Class 3: Bowen FT

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  • person’s ability to separate intrapersonal and interpersonal distress.
  • The degree to which one is able to avoid having his/ her behavior automatically driven by emotion or being determined by relationship process.
  • Achieved early in life based on one’s level of emotional separation form parents that is achieved when growing up.
  • Differentiation of self is a lifelong process

differentiation of self scale

  • theoretical scale depicting human functioning as a range 0 (low functioning) to 100 (representing an imagined level of evolved perfection).
  • There is no “normal” number

lower differentiated people

  • unable to separate feeling from thinking. Reactive. Stuck together with or cut off from families and significant others. Conform (chameleon) or revel (bully). Need to control the functioning of others. Easily stressed into dysregulation.
  • “tell me who and how to be and I will change myself for a relationship with you”

higher differentiated people

  • able to access thinking in high anxiety. Responsive.
  • Connected with significant others while maintaining separate self. Self defined and self validating. Focused on control of self functioning. Copes better with life stressors.
  • “This is who I am, what I believe, what I stand for, what will do or what I will not do.”


  • assessment instrument.
  • Type of family tree to determine multigenerational processes that can be illuminating for both clients and therapists. Include longevity of fam members, health, locations, marriages, birthday, dates, etc

Chronic anxiety

  • biological phenomenon that occurs in all systems. Involves automatic physical reaction that are not mediated through conscious, logical processes

Multigenerational patterns

  • discerned through genograms and can include information about substance use, conflict, anger, etc.
  • The therapist identifies how the current situation fits with these patterns

Emotional systems

  • significant impact on behavior, emotions, symptoms. One must always assess this context to understand a person’s problems

Nuclear family emotional system

  • emotional distance is universal natural reaction in all marriages. Occurs automatically and outside of their awareness.
  • Expressions of distance include external moves away from one another and internal processes that maintain emotional separation.
  • Marital conflict- overt, chronic, unresolved; cycles through periods of emotional distance/ closeness. Husband and wife absorb family anxiety as each focuses on the other’s need to change.

Dysfunction as an adaptive mechanism

  • Husbands and wives: one absorbs a disproportionate amount of the anxiety generated by the undifferented functioning of the twosome.
  • Children: generational anxiety projected onto children from parents

Family projection

  • some projection occurs in all families. Activated by the degree of connection or disconnection between a mother and child, with the father typically an outsider supporting the mother’s anxious interaction with the child.
  • Symptoms come from need to absorb excess undifferentiation in spouses and intensify with anxiety

Multigenerational transmission process

  • based on premise that emotional processes from prior generations are present and “alive” in the current family emotional system.
  • People marry at or about the same level of differentiation so that the target child’s marriage begins a lower level of differentiation than his or her parent’s marriage.
  • This projection process continues to produces individuals in that line with progressively poorer differentiation resulting in dysfunctional impairment (e.g. chronic alcoholism)

Emotional cutoff

  • situations in which a person no longer emotionally engaged with another in order to manage anxiety
  • an instinctive biological process that acts like an emotional safety valve in relationships

Societal emotional process

  • concept addresses ways that families shape society, and how society shapes families.
  • Drives functioning at all levels—families, society, work, social organizations, and other nonfamily groups

Emotional triangles

basic building blocks of families. Asses triangles to ID the primary relationship that needs to be targeted for change



  • natural way of being for people;.
  • Structure is a 3 person emotional configuration that is the molecule or the basic building block of any emotional system.
  • In US, common triangle pattern is mother and child in an overly- close relationship with the father in a distant position.


  • therapists maintains therapeutic neutrality (differentiation) in order to interrupt a client’s attempt to involve the therapist or someone else in a triangle

Family projection process

describes how parents project their immaturity onto one or more children, causing decreased differentiation in subsequent generations


Sibling position

  • indicator of family’s level of differentiation.
  • The more the family members exhibit the expected characteristics of their sibling position, the higher the level of differentiation.
  • 11 positions but no middle position listed; these tend to spend more time with one sibling and will “Adopt” those characteristics. Position points to differentiation level, projection process, and triangulated positions

Relational experiments

behavioral homework assignment designed to reveal and change unproductive relational processes in families


Process questions

  • questions that help clients see the systemic process of the dynamics that they are enacting.
  • Generated naturally from the therapists use of the theory to conceptualize the client’s situation

Interlocking/ interdependent pathologies

  • any individual’s pathology reflects those family distortions and dynamics; the therapist tried to identify how the identified patient’s symptoms relate to the less overt pathologies within the family

Patterns of reciprocal functioning

  • patterns in which members seem to borrow strength at the expense of another member’s functioning.
  • Four patterns: overfunctioning/ underfunctioning, decisive/ indecisive, hysterical/ obsessive, dominant/ submissive.
  • Where one is present in one family member, the pair trait is usually present I another person.

Goal in Bowen

your goal as a human is to differentiate from your family of origin. These people are intellectualized


How change happens

  • therapeutic changes occurs when one person focuses on accepting responsibility or self within the family and in life, developing awareness of the differences between emotional and intellectual functioning , and creating problem solving options based on those differences