowen’s theory focuses on the family as a determinant of individual functioning. In contrast, the other theory considers a family as one of the contributors to family functioning (Goldenberg et al., 2017). Bowen’s theory recommends the observance of individual and family functions to understand patterns. In contrast, the other theory considers developmental stages of a family from couples at a younger age until they become aged families.

New Knowledge Acquired

            Completing the assignment has helped me to gain new knowledge. The information gained is that a family is a basic unit in a member’s development. Apart from cultural and environmental factors, family functioning significantly impacts emotional development. Behaviours portrayed by members have their roots in the family structure. Another new knowledge gained from the assignment is that emotional cutoff enhances anxiety in relationships. Instead of dissociating themselves from a relationship, individuals should look for a way of resolving the problems to improve interpersonal relationships.


            Family counselling and therapy are essential for resolving individual and family conflicts. Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy is one of the theories for family counselling. It comprises eight concepts that provide a framework for therapists that can be used to treat mental and behavioural concerns. It is a practical approach that considers a family as an emotional unit that determines the behavioural patterns exhibited by members. Using the family systems theory helps better understand problems that affect individual and family or group functioning.


Bridge, E. N. (2019). Review of a case study in light of Bowen theory: Differentiation of self. Yaşam Becerileri Psikoloji Dergisi3(5), 65-72.

Eppler, C. (2019). Ecosystem in family systems theory. Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy, 828-832.

Erdem, G., & Safi, O. A. (2018). The cultural lens approach to Bowen family systems theory: Contributions of family change theory. Journal of Family Theory & Review10(2), 469-483.

Fishman, H. C. (2017). Treating troubled adolescents: A family therapy approach. Routledge.

Goldenberg et al. (2017). Family therapy: An Overview (9th Edition). Cengage Learning.

Handley, V. A., Bradshaw, S. D., Milstead, K. A., & Bean, R. A. (2019). Exploring similarity and stability of differentiation in relationships: A dyadic study of Bowen’s theory. Journal of marital and family therapy45(4), 592-605.

Keller, M. N., & Noone, R. J. (Eds.). (2019). Handbook of Bowen Family Systems Theory and research methods: A systems model for family research. Routledge.

Kerr, M. E. (2019). Bowen theory’s secrets: Revealing the hidden life of families. WW Norton & Company.

Papero, D., Frost, R., Havstad, L., & Noone, R. (2018). Natural systems thinking and the human family. Systems6(2), 19.

Perez, C. (2019). 11 Using Bowen Family Systems Theory with Families. Systemically treating autism: A clinician’s guide for empowering families.

Popovic, M. A. J. A. (2019). Bowen family systems theory (pp. 43-69). Springer Publishing Company.

Thompson, H. M., Wojciak, A. S., & Cooley, M. E. (2019). Family-based approach to the child welfare system: an integration of Bowen family theory concepts. Journal of Family Social Work22(3), 231-252.

See related post

Still stressed from student homework?
Get quality assistance from academic writers!