Bowen Family Systems Theory
It would be strange to introduce the framework of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) without first referring to Murray Bowen’s seminal work, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, published in 1978 after almost 30 years of research on thousands of families. The volume, which Bowen described as a collection of his most important papers from 1957-1977 (Bowen, 1978), chronicles his “disciplined effort to select consistent theoretical concepts that might someday conceptualize emotional illness as a product of that part of man he shares with the lower forms of life” (p. xiv). His intent was to use a “minimal number of congruent pieces from the total bank of human knowledge that fit together to tell a simple story about the nature of man” (p. xiii). He believed that the profession had a responsibility to make “psychotherapy as scientific and predictable as possible” (p. 470).
Families as Systems, not Groups of Individuals
Bowen’s theory broke with the conventional theory of his day which placed pathology within the individual from the lens of cause-and-effect (Bowen, 1978; Kerr & Bowen, 1988; Papero et al., 2018). His work with families at the National Institute of Mental Health from 1950-1954, however, along with his reading in biology and the natural sciences, led Bowen to see patients as part of family systems, in which each member contributes a part in the functioning, or lack thereof, of the whole. Over time, his thinking evolved and coalesced into a theory of eight interlocking concepts that Bowen laid out in his seminal volume.