The Use of Language in Bowen Theory

Randall T. Frost, MDiv
Murray Bowen used ordinary language to describe the variables and concepts of his theory. Yet the meaning of every term of the theory is informed and qualified by the meaning of every other term used in the theory. The language in Bowen theory attempts to represent predictable patterns of family functioning under a variety of conditions. Drawing out more fully the meaning of key terms when they are considered in relation to one another adds to the precision of the theory. If the theory is accurate, this method provides a more nuanced understanding of how the family emotional system actually functions. The more precisely the language of the theory can be defined, the more readily conceptual links can be made to emerging knowledge in the life sciences and the more readily hypotheses can be formulated to test and extend theory.

A description of this approach can be found in: 2013. “Use of the Term Solid Self in Bowen Theory.” Family Systems 10(1): 43-62.

Practice Based Evidence of Bowen Theory

Murray Bowen began to develop his theory of family emotional functioning in the course of doing family research at the National Institute of Mental Health from 1954-59. He subsequently wrote, “Theory and therapy developed as an integrated unit, with psychotherapy determined by theory.” (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 471) The close integration of theory and therapy provides a basis for testing the efficacy of Bowen theory in clinical research.

Trainees in the advanced internship in marriage and family therapy at Living Systems in Vancouver, British Columbia are conducting clinical research projects to become more precise about the relationship between Bowen theory and the practice of systems therapy. Each trainee formulates a direction for therapy for selected clinical families determined by a careful family assessment based on the concepts of Bowen theory. Each trainee develops a series of working hypotheses that are evaluated and, as needed, reformulated during the course of therapy. Trainees make conditional predictions about the outcome of therapy based on the family assessment, the family’s response to therapy, and the functioning of the therapist. Trainees evaluate the accuracy of the predictions as therapy progresses and at the conclusion of therapy. Informed by theory, trainees develop a profile of each family’s lifestyle before, during, and after a course of therapy. At the conclusion of the training year, research families are arranged on a continuum of functioning based on the profile of each family’s life style.