The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Post Graduate Training in Bowen Family Systems Theory: A Must Take Opportunity for Any Clinician Working with Families, Individuals, or Children

Authored by Robin Shultz, D.S.W.

Publisher’s note: This is the second  in a series of three blogs written by graduates of the CFC Post-Graduate Training Program.

I participated in the Center for Family Consultation’s Post-Graduate Training Program in Bowen Family Systems Theory while I was completing my doctorate degree in clinical Social Work at Aurora University.  I began the program during the third year of my doctoral studies when it came time to choose two electives that would align with my distinct area of clinical interest. The timing for beginning the training program could not have been more perfect as my cohort had just completed our clinical coursework in families and family therapy.

In the Families course, I was exposed to all the pioneers in the field of family therapy and many contemporary theorists as well.  It was here where I received my first real introduction to Bowen Theory.  Although the information provided during class was intriguing to me, the content was generally an overview of the theory.  I didn’t realize this at the time as to me, what I was learning was fascinating and the professional discussions I had with my professor and classmates left me wanting to learn more.  To this end, I worked with faculty at the University to nest the training program into my doctoral work in order to satisfy the two elective courses necessary to graduate.  It was at this point that I enrolled in the Post-Graduate Training Program at CFC.  I had no idea of all that I would gain from this experience.

Bowen Theory resonated with me immediately.  Having never really studied it before, I had limited insight into how I could apply its concepts to my client’s lives and the concerns they presented in therapy.  As I learned more and more about the theory, I began to understand it in a new way.  I realized quickly that there was no way a multi-theorist textbook could ever teach me fully about Bowen Theory.  As I gained a deeper understanding of how the eight concepts fit together, I began to finally understand from where people’s angst, anxiety, fear, confusion, and frustrations manifested within their relationships as well as the repeating problems and patterns that seemed to surface in some of their lives over time.  I also became acutely aware that as mental health practitioners in today’s society, our focus has been primarily on ameliorating symptoms in clients rather than on learning what has caused those symptoms in the first place.  Nothing in my education or training had addressed the etiology of people’s problems and the anxiety that results from them in quite this way.

The first surprise I encountered upon entering the program was that I would learn from faculty who had trained directly under Murray Bowen.  I had no idea that I would receive first-hand insight into how and why Bowen hypothesized the eight concepts in the way that he did.  Understanding the research behind the theory and learning how to observe each of the concepts in action in both my own, and my client’s lives has been invaluable.  Bowen believed that a clinician’s most effective training ground is his/her own life and therefore, exploration into one’s own functioning is necessary for understanding what clients are dealing with.  Faculty members at CFC teach participants how to conduct the exploration process with themselves and others.

The second surprise was that I would learn as much as I did and become so interested in the science and neuroscience behind the theory.  Learning about others’ research efforts which supported Bowen’s work and the theory in general played a valuable part in turning me into a research-minded clinician.  I find myself turning to the research often as new developments regarding anxiety and its etiology are discovered as these discoveries are supporting earlier hypotheses made by Bowen.

The Post-Graduate Training Program has impacted me both personally and professionally.  The concept, differentiation of self, (something I knew little about prior to this experience), has become an ongoing focus and will undoubtedly, continue throughout my life.  The impact of this shift in thinking has brought me endless opportunities for growth.  Professionally, my work as a school social worker has become more enriching as I have begun to realize the importance of helping children and their families build open relationships with each other and all that this construction really encompasses over the lifespan and across generations. From a systemic perspective, I now also understand why second order change in our public educational system is critical to the ongoing health of both families and public education.

In my private practice, clients often tell me that our work together is different and refreshing after having cycled through numerous clinicians before me.  The non-threatening, collaborative coaching approach that I use in my work with others is as intriguing to clients as it was to me when I first learned about it.  I can appreciate their excitement in learning new ideas that they can apply to themselves and their lives as I too, have walked in their shoes.

Finally, in my work as an adjunct faculty member in the doctoral program from which I graduated, I have taught the Families class in a different way.  As before, the original pioneers in the field of family therapy are explored, as many contributed ideas to the current understanding of systems thinking.  An addition to the class is construction of the family diagram as defined by Bowen along with its use for assessing family functioning.  Students have commented that this is the most gratifying part of the class as they have had an opportunity to apply what they have learned to their own lives as well as using it to guide their clinical work with clients.


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3 Comments on "Post Graduate Training in Bowen Family Systems Theory: A Must Take Opportunity for Any Clinician Working with Families, Individuals, or Children"

  • Wonderful description of the full impact this program has on our personal and professional lives! Learning from those who studied with Bowen is certainly another highlight of this program, which I too, was so grateful for. Thanks for this.

    • Robin Shultz, DSW, LCSW, LMFT says

      I consider the opportunity to learn from those who had direct daily contact with Bowen to be one that comes only once in a lifetime. I’m so glad that I took it while I have the chance!

  • Robin Shultz says

    Having the chance to learn from those who received training from Bowen himself is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so glad I took. It dramatically increased my understanding of how family systems function and how problems develop and can be solved when working with individuals, couples and families. Thank you.

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