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Bowenian Theory
Murray Bowen
Social Work

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Underpinnings of Intergenerational Theory
● Problems develop through a lack of intrapsychic and interpersonal differentiation. ● The inability to develop balance between intellect and emotion as well as self and others leads to anxiety.
Theory of change
Anxiety is lowered within the current family system and between the current family and families-of-origin as a result of understanding multigenerational or current family dynamics and increasing differentiation of self
Role of Therapist in Intergenerational Theory
● Coach ● Maintains differentiated and non-anxious stance ● Non-reactive observer, provides statements of opinion while avoiding interpretations ● Takes an “I” position
A three-person system that is considered to be the smallest stable emotional system.

Occurs when two people under stress bring in a third person or thing (i.e. alcohol, church) in an attempt to minimize anxiety

Avoiding the issue

Doesn't need to be a person

Differentiation of Self

 A main goal of therapy is to increase the level of differentiation of self. Refers to an individual’s ability to separate emotions from intellect in the face of anxiety. The less differentiation of self, the more fused a person and the greater dysfunction in the family. The greater the level of differentiation, the more a person is able to rely on their intellect while also enjoying intimacy of close relationships. High levels of differentiation from family of origin can be seen in individuals exhibiting healthy relationships with their family of creation (not fused, not distant).

Within oneself, intrapsychic

separate feelings from thoughts


Differentiation of Self Scale
A 100 point scale broken into quadrants, with zero equaling no self (fusion) and 100 equaling realized self.
 Family projection process

The mechanism by which parental emotional issues are projected onto a child. For example, lower functioning parents tend to pass their low level of differentiation onto the most vulnerable child in the family

1) focus on child

2) parent interprets child as confirming this perspective

3) Treats child as if something is wrong

 Multigenerational transmission process

The concept of passing on patterns of behavior, roles and levels of differentiation from one generation to the next, which perpetuates severe dysfunction in the family of creation.

Extension of family projection

Bowen- I marry someone who usually has the same level of differentiation

1) modeling

2) teaching

3) partnership

Nuclear family emotional system

also referred to as undifferentiated family ego mass) Describes the dysfunctional emotional stuck-togetherness or fusion of the family that includes high levels of emotional reactivity and anxiety - prominent feature in schizophrenic families

One child brings family into therapy

1) marital conflict

2) dysfunction from one- suppressed

3) Impairment in one or more kids

4) emotional distance to lessen relationship

Emotional cutoff

 Bowen’s term for flight from an unresolved emotional attachment to a person’s family of origin. It represents a false sense of freedom as the problems remain unresolved and continue to negatively affect the person attempting to disconnect.

1 or more cutoff from the family

Test question" acc to Bowen- repair relationship and get tools to fix relationship to be support "repair cutoff"

Emotional Fusion
A blurring of psychological boundaries between self and others. It is considered to be passed down from generation to generation.

 Schematic diagram of the family system. Diagrams the family (typically three generations or more) to help determine critical turning points in the family emotional process, characteristics of family members, and provide an evolutionary picture of family.

Bowenian therapist will use intervention through a genogram

Sibling Position
The position of a child in the family relative to other siblings; oldest, youngest, middle child. Bowen believed that people who grow up in the same sibling position share important attributes. For instance, older siblings are more likely to seek out positions of leadership and younger siblings are more inclined to be followers.
Tx goals of Intergenerational Theory

 ● Distinguishing and choosing between intellect and emotion/increasing each family member’s level of differentiation.


Have each party directly with each other

● Decrease anxiety / stress and increase emotional neutrality

● Help individuals learn more about themselves and their relationships, so they can assume responsibility for their own problems.

● Increase parents’ ability to manage their own anxiety / stress and thereby become better able to handle their children’s behavior.


● Repair emotional cut-offs

● Fortify the couples’ emotional functioning by increasing their ability to operate independently from their families-of-origin.

Interventions of Interventional Theory

 Genograms ● Homework: Client gathers information on family dynamics; becomes a detective in their own family. ● Therapist as coach or teacher: Teach communication skills to the family.

"I" Position: Teaching family members how to state their needs and thoughts without over-reacting.


Processing questions: therapist asks questions to help clients clarify their role in the family’s emotional system. ● Bibliography

Assign reading material-bibliotherapy

1) 1st thing is to decrease anxiety

2) Teach family that the problem is multi-generational and not just caused now

Bowen is big on modeling communication

Phases of Tx for Intergenerational Theory

This is considered a longer term treatment model and can last upwards of multiple years. Beginning: Create a family diagram of multigenerational emotional connections; assess individuals’ levels of differentiation and triangulation; identify dysfunctional patterns that have been passed along through the generations Early/Middle: Teach and model differentiation through communication skill building; de-triangulation; encourage reunification of cut-off family members; teach the family members how to take responsibility for their feelings and thoughts End: Review new skills and knowledge gained in therapy

1) assess

2) teach the interventions

3) Identify triangles, depathologize

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