Central Theory in Family Therapy

CentralTheory in Family Therapy

Familytherapy is a form of therapy where the counselor works with the wholeimmediate family at once instead of dealing with each member of thefamily at once. Regularly, a family therapist will mostly turn downthe session if a member of the family is absent. The critical theoryfounding the family therapy is that a family is a unit consisting ofparts and in the case of a problem with one part, and then the wholesystem is affected. Most of the families attempt to maintainhomeostasis implying that most parents will try to keep all things tobe stable or at per. For instance, if one member of the family doessomething out of the “norm”, the members of that family willunite and fight against him/her to restore everything back to normal.This is typically problematic, for instance, if the member of thefamily is undergoing therapy and learning new coping styles whiletheir family is fighting their real transformations.

Oneof the major reasons that the families try to uphold homeostasis isbecause a transformation in one family member will cause the rest tochange. For instance, if a battered mother attends a therapy andlearns how to stand up to her man and take care of herself and thechildren, the husband will fight against her to try and get controlagain. This is the core reason that family therapists prefer to offerservices to the family as a whole and not a member at a time.

BowenianFamily Systems Theory and Therapy

MurrayBowen is an influential personality in the advance of the familytherapy due to his hypothesis, the Bowenian family therapy. Histheory operated as a framework for most of the family philosophersthat came after him. Bowen’s theory was based on the idea thatpersons are an outcome of an evolutionary process, despite the factthat most of the processes are common in nature. Additionally,Central to the theory is the idea of multigenerational transmissionand the fact that every generation approaches a lower level ofdifferentiation. Therefore, a downward spiral will progress from onegeneration to another until when the unsettled emotional attachmentsare approached appropriately. The fact that Bowen theorizes thatevery family emotional system is founded in its multigenerationalhistory, the therapy is intended to transform couples that are in acapacity of impacting other members of the family.

Typically,the self-differentiation always begins with one individual then itmoves to change the relationship of the whole family. It is anessential factor to the Bowenian theory, and it’s an individual’sability to ability to distinguish their emotional and intellectualfunctioning at the same time control the self-sufficiency from theemotional issues of other people and they can work on the base ofvalid principles. The primary goal of his theory is theself-differentiation that is supposed to be self-motivated and notinitiated by the therapist in accordance to Bowen.

Accordingto Bowen, the family is a network of interlocking relationships andan emotional unit that are best understood from the point of amultigenerational framework. Despite the fact that his techniques fortherapy are more cognitive than they are effective, Bowen postulatedideas to recognize the emotional process that occurs in an extendedas well as nuclear family.

Accordingto him, families are complex structures that can be well understoodby many generations. For a better understanding, he constructed agenogram. It is a mapping technique similar to a family tree onlythat it show the relationship among the family members. Therelationships are illustrated differently, for instance, zigzag linesare used to show members with some conflict and solid straight linesfor members with a fixed relationship. The genogram was then used tohelp the families to know their entanglements and alliances ofvarious family members. He believed that the only way to find asolution to the family problems, the members had to differentiatefrom one another. This implied that they had to distinguish betweenemotions and their thoughts. Additionally, they had to think clearlyand to act as per their personal value without reacting to anyoneelse. He noted that families had to understand their existencetogether as a family and to be separate as individuals. As a result,most of the family therapists try to treat families by decreasingnervousness and increasing differentiation among individual members.

Itis also significant to note that Bowen also stressed the importanceof the therapists to be parted from their original families.According to him, if the therapists are not detached, there is ahigher risk of enmeshment with the families of their clients. Adifferentiated member can identify their thoughts and feelings asbeing separate from that of other they are capable of makingdecisions without reacting to the members of their families.

