The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Dr. Raison’s Invitation to Bowen Theory Researchers for Collaboration

Authored by Sydney K. Reed, M.S.W.

In the previous blog post, Leslie Fox highlighted interesting points from Dr. Raison’s talk.    He warned us that he might be entertaining, an adaptation useful in a career of teaching undergraduates.  In deed, he had us laughing frequently.  It made me think about the notions of the origins of laughter.  Some think that laughter evolved as a signal mechanism to tell the group that they were out of danger and could relax and connect socially, thus building community.

Dr.. Raison’s talk definitely set the mood for the conference:  challenging intellectual ideas shared in a group that trusted each other enough to bring forward their best personal thinking.  Dr. Raison commented on the willingness of the group to share personal stories with colleagues.  This willingness to define oneself although it required some degree of vulnerability is grounded in the knowledge of the universality of the emotional process in all living creatures.  I also think it is based on the experience in Bowen training of having been privileged to hear and learn from the family of origin presentations of one’s colleagues.

Dr. Raison’s lecture has prompted me to go back and reread Molecules of Emotion:  Why You Feel the Way You Feel by Candace Pert, PhD.  Pert was the first person I heard describe psychoneuroimmunology  (PNI)  The systemic connection between the nervous system, the immune system and the hormone system meant that we had to become less “brain centric” in the way we understand individuals.  That instruction was 20 to 25 years ago and I still find I don’t give the brain/body system the significance that it demands.   Listening to Dr. Raison and many of the presentations of the Midwest Symposium reinforced and documented the reality of brain/body system and how it influences the internal processes we all experience, be it depression, cancer or addictions.  The Systems Thinker’s next blog will be about Dr. Michael Kerr’s presentation on cancer.

Around the same time I was introduced to psychoneuroimmunology, Dr. Murray Bowen’s concept of the family as the emotional unit claimed my attention, reinforcing how I experienced my family.   I remember hearing that the headache in one person can become (influence) the stomachache of another.  This pattern over a period of time could result in the heavy use of alcohol by someone else in the family.  This was and is still revolutionary thinking.  Victoria Harrison‘s experiment of hooking up three people in the family, at the same time, to instruments that measure physical responses to stress, moves in the direction of data to support that notion.  (We will have a blog about Victoria’s work at a later date.)

Dr.. Bowen felt that his theory would only be valid to the extent that it was congruent with the natural sciences.  This meeting was another move in that direction.  Dr. Raison invited us to think about how he could include the concept of differentiation in his research.  This is a wonderful challenge for further thoughtful consideration on the part of Bowen people interested in research.  How can we identify the individuals willing and able to begin a conversation with Dr. Raison that might lead to a productive collaboration?

Sydney Reed


This post was published by

3 Comments on "Dr. Raison’s Invitation to Bowen Theory Researchers for Collaboration"

  • Rosalyn Chrenka says

    What an interesting, bidirectional process between an outsider presenter and the very complex and elaborated Bowen community of systems thinkers! In that it led to an invitation to continue talking, to do science together, and to expand his own (expansive) work in the field of immunology, depression, and compassion, I think that the time is right to develop a research study group that meets on a regular basis.
    As I see it, the purpose of the group would be self- and mutual education about the specific neuroscience and topics of Raison’s research. The goal would be to find theoretical and conceptual bridges between compassion meditation and Bowen therapy and theory and then, specific hypotheses the CFC could test through integration into his research program.
    I think of many apt parallels between the conceptual frame that Raison presented and that we study in Bowen Family Systems theory. As Dr. Bowen and Dr. Kerr have always cited E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology, and have focused on their social systems and on “bugs, not drugs”, Raison’s and others’ contemporary neuroscience have changed the bugs, but the bugs are still socializing wherever they proliferate. [Remember the scientist cited who talked about “a social psychology of microbes?]
    In sum, while Bowen is our “raison d’être”, Raison may become our “raison d’étudier” science and cognitive and biological systems which expand the scientific support for family systems theory and practices.

    Rosalyn Chrenka

  • You are quite right about the Bowen–compassion meditation connection. As I listened to Mike talk this time it really hit me how similar Bowen Theory is to many key aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. Differentiation is actually a lot like tantric ideas of the need to rearrange the mind-body continuum to function such that it produces spontaneous and stable “bliss” that is not impacted by external forces. It is from this “self-contained” position that one can really only grasp both interconnectivity and the essential emptiness of all objects of perception. I got so fired up about this that I really think a great meeting could be assembled with ya’ll and my Tibetan Buddhist collaborators and friends. The fact that consciousness is granular in Tibetan Buddhism–that it always inheres in the individual–is something not widely appreciated in more “new age” circles that tend to believe in some sort of merging with a universal mind–which sounds a lot like family emeshment on a grand scale.

    I would be delighted to aid in any way possible should a study group want to start and would definitely be game to help with any future meetings around any of this. We have a website that we are constructing and although its not quite ready for prime time I hope to make it a real resource for our ideas, activities, publications and general thoughts. I’d like to link it to you folks if that is OK under the “Who we work with” category. In this regard I am cc’ing Danielle Gartner, aka other half of my brain, who oversees all practical aspects of our group’s work.

  • A few weeks since our symposium and a few children’s stomach flus later, my mind is on microbes. I recently heard a report on NPR with infectious disease doctor Martin Blaser. He has written a new book called Missing Microbes. Dr. Raison’s concerns about overuse of antibiotics is echoed by Dr. Blaser. This and other public health concerns are sometimes off our radar when working with families. They do represent yet another system when “thinking systems”. Bowen talked about societal regression, waves of reactivity on a large scale. There is a link, I think, between societal regression and public health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few. I am eager to read Dr. Blaser’s book and continue my interest in the connections between public health and Bowen Theory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *