The Systems Thinker

An online forum to further the discussion of research and applications of systems thinking that continue to emerge from the ongoing study and practice of Bowen theory by family therapists, clergy, business leaders, consultants, and scientists.

SES, ACE, and Differentiation

Authored by Jim Edd Jones, Ph. D.

At the 2018 Midwest Symposium on Family Theory and Family Therapy in Willmette, Ilinois this past May, Peter Gianaros from the University of Pittsburgh cogently argued that SES (Socio-Economic Status determined with a composite measure) partially predicts (correlation approximately 0.30) adult serious physiological symptoms, indicators of risk for serious symptoms, and neurobiological indicators of chronic stress/anxiety.  Notice that the correlation is modest, with many exceptions to the correlation.

I would expect that level of differentiation of the individual and/or the …

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What is SES and why does it matter?

Authored by Stephanie Ferrera, M. S. W.

This was the question addressed by Professor Peter J. Gianaros of the University of Pittsburgh, the guest scientist at the CFC Midwest Symposium held on May 4-5.  The brief answer is:  SES is SocioEconomic Status and it matters because one’s place on the socioeconomic ladder is a major factor in one’s health and well-being in many ways.  Dr. Gianaros is a leading researcher on SES and the central role of the brain in mediating stress reactivity and adaptation.  He …

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Science & Bowen Family Systems Theory

Dr. Murray Bowen was well known to be extremely interested and well read in the natural sciences. One of his main goals was to connect the study of human behavior and functioning to the natural sciences including neuroscience, immunology, genetics, & evolutionary biology to name a few. To this end he established the tradition of hosting annual symposia in which a well-established scientist would be invited to present his/her work to the Bowen community. According to Dr. Robert Noone, “Dr. Bowen was keeping the theory …

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Pinned Down In a One Up Position: The Nature of Reciprocity

Authored by Peg Donley, L.S.C.S.W.

Murray Bowen often used the expression, “Pinned down in a one up position” to describe the nature of relationship reciprocity.  The phrase is consistent with a central idea in Bowen theory, mainly that individuals within a system are mutually influencing the functioning of others in subtle, yet powerful ways. This process is based on the sensitivity inherent in social relationships and the way interdependency takes shape between individuals within a group.

Reciprocity in relationships is an example of a universal process that …

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Can You Dance? Differentiation of Self: Observing is the First Step

Authored by Kelly Matthew-Pluta, M.S.W.

Very often clients are puzzled by Bowen Theory’s concept of Differentiation of Self.  Clinicians are often stumped on how to make this crucial concept, upon which the theory is based, understandable and useful to clients.  The first step is to observe self.  If one cannot identify what and how one is thinking and responding to self and others, understanding, and possibly making lasting changes, will be impossible.  The idea that one is only in charge of oneself is both liberating and …

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A Few Simple Ideas About Communication

Authored by Stephanie Ferrera, M.S.W.

An open relationship was defined by Murray Bowen as one in which the partners could communicate a high percentage of their personal thoughts and feelings to one another.  Under certain conditions, this is the most natural thing in the world.  Think of a couple in love talking, smiling, laughing, hours on end.  Or a parent enjoying the charm and spontaneity of a young child.  The emotional rewards from such easy, warm connection are golden.  The uplift we get from a really …

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Thinking Systems in the Workplace: A CEO’s Reflection

Authored by Leslie Ann Fox

As a recently retired CEO (2 ½ years ago), and currently a faculty member of the Center for Family Consultation,  I have been using the lens of Bowen family  systems thinking to reflect on the evolution of my thirty-nine year old healthcare consulting company, founded by myself and two partners in 1976 and sold in 2015. With the benefit of some distance from the organization, I am working to better understand my evolution as a leader, and how the performance of …

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Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There: Emotional Intensity and its Crucial Place in Relationships

Authored by Kelly Matthews-Pluta, M.S.W.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” John Muir

Human life is a complicated business.  We are connected to the world around us in every way imaginable.  Some of that connection is within our conscious awareness and much is outside of it. The relationships we have with family are how most of us work out the complicated nature of being humans in this universe. Often important relationships become intense and …

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The “Techniques” of Bowen Theory and Therapy

Authored by Sydney K. Reed, M.S.W.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines technique as “the method or details of procedure essential to the expertness of execution in any art, science.”  At CFC’s last Clinical Application of Bowen Family Theory and Therapy conference a participant, after seeing the video presentation of a Kerr/Bowen interview talking about differentiation of self, asked if there were techniques we could provide to learn how to do this.  I replied that without an understanding of theory, techniques would be useless and might fail. I …

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Ethical Wills: A Tool For Self Definition

Authored By Eric L. Weiner, M.S.W., Ph.D.

As families consider options for the distribution of assets to the next generation, most of the emphasis is on the tangible assets. Many people, however, view wealth as more than money and real estate. Wealth, for them, includes passing on their wisdom, guiding principles, spiritual beliefs, and family heritage to the next generation. One way to do that is by writing an ethical will.

Ethical wills have a long and rich history. They were first described in the Old Testament …

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