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The course in Fundamentals of Family theory contains the following:
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Murray Bowen, M.D., (January 31, 1913 - October 9, 1990) was an American psychiatrist and a professor in psychiatry at the Georgetown University. Bowen was among the pioneers of family therapy and founders of systemic therapy. Beginning in the 1950s, he developed a systems theory of the family. Murray Bowen was born in 1913 as the oldest of five and grew up in the small town of Waverly, Tennessee, where his father was the mayor for some time. Bowen got his B.S. in 1934 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He received his M.D. in 1937 at the Medical School of the University of Tennessee Medical School in Memphis. After that, he had internships at the Bellevue Hospital in New York City in 1938 and at the Grasslands Hospital, Valhalla, New York, from 1939 to 1941. From 1941 to 1946, he had his military training followed by five years of active duty with Army in the United States and Europe.
There is a pervasive view amongst many proponents of Bowen's work that his theory needs to be experienced rather than taught. While this may be applicable if one can be immersed in the milieu of a Bowenian training institute, such an option, to my knowledge, is not available in this country. Bowen's own writings have also been charged with being tedious and difficult to read. Hence it seems pertinent to present this influential theory in an accessible format.Lecture Materials
Lesson 3: THE EIGHT INTERLOCKING CONCEPTS
Anxiety is an organism's response to a real or imagined threat. Dr. Bowen presumed that all living things experience anxiety in some form. He used the term interchangeably with emotional reactivity. Both terms indicate an increase in physical manifestations, such as heart rate and blood pressure changes, gaze aversion, fight or flight responses, and heightened alertness or fear sensations. Though a certain level of anxiety may mobilize necessary responses for human survival, some reactions to threat may not be adaptive.
Lesson 4: TRIANGLES
Triangulation simply put means a three-person relationship system. When you have a two-person system which becomes unstable the individuals will tolerate only a small amount of tension before they involve a third person. A triangle can contain much more tension without involving a fourth person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of "interlocking" triangles. An example of triangulation is when you and your partner (Patty) have a fight, she goes to her sister (Tara) to complain and get feedback. Her sister has now triangulated herself into the conflict between the two of you.
Lesson 5: DIFFERENTIATION OF SELF
The first concept is Differentiation of Self, or the ability to separate feelings and thoughts. Undifferentiated people cannot separate feelings and thoughts; when asked to think, they are flooded with feelings, and have difficulty thinking logically and basing their responses on that. Further, they have difficulty separating their own from other's feelings; they look to family to define how they think about issues, feel about people, and interpret their experiences.Differentiation is the process of freeing yourself from your family's processes to define yourself. This means being able to have different opinions and values than your family members, but being able to stay emotionally connected to them. It means being able to calmly reflect on a conflicted interaction afterward, realizing your own role in it, and then choosing a different response for the future.
Families and other social groups tremendously affect how people think, feel, and act, but individuals vary in their susceptibility to a "group think" and groups vary in the amount of pressure they exert for conformity.
Lesson 6: NUCLEAR FAMILY EMOTIONAL SYSTEM
Bowen's concept of nuclear family emotional system most closely approximates what is conventionally known as "the family" or "the nuclear family" in the United States today. To some extent, the meaning of nuclear family emotional system was articulated before Bowen's other family concepts. In the early stages of theoretical development Bowen used the term "undifferentiated family ego mass" rather than nuclear family emotional system. The concept of nuclear family emotional system describes qualities of the emotional field between inner-core family members rather than processes throughout the intergenerational network. Several nuclear family emotional systems can be identified within any given extended family.Lecture Materials
Lesson 7: FAMILY PROJECTION & MULTIGENERATIONAL TRANSMISSION PROCESSES
The family projection process describes the primary way parents transmit their emotional problems to a child. The projection process can impair the functioning of one or more children and increase their vulnerability to clinical symptoms. Children inherit many types of problems, as well as strengths, through the relationships with their parents, but the problems they inherit that most affect their lives are relationship sensitivities such as heightened needs for attention and approval, difficulty dealing with expectations, the tendency to blame oneself or others, feeling responsible for the happiness of others or that others are responsible for one's own happiness, and acting impulsively to relieve the anxiety of the moment rather than tolerating anxiety and acting thoughtfully. If the projection process is fairly intense, the child develops stronger relationship sensitivities than his parents. The sensitivities increase a person's vulnerability to symptoms by fostering behaviors that escalate chronic anxiety in a relationship system.Lecture Materials
Lesson 8: SOCIETAL EMOTIONAL PROCESS & EMOTIONAL CUT-OFF
Emotional process in society, along with emotional cut-off, is one of Bowen’s most recently developed concepts, and it is less refined than other concepts of the Bowen family theory. Emotional process in society represents the broadest possible tensions between individuation and togetherness, tensions that Bowen had already described and conceptualized in the context of individual family units. This concept expands Bowen’s theoretical system through its accounting for the impact of social influences on family processes and for the impact of family processes on wider society.
Some of the emotional processes in society move toward societal extinction over long periods of time. Constructive and effective adaptation is another possible outcome of the interdependency and interaction of emotional processes in society. When adaptation is successful, the related emotional processes are more flexible and more conducive to growth.
Lesson 9: SIBLING POSITION
Bowen has referred to general ideas about sibling position in families throughout most of the period he has been developing his family theory. During the 1960's, he became more familiar with Toman’s research on sibling position, and recognized that Toman’s findings were largely consistent with his own. Toman’s particularly significant contribution, in light of Bowen’s own interests and work is in his detailed observations and descriptions of behavior considered typical of different sibling positions. Bowen made similar observations and arrived at similar conclusions in a less structured way than Toman did and from a systems perspective as opposed to the psychoanalytic frame of reference Toman used. As well as describing behavior in particular sibling positions, the Bowen concept of sibling position relates to ways in which levels of functioning and differentiation are influenced by certain sibling positions and distributions. Bowen accounts for how the family emotional system modifies sibling behavior expectations based on chronology or sex. One’s functioning sibling position in one’s family of origin is considered a major determining influence on one’s differentiation of self and on one’s vulnerability to family projection and multigenerational transmission. Functioning sibling position strongly influences the probability of becoming emotionally trapped in a family.Lecture Materials
Lesson 10: THE BOWEN MODEL IN CLINICAL PRACTICE
Dr. Bowen's therapeutic focus is not a technique focused model which incorporates specific descriptions of how to structure therapy sessions. The goal of therapy is to assist family members towards greater levels of differentiation, where there is less blaming, decreased reactivity and increased responsibility for self in the emotional system. Perhaps the most distinctive aspects of Bowen's therapy are his emphasis on the therapist's own family of origin work, the central role of the therapist in directing conversation and his minimal focus on children in the process of therapy. Bowen views therapy in three broad stages.Lecture Materials
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