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Marriage & Family Therapy Research Paper


Bowen developed a family therapy theory to facilitate the solving of family disputes that were frequently arising. To accomplish his goal, he used his model to intervene a minor problem that had occurred in his own extended family.

As a result, it worked so well, giving a positive outcome. This he says was a significant break through for his model implementation. He dedicated his life to family therapy and, as a result, developed this theory that was named after him. Furthermore, has been cited as an excellent theoretical idea ever produced in family therapy.


The individuals who first discovered the concept of family therapy acknowledged that existing social and cultural influences contour ones morals about themselves and their families. Bowen, however, was the first to discover that a family’s history plays a vital role in determining an individual’s thoughts and principles. Most importantly it facilitated the continuous flow of these thought and principles to the coming generations.

Bowen was born in a large and cohesive family where he was the last child. He studied medicine and became a medical doctor by profession. Later on he seized from pursuing dyads and started pursuing triads.

He attended a conference that had been convened by one of his students from where he explained his theory. He used his family as a case study in explaining the theory in relation to development and function of a family. It is evident that Bowen’s theory focuses on mutualism and individuality.

History of Theory

Titelman, (1998) portrays that, in the early years, the occurrence of family disputes triggered the invention of solving techniques. Thus, family therapy is identified to have originated in the 19th century in the United States and England.

In the 1950s, some clinicians started observing and providing therapy to family members through a movement called child guidance and marriage counseling. As a result, these clinicians came up with ideas about theories that relate to the family and depicted that a family is not only about an individual’s perception (Titelman, 1998).

Gladding, (2002), states that Bowen Murray was born in Tennessee in 1913 and passed on in 1990. In late 1940s, he involved mothers in the treatment and study of patients suffering from schizophrenic at Menninger clinic.

In 1954 after moving to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) he shifted his focus from individuals to the family aspect. At NIMH, he involved more members of the family in psychotherapy and research of patients suffering from schizophrenic (Gladding, 2002).

Blume (2006) reveals that he founded Georgetown family center in 1959 when he moved to Georgetown University. Most importantly his theory was transformed to emotional tribulations that were less severe. He conducted a detailed research between 1959 and 1962 which involved families in diverse age groups.

Bowen’s first orderly presentation was published in 1966, and it highlighted his developing ideas. Most significant is the fact that he used his concepts to intervene an emotional crisis in his family, this yielded positive results (Blume, 2006).

Philosophical Underpinnings


Rasheed, Marley and Rasheed, (2010) illustrate that this is a family system that has got a three-person relationship; hence, this can consist of a child, father and mother. Furthermore, it is perceived to be more firm and as the foundation of a vast emotional system that can hold tension devoid of outside interference (Rasheed, Marley and Rasheed, 2010).

Differential of self

Bowen (1978) depicts that “Self” is in born but the amount of it developed by an individual in to the family relationship is determined during adolescent and childhood. Hence, if an individual develops less “self”, he ends up having a superior influence in the family. It is noteworthy that such an individual controls the performance of other family members (Bowen, 1978).

Nuclear emotional systems

Rassool and Gafoor (1997) depicts that this identifies core issues that govern the on set of family disputes. One issue is the marital conflict whereby it has been noted that an increase in tension results to more anxiety among spouses, thus they are required to drop the anxiety and focus more on the problem without dictating to one another.

Another issue identified was the dysfunction in one spouse, which majored on, the dictation by one spouse that might lead to self control by the other spouse incase of tension. Impairment of one child is a core issue that was identified whereby the parents focus on one child positively or negatively.

Hence, the child becomes more reactive to such attention resulting to his disintegration from the other children. A core issue also discovered was the emotional distance where one family member decides to reduce the family relationship intensity by distancing themselves (Rassool and Gafoor, 1997).

Family projection

According to Falicov, (1991) this illustrates the idea of parents passing on their emotional tribulations to the children and, as a result, prejudice the performance of the child leading to disputes in the family.

Multigenerational transmission process

Cottrell and Boston (2002) give a picture in which a family’s emotional progression is passed on and upheld over several generations. Thus, the onsets of troubles are generation related.

Emotional cut off

Reiger (1981) discloses that those individuals who have emotional disputes with family members and end up solving these disputes by cutting off emotional contact with them.

Sibling positions

Skynner*, (1980) divulges that individuals that are raised in similar sibling position most likely have identical characteristics. Hence, elder children settle in the direction of leadership while the young ones have a preference to be followers.

Societal emotional process

Kog, Vandereycken, and Vertommen (1985) make known that this procedure depicts how emotional system presides over the conduct in any society, encouraging both advancement and suppressive interlude.

History of Founder

Bowen Murray was born in 1913 in Tennessee and was the oldest of five children. In 1934, he attained his Bachelor of Science degree and later a master’s degree in 1937 at the university of Tennessee medical school. He served in the army from where he changed to psychiatry from surgery (Herbert, Castronova, McNeil, and Mossman, 2000).