MurrayBowen developed his theory of family systems on the basis that peopleare evolutionary and came about due to evolutionary processes. This,however, assumes that each process is similar in nature. In Bowen’scentral theory of family therapy, there is an idea ofmultigenerational transmission and that each group moves to the lowerlevels of differentiation. Following his concepts and ideas, therapywas therefore focused on individuals that would later pass it on toother family members and successive generations to come. This theory,therefore, suggests that therapy is offered from the inside towardsthe outside as the differentiation starts with one individual andlater goes on to transform the lives of other individuals within afamily. Differentiation of self is elementary in the Bowenian theory.The self-differentiation involves separation of one’s emotionalfunctioning and the intellectual functioning while maintainingsovereignty from other people’s emotional issues and are thereforeable to function basing on reasoned principles. According to Bowen,the decisions towards self-differentiation should be from self ratherthan being pushed by the therapist and that self-motivatedindividuals are more suitable for change.


Self-differentiationis an important aspect of family therapy. When one individual withina family is positively affected by the effects of therapy, they willpass on the results of the others and to generations to come. Withthis, the problem that might be associated with one family might endup being extinct. A single individual could be affected by the familynervous systems that would have extended over generations, andtherefore, by tackling such, they might be able to eradicate suchemotional issues in the generations to come. From Bowen’s theory,it is, therefore, true that family therapy would be useful even withthe presence of only a few members of the family. The greatestachievement of family therapy would be self-differentiation as thiswould assure for change in that family. The idea behindself-differentiation as a tool for family therapy clings onto thefact that family is more than autonomy, it is a unit where everyoneworks together and depends on the other in one way or the other. Itis a unit where individuals are linked together in their behavior,feelings and way of thinking. It is through these links thatself-differentiation stands a chance of working, it is through themthat change can be passed from one individual to the other thusmaking family therapy work.

Severalconcepts can be used to ascertain the emotional practices that occurin the families. The noted number of ideas is eight and out of themsix pinpoint only hose emotional processes that take place in theextended and nuclear families whereas the other two identify theprocesses that are carried through to other generations. Chronicanxiety is what makes up the whole premise of the eight concepts.Chronic anxiety is an unavoidable section of life and nature whereasanxiety is described as the worry or the feeling of naïve ofsomething that one is not sure of the outcome. It is through theanxiety that an individual’s emotional system is stimulated leadingto the development of strange behavior. Anxiety can also occur in thefamily setting, and this is triggered by the push of the familytowards togetherness or towards ‘being one’. The more together afamily is, the more they are exposed to experiencing chronic anxietyat an individual level. This, therefore, becomes an underlying basisof all signs. From Bowen’s theory, the eight concepts are asfollows:

1.Self-differentiation.Self-differentiation is the segregation of an individual from a groupof people and in this case, from family. The exclusion includesavoiding to do things that the others are doing but follow what yourheart tell you to do. The whole idea of differentiation from self isto enable an individual struggle for balance by first acquiring thedefinition of self and still possess the capability for spontaneousemotional expression. Self-differentiation enables an individual tobe independent in their thinking and is, therefore, less affected bythe decision and emotions of the other family members. It is throughself-differentiation that individuals can make decisions that maylater have a positive impact on the state of the family. With oneperson who is independent in decision making, family therapy caneasily be applied to this individual and find its way into themodification of the family status, and therefore, making thecounselor achieve their objective quickly.

2.Thetriangle. Atriangle, in this case, is the structure formed when the familybrings an outsider to solve a problem, ease stress or solve conflictswithin the family. This additional individual is brought in toneutralize the situation in the family. Once the problem has beensolved, the triangle dissolves and the additional person exits thetriangle. However, several triangle can be formed when more outsidersare involved. This worsens the situation rather than solving. In somesituations, however, the triangle is helpful for troubleshooting andcan be beneficial in a family setting regarding therapy. The trianglemay only become a solution where the third party involved entirelyneutral. The neutrality of the third party involved will help teachthe spouse the importance of self-differentiation, which is criticalin family therapy.

