The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Select Abstracts from the upcoming 36th Midwest Symposium on Bowen Family Systems Theory and Therapy May 3rd & 4th, 2019

During the month of April, we will be sharing the abstracts of presentations that will be given at the Midwest Symposium, May 3 and 4, at the Lakeview Center in Gilson Park in Wilmette, Il.  We continue with the abstract by Victoria Harrison.


Bowen Theory in the Study of Physiological Reactions and Family Emotional Systems – Victoria Harrison

The study of how relationships regulate physiological reactions is not peculiar to Bowen theory.  A great deal of research in social mammals and primates describes ways that interaction between kin and kind influences biochemistry and behavior of individuals.   Most of the research, however, looks at dyads (mother/infant or male/female) or a social group as relationships of influence.   Epigenetic research describes the influence of reactivity to stressful experiences, including relationships or lack of them, on future generations in a wide range of species.  The diversity of species and relationships studied, of reactions measured, and in methods of analyzing data produce challenges for fields that have a common goal:  to better understand and improve human health and functioning for now and for future generations.

This presentation will illustrate the use of Bowen theory in generating hypotheses, making decisions about research design, selection of measures, and interpretation of data for the study of how physiological reactions are regulated in the family emotional system.   There will be a brief review of concepts such as the family emotional system in which anxiety is distributed through relationship patterns that occur in triangles and differentiation of self as a fundamental influence over physiology.

Data from the project using physiological measures for Mother and Father and three adult children (2013 & 2014) will be discussed in terms of the contributions research based in Bowen theory can make to understanding how relationships in the family regulate physiological reactions and functioning.  The challenges of relating research based in Bowen theory across disciplines will be discussed.   Directions for future research will be outlined.


The Place of Doubt in Bowen Theory – Robert Williamson, M.Div.

In popular presentations of Bowen theory, “defining a self” is encouraged via clear statements of belief and action stands. In this context, “doubt” can be seen as almost the opposite of defining a self. This presentation will offer a more appreciative view of doubt and its place in Bowen theory.

In describing solid self, Dr. Murray Bowen noted wrote that “each belief and principle is consistent with the others.” Pseudo-self, in his view, “is made up of random and discrepant beliefs and principles.” Thus, “solid self is aware of inconsistency in beliefs, but the pseudo-self is not aware.” (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, p. 406)

This presentation will suggest that doubt can be understood as the word used to label the initial, uncomfortable coming to awareness of the inconsistencies of pseudo-self. Thus, doubt has the potential to be a transitional point in moving from pseudo-self to solid self. The emotional and intellectual maturity of the individual will determine the time and effort needed to make such a transition (if it is made at all).

In sum, the focus of this twenty-minute presentation will be to place “doubt” – understood in this way – within the context of Dr. Bowen’s descriptions of pseudo-self and solid self.

Robert Williamson


Does Bowen Theory Have/Need an Ethic? – Rev. Robert P. Price

Bowen Family Systems Theory’s (BFST) best recommendation to traditionalist Christian clergy is its formal agnosticism regarding religion and its lack of “baggage” in terms of philosophical underpinnings. Unlike approaches like Freudian theory, Jungian theory, and a host of other psychotherapeutic systems, one does not need to buy into a non- or even anti-Christian mythology in order to “think [Bowen] Theory.” Christians may use Bowen Theory in good conscience because it is stripped of alien mythology and metaphysic. It begins with the attempt to describe, as factually as possible, the discrete behaviors and symptoms that are occurring not just within an individual, but within the network of emotionally significant relationships.

This presentation will highlight how Murray Bowen presented religion in neutral and objective terms in his writings. If one understands “religion” as the articulation, teaching, and enactment of an ethic in the context of a group, how does one go about constructing such an ethic in a way that is consonant with Bowen theory? The presentation will explore the glimpses of Bowen’s ethic that he offers in Family Therapy and Clinical Practice and ask whether an unspoken ethic exists within the community of Bowen therapists. Several sources for such an ethic will be explored as ways of thinking about the value judgements every person brings to the practice of Bowen theory.

This presentation seeks to provoke questions such as the following: is Bowen theory beyond good and evil? How does one wrestle with the perception of wrongdoing in self and others in a thoughtful way? Does a project of self-differentiation require an “ethic”? Can a human function without one? What role does/can Bowen theory play in negotiating and thinking about the rights and wrongs of the human predicament?

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