While at National Institute of Mental Health he started to build up his theory, this was in 1954 to 1959. He then moved to Georgetown University where he founded Georgetown family center in 1959.

He remained focused and dedicated to family therapy, as a result, producing one of the purest theoretical ideas. In 1978 to 1982, he became the first president of the American family therapy association. He later succumbs to cancer in 1990 (Herbert et al., 2000).


Boss, Doherty and LaRoss (2008) highlighted that, one of the assumptions of family therapy is that, family relationships are the primary cause of psychological well being and psychopathology for people.

This means that in order to understand individuals conduct, his relationship with the family should be put in to consideration. Another assumption depicts that family communication models have a tendency to recur across generations. According to Boss et al., (2008), the third assumption stated that Family health entails equilibrium of correlation and individuation.

This illustrates that for a family to have a healthy relationship there must be freedom of conduct and togetherness amongst its members. It further states that the triad is the least component for the multifaceted understanding of family relations (Boss et al., 2008).

Role of Therapist

According to Pernice-Duca, (2010), the role of the therapist is to get involved with problem solving without getting emotionally attached to the family. Furthermore, a therapist is supposed to remain neutral to any issues that come up. Thus, the family will realize it is an emotional system.

Bowen inculcates the therapists to avoid a situation where a family desperately needs their help, but rather they should make them accept the responsibility to work towards their own change. Bowen cautions therapists against placing themselves in the meditative role, in a family triangle, (Pernice-Duca, 2010).


Bentovim, (1979) discloses that, Bowen never considered “therapeutic bag of tricks”. A Boweian therapist needed to construction a family genogram and questions. The therapist needs to motivate the family members to enlighten themselves with the history of the family. Furthermore, activities like visiting or writing letters to distant family members are encouraged.

Some interventions involved in Bowen family therapy theory according to Elizur, (1990) include the following:


This is the process of connection between the family and the therapist resulting into a beneficial system. Similarly, it involves trailing, mimesis and substantiation.


This involves altering a concept by illustrating from a diverse perspective, as a result, altering the meaning but not the fact.


Family members presenting difficult behavioral progression in to the therapy session

Working with impulsive interaction

Therapists identify the dynamics and series of conducts during therapy sessions and thus deliberate on the course, not the issue.


This constitutes the alteration of the family structure, for example, rising up against dictatorial behavior of the father.


Bowen’s theory gives attention to the arrangement and functioning of the emotional system. Furthermore, it involves sessions between individuals and the actions of “self” in the system. This theory insists on use of outlying factors to solve the current problem. As a result, a solution is achieved within a short time.

Devoid of current, noteworthy socio-political accompaniments, this theory decontextualises affiliation models that are strongly conversant with gender, class and ethnicity. Bowen’s theory has been evident to produce positive outcomes everywhere it has been implemented. It is outstanding in the fact that it makes the therapists experience its roles in their own families of origin before acknowledging its practical application.


Bentovim, A. (1979), Theories of family interaction and techniques of intervention. Journal of Family Therapy, 1: 321

Blume, T. (2006). Becoming a family counselor: a bridge to family therapy theory and practice. New Jersey. John Wiley publishers

Boss, P. Doherty, W and LaRoss, R. (2008). Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach. New York. Springer Science + Business media.

Bowen, M. (1978). Family therapy in clinical practice. Michigan. Jason Aronson.

Cottrell, D. and Boston, P. (2002), Practitioner Review: The effectiveness of systemic family therapy for children and adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43: 573–586.

Elizur, J. (1990), ‘Stuckness’ in live supervision: Expanding the therapist’s style. Journal of Family Therapy, 12: 267–280

Falicov, C. (1991).Family Transitions: Continuity and Change over the Life Cycle. New York. Guilford Press

Gladding, S. (2002). Family therapy: history, theory, and practice. Michigan. Merrill

Herbert, M, Castronova, F, McNeil, B and Mossman, J. (2000). Biography and Genealogy Master Index 2000: A Consolidated Index to More Than 300,000 Biographical Sketches in 90 Current and Retrospective Biographical Dictionaries. Michigan. Gale group

Kog, E., Vandereycken, W. and Vertommen, H. (1985), the psychosomatic family model. A critical analysis of family interaction concepts. Journal of Family Therapy, 7: 31–44.

Pernice-Duca, F. (2010), Family Network Support and Mental Health Recovery. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 36: 13–27.

Rasheed, J, Marley, J and Rasheed, M. (2010). Family Therapy: Models and Techniques. California. SAGE.

Rassool, H and Gafoor, M. (1997). Addiction nursing: perspectives on professional and clinical practice. London. Nelson Thornes.

Reiger, K. (1981), Family therapy’s missing question, why the plight of the modern family? Journal of Family Therapy, 3: 293–308.

Skynner, A. C. R. (1980), Recent developments in marital therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 2: 271–296.

Titelman, P. (1998). Clinical applications of Bowen family systems theory. New York. Routledge

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