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.

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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The Family Emotional System and the Functioning of Slave Owners, Slaves and their Descendants

Authored by Mignonette N. Keller, Ph. D.

(Abstract of paper to be presented at the 35th Midwest Symposium May 4th, 2018)

This study applies Bowen family systems theory to investigate the factors influencing the functioning of slave owners, slaves and their descendants from a systems perspective.  The findings in this investigation reveal the extent to which there is a direct correlation between the quality of a person’s family relationships and how that person functions.  In effect it is an attempt to answer a basic research question asked …

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Patterns of Interaction in Living Systems

Authored by James E. Jones, Ph.D.

For the last 40 years, The Marder Lab at Brandeis University, with principal investigator Eve Marder, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, has studied one small system of 5 neurons from the 30 neuron stomatogastric ganglion in the stomach of crustaceans.  This ganglion produces three rhythmic oscillations needed for operation of that stomach.  The lab has extensive information about the parameters of connection among these 5 neurons that drive the triphasic oscillations produced by the 5 neurons.  But Marder says that while …

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Bowen Family Systems Theory

Authored by Jim Smith, M. S., Executive Director of the Western Pennsylvania Family Center in Pittsburgh, PA  

Dr. Murray Bowen (b. 1913 – d. 1990) was a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  He was one of the pioneers of family systems theory.

A Search for Scientific Understanding

Early in his career as a psychoanalyst, Bowen sought to understand human behavior and functioning in a way that would be more scientific and objective than the prevailing views of his time.  He thought …

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Early Stress and Later Disease: Research Shows One Mitigating Factor

Authored by Kelly Matthews-Pluta, MSW

Gregory Miller, PhD, gave one of the many interesting presentations from the 54th Symposium on Bowen Theory and Psychotherapy in Washington, DC, on November 4-5, 2017.  Dr. Miller, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, discussed his research on Adverse Childhood Events/Experiences (ACES) and physical health in adulthood.  He described experiences in childhood being “sticky” in a biological sense and often showing up later in poor physical health outcomes.  The ACES he outlined were the usual suspects: abuse and/or neglect …

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Reacting to a Racist Family Member

Authored by John Bell, M. Div.

As I followed the news about Charlottesville, I came across a story of a family coming to grips with the revelation that their son participated in the organized rally of white nationalists.  I’ve decided not to reprint their names.  The story is about a father who published a letter online in response to his son’s participation in the rally.  In the letter, the father repudiates the son’s beliefs and behavior.  The father tells the son that he is not welcomed …

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