Doing “Bowen”
Turning Theory into Practice

Turning Theory into Practice

“There’s nothing so practical
as a good theory”
— Kurt Lewin

We all carry unresolved problems from past life cycle stages with us, into our current situations. At times of family life-cycle transitions and unexpected crises, conflict and dysregulation arise. Questions about how best to respond include: (1) What can you do to help resolve the conflict, reduce stress and anxiety, improve communication, and promote active problem solving and healing? (2) How do you maintain both your autonomy and the connections with emotionally important people in your life? (3) Which behaviors will help make things better no matter what anyone else does? and (4) How do you deal with differences without losing connection?

Kurt Lewin, universally recognized as the founder of modern social psychology, noted the reciprocal relationship between theory and practice; theories can be used to solve practical problems and practitioners should make use of available scientific theory. Murray Bowen in his research, writings and clinical work, did both.

First to the theory. Bowen’s eight interlocking concepts are well documented elsewhere. For our purposes the goal is differentiation of self, “the process of partially freeing oneself from the emotional entrapment of one’s family of origin,” and resolution of the universal triangle with one’s parents.

Now to the therapy and practice, one effective behavior for each of the eight concepts, in the order presented on the Bowen Center Web Site:

  1. Triangles – The central intervention in Bowen’s model is detriangulating both the therapist and all family members from their primary parental one and all subsequent interlocking ones.
  2. Differentiation of Self – Learning to speak for one’s self and take an “I” position regardless of whom in your original family agrees or disagrees.
  3. Nuclear Family Emotional System – Beware symptom resolution at the expense of the “identified patient”.
  4. Family Projection Process – As a recent New York Magazine cover proclaimed, “The Problem with Teenagers is Their Parents.”
  5. Multigenerational Transmission Process – Using the three-generation family diagram to learn about historical precedence.
  6. Emotional Cutoff – Fusion in another costume, “the person who runs away from his family of origin is as emotionally dependent as the one who never leaves home.”
  7. Sibling Position – (Remember the fifth daughter, the first father, the second mother and the seventh son, all on Highway 61). Since we can’t change this, it may have less value to “doing” Bowen than the other seven.
  8. Societal Emotional Process – The basic relationship patterns developed for adapting to the parental family are recapitulated and transferred to social and work relationships.

So there you have it, applications of theory to achieve real-life change. Easy to say, daunting to do. When all else fails, coaching with a therapist well-trained in Bowen Family System Theory can help keep the process moving forward in a positive direction.

Please share your thoughts and experiences about theory and its application to practice in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here. If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530
[email protected]