3.Theemotional system of the nuclear system. Inlife, it is common for a person to look for a spouse who has an equallevel of differentiation as theirs. Marriages between individuals whoshare the same degree of differentiation lead to building up ofanxiety, and it is this anxiety that leads to family break-ups,quarrels, fights, and so on. In a nuclear family setting, anxiety canlead to a number occurrences: psychological disturbances of the childif present, multiple, continuous marital conflicts and may eveninvolve fights, and disruption of the spouse that may alter theirphysical and or emotional function in a relationship. The dysfunctioncomes from when one of the family members, more especially a spouse,may take either full responsibility or not and, therefore, making oneof the spouse or member of the family overwhelmed, and aftersometimes, they also give up on the responsibility because of theburden that comes with it. This then leads to emotional and physicaldysfunction of the spouse in the relationship. Today, it is commonfor people to ape what their previous families did and implementedthe same on their current families, this trait is passed on to thenext generations as it goes. However, the character of learning fromthe previous families has been critical in the instability of thefamily relations today. For this to be resolved, the idea ofborrowing from the families of origin should be eradicated, andpeople should advocate for self-differentiation, which easesemotional distress within a family.

4.Theprocess of family projection.This is where families pass their fusion to their children.As seenearlier, lack of differentiation within a family is a factor that maylead to instability and instead, this may result in chronic anxiety.The degree of the process of family projection relates to two factorsnamely the stress and anxiety level that the family undergoes, andthe immaturity and undifferentiating level of the spouses.

5.It is through EmotionalCutoff thatpeople express their relations to their parents or the emotionalattachments to their families of origin. One may show no concern atthe point of separation, and this sends a message to the familytherapist that the individual had issues with either one or both ofthe family heads. This is mostly seen in children when they separatefrom their families due to various issues.

6.Themultigenerational transmission processinvolves the behavioral spread of character from one generation tothe other. People tend to marry people whose level of differentiationis closer to theirs. This trait is passed on from generation togeneration. However, the level of fusion determines the emotional andphysical dysfunction within a family and transmission of the fusionacross generations will only heighten the standard of dysfunction.

7.The position of the sibling in the nuclear family setting affectsthe way the child will behave later in life. Those children who wereraised up with siblings of the opposite sex are likely to createbetter families and live harmoniously with their spouses compared tothose that were brought up with same-sex siblings.

8.Societal regression. Emotionaland intellectual differentiation is important for easing the chronicanxiety in the society. Also, with the population growth, there isincreased fusion leading to more conflict within families andtherefore, the need for differentiation.

Allthe eight concepts, previously developed by Bowen, from a fundamentalstructure for family therapy, and the information of each of thenotion can create better family ties if well implemented. Theconcepts mainly focus on individual differentiation as opposed to theother therapists who advocated for family fusion.

Directionsfor future study

Fora better understanding of Bowen’s concepts and the theory, it willbe important to study a particular family over a period and notingwhether concepts such as self-differentiation apply. This informationcan be retrieved directly from the families during the therapysessions by asking that relevant question whose answers may give aclue of what one might be expecting. However, during these sessions,high standards of ethics are required so that the client may not feeluneasy or mistreated.

Questionnairescould also serve a great deal in retrieving information willinglyfrom the clients. This information would be essential in theevaluation of the theory and the concepts behind the theory.Questionnaires are much better because the client will offerinformation that is entirely unbiased since the confidentiality isprotected ad they offer it willingly.


Boweniantheory suggests that families live under an emotional blanket andthat they live as one entity, if one is affected, the others sufferthe effects too and that one can change the thinking of the family.In my case study, the life story of a 12 years old boy was followed.The boy was named Ron, and the Bowen’s theory is applicable inchanging the situation of the young boy. Bowen’s therapy suggeststhat the boy differentiates from what he thinks of and what thefamily is undergoing so as to heal psychologically. One cannot thinkclearly when burdened with emotions. Ron loved both his parents, butthis later changed when he saw them quarrel. From that moment, hehated his father, he illustrated him as a monster during one of hisart lessons when he was nine. He has lived with such emotions overtime to the point that he never wanted to see his father. He hatedhim. This has been disturbing Ron since he also knows that he has tolove him as a parent. He had an emotional fight going on and itseemed to outweigh him since he had even lost several pounds of hismass despite the fact that the parents are in good condition and thattheir relationship is back in shape. Bowen’s therapy suggests thatRon undergoes self-differentiation as a healing process. He shouldseparate himself from the emotions and should also separate himselffrom future fusions.


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