Bowen Family Systems Theory and Practice: Illustration and Critique

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Bowen Family Systems Theory and Practice: Illustration and Critique
By Jenny Brown
This paper will give an overview of Murray Bowen’s theory of family systems. It will describe the model’s development and outline its core clinical components. The practice of therapy will be described as well as recent developments within the model. Some key criticisms will be raised, followed by a case example which highlights the therapeutic focus of Bowen’s approach.
This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Australian Academic Press for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.20 No.2 1999 pp 94-103).
Introduction
Murray Bowen's family systems theory (shortened to 'Bowen theory' from 1974) was one of the first comprehensive theories of family systems functioning (Bowen, 1966, 1978, Kerr and Bowen, 1988). While it has received sporadic attention in Australia and New Zealand, it continues to be a central influence in the practice of family therapy in North America. It is possible that some local family therapists have been influenced by many of Bowen's ideas without the connection being articulated. For example, the writing of Guerin (1976, 1987), Carter and McGoldrick (1980, 1988), Lerner (1986, 1988, 1990, 1993) and Schnarch (1991, 1997) all have Bowenian Theory at the heart of their conceptualisations.
There is a pervasive view amongst many proponents of Bowen's work that his theory needs to be experienced rather than taught (Kerr, 1991). While this may be applicable if one can be immersed in the milieu of a Bowenian…...

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