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Bowen Family Therapy Sydney

No problem, or symptom sits just in an individual; rather it belongs to the whole family. Every member of the family is part of an emotional dynamic in which an issue or symptom get stuck.

How can it help?

Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behaviour that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the unit’s complex interactions. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally. Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact. Families so profoundly affect members’ thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same ‘emotional skin’. People solicit each other’s attention, approval, and support, and they react to each other’s needs, expectations, and upsets. This connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of the family members interdependent. A Change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in their degree of interdependence, but it is always present to some degree. No problem, or symptom sits just in an individual; rather it belongs to the whole family. Every member of the family is part of an emotional dynamic in which an issue or symptom get stuck.

What to expect?

Bowen family therapy typically involves multiple family members working together to address family conflicts and improve relationships within the family unit. Family therapy can include couple work, parent and child relationship, blended families, or multiple generations of a family. Bowen therapy could also work with individuals. Individual work can include identifying intergenerational conflicts and patterns, setting appropriate boundaries and differentiation between you and your family members, and communication skills. If you want to work on these issues and including additional family members is not possible, you can still benefit from techniques of Bowen family therapy.

The 8 concepts of Bowen Theory:


1. Triangles

A triangle is a three-person relationship. People’s actions in a triangle reflect their efforts to assure their emotional attachments to important others, their reactions to too much intensity in the attachments, and their taking sides in others’ conflicts. Paradoxically, while a triangle is more stable than a two-persons relationship, a triangle creates an odd person out, which is a difficult position for individuals to tolerate. Anxiety generated by being or anticipating being the odd person out is a potent force in families. The patterns in a triangle change with increasing tension, In calm periods, two people are confortable close ‘insiders’ and the third person is an uncomfortable ‘ outsider’. The insiders actively exclude the outsider, and the outsider may feel rejected and work to get closer to one of them. Someone is always uncomfortable in a triangle and pushing for change. The insiders solidify their bond by choosing each other in preference to the less desirable outsider. If mild to moderate tension develops between the insiders, the most uncomfortable one will move closer to the outsider. One of the original insiders now becomes the new outsider, and the original outsider is now an insider. The new outsider will make moves to restore closeness with one of the insiders. Triangles contribute significantly to the development of clinical problems. For examples, getting pushed from an inside to an outside position can trigger depression or perhaps a physical illness, or parents focusing on what is wrong with a child can trigger serious rebellion in the child.


2. Differentiation of Self

The less developed a person’s ‘self’, the more impact others have on their functioning and the more they try to control, actively or passively, the functioning of others. The basic building blocks of a ‘self’ are inborn, but an individual’s family relationships during childhood and adolescence primarily determine how much ‘self’ they develop. Once established, the level of ‘self’ rarely changes unless a person makes a structured, long-term effort to change.


3. Nuclear Family Emotional System

Describes four basic relationship patterns that govern where problems develop in a family. These patterns operate within all family structure i.e single parent, stepparent and other nuclear family configurations. The four basic relationship patterns are:

  1. Marital conflict: As family tension increases each spouse externalises their anxiety. Each focuses on what is wrong with the other, trying to control the other, and resists the other’s efforts at control.

  2. Dysfunction in a spouse: One spouse pressures the other to think and act in certain ways. The interaction is comfortable for both people up to a point, but if family tension rises further, the subordinate spouse may yield so much self-control that their anxiety increases significantly.

  3. Impairment of one or more children: The spouses focus their anxieties on one or more of their children. They worry excessively and usually have an idealised or negative view f the child. The more the parents focus on the child, the more the child focused on them. They are more reactive than their siblings to the parents’ attitudes, needs, and expectations.

  4. Emotional distance: People distance from each other to reduce the relationship intensity but risk becoming too isolated.


4. Family Projection Process

Describes the primary way parents transmit their emotional problems to a child. Children inherit many types of problems (as well as strengths) through their relationships with their parents, but the problems they inherit that most affect their lives are relationship sensitivities such as heightened needs for attention and approval, difficulty dealing with expectations, the tendency to blame oneself or others. The projection process follows three steps: 1.) The parent focuses on a child other of fear that something is wrong with the child. 2.) The parent interprets the child’s behaviour as confirming the fear. 3.) The parent treats the child as if something is really wrong with the child, Parents often feel they have not given enough love, attention, or support to a child manifesting problems. Rather, they have invested more time, energy, and worry in this child than in their siblings. The siblings less involved in the family projection process have a more mature and reality-based relationship with their parents. This fosters the siblings developing into less needy less reactive, and more goal-directed people.


5. Multigenerational Transmission Process

The concept of multigenerational transmission process describes how small difference in the levels of differentiation between parents and their offspring lead over many generations to marked differences. The information creating these differences is transmitted across generations through relationships. The transmission occurs on several interconnected levels, ranging from the conscious teaching and learning of information to the automatic and unconscious programming of emotional reactions and behaviours. The combination of parents actively shaping the development of their offspring, offspring innately responding to their parents’ moods, attitudes and actions, and the long dependency period of human offspring results in people’s developing levels of differentiation of self similar to their parents. People predictably select mates with levels of differentiation of self that match their own. Therefore, if one offspring’s level of ‘self’ is higher than the parents’ and another’s is lower, one offspring’s marriage is more differentiated than the parents’ marriage.


6. Emotional Cutoff

The concept of emotional cutoff describes how people manage their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings and other family members. Emotional contact can be reduced by moving away from family and rarely going home, or it can be reduced by staying in physical contact with family but avoiding sensitive issues. Relationships may look ‘better’ if people cutoff to manage them, but the problems are dormant, not resolved.


7. Sibling Position

Bowen observes the impact of sibling position on development and behaviour. People that grow up in the same sibling position predictably have similar characteristics. For example, oldest children ten to gravitate to leadership positions and youngest children often prefer to be followers.

8. Societal Emotional Process

The concept of societal emotional process describes how the emotional system governs behaviours in whole societies. Cultural forces are important in how a society functions but are insufficient to explain the ebb and flow in how well societies adapt to the challenges they face.

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