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Family Systems Journal - Volume 9.1
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Code: DJ 9.1 (1)
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Volume 9, Number 1

Michael E. Kerr, MD


Journal articles reflect natural systems thinking or are relevant to it. These may include concept papers as well as research studies.

Suicide and Systems
Anthony J. Wilgus, MSW
The suicide of a sixty-eight-year-old woman affords a unique opportunity to move toward a greater understanding of this event that occurs in the life cycle of the human. While conventional psychiatric interpretations of depression and suicide focus primarily upon individual pathology, Bowen theory broadens the lens of analysis so that multiple relationships in several generations illuminate these phenomena. Of special importance in this exploration is the fact that the individual who committed suicide left an extensive volume of personal journals over a ten-year span, highlighting some of her thoughts and reflections prior to her death. Despite the writer having no prior knowledge of theory, the author contends that these documents vividly illustrate some of the core concepts of Bowen theory and substantiate the view that suicide is an event transcending the bio-psycho-social processes residing within any individual.

Self Harm and Bowen Theory
Erik Thompson, MA
In this report I examine self-harm through the lens of Bowen theory. Observations from clinical interviews suggest that self-harm regularly occurs in response to perceived social separation, but it may be better explained by the level of reactivity to separation, not the intensity of the separation itself. The concept of differentiation of self accounts nicely for a variation in reactivity to separation experiences and its role in self-harm. Family interviews point to a link between the development of self-harm and an environment of energetic protection. The concept of the family projection process is consistent with this finding. Clinical practice guided by these two theoretical concepts is useful in establishing meaningful contact with individuals who engage in self-harm as well as their family members. It can prevent helpers from becoming emotionally entangled within the paradox of those who seek help and refuse it at the same time.

Triangles, Togetherness, and the Challenge to Forgive
Christopher F. East, PsyD
The emotional process known as “forgiveness” is so subjective in nature that it is quite difficult to talk about this process objectively. Beyond the difficulty of developing an objective definition, there is considerable confusion about how a state of forgiveness is achieved. This dilemma is particularly pertinent in the clinical setting where so many clients are deeply interested in achieving a new level of forgiveness, but find themselves quite “stuck” in achieving this desired emotional state.


Presentation of a faculty clinical case and discussion with faculty of the Georgetown Family Center.

The Challenge of Neutrality in Defining Self with One’s Mother
Anne S. McKnight, EdD
This presentation was selected to illustrate how Bowen theory offered a young woman a framework for getting beyond blame and anger to develop a more personal, adult relationship with her mother. The case illustrates the heightened emotional reactivity that is triggered through a nodal event in a family and an individual’s efforts to beome more thoughtful and objective in managing herself in the emotionality. Concepts in Bowen theory such as differentiation of self, triangles, cutoff, and multigenerational process are explored in this case study.


Reviews on books relevant to Bowen theory or its many applications.

Our Son Ken by Sarah E. Lorenz
reviewed by: John F. Butler, PhD

Stoner by John Williams
reviewed by: Michael E. Kerr, MD

For more information, please contact The Bowen Center at 202-965-4400 or