The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Opportunities for Ongoing Individual Growth: Bowen Theory in Clinical Work

Authored by Robin Shultz, D.S.W., L.C.S.W, L.M.F.T., Center for Family Consultation Faculty Member

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new alternatives for people seeking help with anxiety. Online platforms became a viable option for therapy resulting in easier access to services. While this shift toward technology has increased the number of providers available, wide variations exist among treatment modalities. For those seeking long-term modifications in their lives, finding a provider who can meet both the immediate need and a goal of lasting change can be a challenge. This dual objective is best met by a provider who has the ability to “think systems” while viewing anxiety and other problems from a broad perspective. Whether you are a social worker, a family therapist, coach, teacher, clergy, or a consultants or leader in business, you can increase your knowledge of how human systems function by participating in a Bowen theory post-graduate training program.

From families to our workplace and other societal institutions, we live our lives in relationship systems. Understanding how our own behavior impacts a relationship system is invaluable when we have become stuck in non-productive, repetitive functioning that seems to always lead to the same outcome. We can begin to understand how the behavior of others interacts with our own to contribute to an ineffectual result. Reciprocal interactions can go on for decades in families, marriages, churches, businesses, organizations, and schools with little or no change regardless of the level of effort exerted. Viewing this behavior systemically, we see over time that the relationship(s), while stable, have become stuck, stagnant, or regressive. Individuals who understand relationship systems at these anxious times can facilitate change by first, making changes in themselves, which will likely result in changes in others.

An understanding of systems functioning at the biological level is emerging in the fields of science. Human physiology and emotional functioning are now known to be intertwined and association appears to be evident at the cellular level. Ahead of his time, Murray Bowen hypothesized this connection. As part of the CFC post-graduate training program, scientists, neuroscientists, and researchers are welcomed, common presenters at yearly conferences, which trainees attend. Authors and scholars who trained directly under Dr. Bowen are also part of these professional events which, in addition to presenting their own thinking and research, often include video-taped demonstrations of how Bowen theory can be utilized in clinical and non-clinical settings with clients.

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