There are many factors that play a role in our mental health. From our childhoods to our past trauma, to the environments we surround ourselves in: all of it compiles together to create a blend of who we are.
When it comes down to it, family lineage plays a large role in influencing who we are, how we think, and how we act.
Think about it: how many times have you been asked about your family history when seeing a doctor?
This is exactly where Bowenian Family Therapy comes in.
This method of therapy was created by psychiatrist, researcher, and US Army physician Dr. Murray Bowen. His inspiration and passion for psychology came from the effects of the trauma and PTSD he observed on soldiers and war veterans.
He particularly became interested in learning how different people can all handle seemingly similar situations quite differently. But why was this so?
As he explored this question he broke free from the wide held belief that individual difficulties were simply caused by problems in one’s psyche. Instead, he began to cultivate the idea that human struggles were deeply embedded in their family systems and the generations that came before.
Bowen passionately believed that in order to resolve issues within oneself we must first go back to mending the relationships within the families we came from - and thus, the beginning of Bowenian Family Therapy was born.
So, what exactly is Bowenian Family Therapy?
This type of therapy is an approach to mental health treatment that focuses on the patterns that have persisted in families across generations, and the problems that come along with them.
This method has a clear goal: creating healthy communication between family members, teaching individuals how to break free from toxic patterns, and developing individual autonomy while staying close to the family unit.
In a nutshell, Bowenian family therapy aims to mend familial relationships, while pinpointing what the main problems actually are, all while teaching a client how to recognize themselves as part of - yet uniquely separate from their family.
As you can imagine, Bowenian Family Therapy involves multiple, if not all family members to come together and achieve the common goal of reconciliation.
Family conflicts are addressed as well as any repressed feelings surrounding them. Through these emotionally vulnerable conversations, family members can express their emotions in a safe and secure environment, improving communication and relationships within the family unit.
Bowenian family therapy is ideal for the entire family but can include couples sessions, parent/child relationship work, blended family work or sessions with multiple generations included.
In the event that a client isn’t comfortable or ready to work with their entire family yet, Bowenian family therapy can work with just the individual. This is usually done using talk therapy as a psychotherapist and client work together to identify any intergenerational problems, patterns, or conflicts that have stood the test of time.
Communication skills and boundary-setting tools are taught in order to empower an individual to work on their own issues.
Since all families are uniquely complicated there are a few different techniques used in order to find the best fit. For families experiencing major strain, communication barriers, or high levels of anxiety and stress there is hope. If one method doesn’t work there are always a few more to try.
Here are some techniques used during Bowenian family therapy:
Genograms: A genogram is simply a picture of a person's family history and relationships. It also includes psychology, patterns, and conflict. While you may be thinking of a family tree, it goes deeper than that. Genograms give both clients and psychotherapists a physical representation of what they’re working with and allow both parties to explore these different topics as they continue through treatment.
Self-Differentiation: This concept is a hallmark of Bowenian theory. To make it simple to understand, self-differentiation in terms of Bowenian Family Therapy aims to empower a client to recognize their own emotions while simultaneously pointing out when they may be taking on the emotions of another person. It helps guide them into a place where they can recognize themselves as an individual, yet as part of a group.
“I” Statements: This technique is used in many other forms of therapy as it aims to shift the pointing finger off of others. Even if the client truly feels as though the other person is at fault it prevents others from becoming defensive and putting a wall up. “I” statements help clients emphasize the emotions they’re feeling, rather than the actions of the other person. For example: Instead of saying, “You never pay attention to how I’m feeling!” a client would be directed to say, “I feel neglected in my own emotional needs by you”.
Triangles: Another hallmark of Bowenian family therapy is triangles. While it’s been said the triangle is the strongest shape, there’s truth to this. Instead of building a triangle to pit one another against each other, triangles are used as a way to create balance and order and stabilize the entire family unit.
When it comes down to it, Bowenian family therapy benefits both the individual seeking help and the entire family. The gains are clear: healthier communication, stronger boundaries, healing from past hurts, and stronger relationships all around.
Families that engage in this form of therapy together begin to learn the healthy balance between being involved and understanding their own roles within the family, and their own personal lives.
Once you begin this journey you’ll quickly find out just how transformational Bowenian family therapy can be. Learn more about whether family therapy is right for you and your family today.
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