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.

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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The Evolving Relationship between Humans and the Earth

Authored by Stephanie Ferrera, M.S.W.

This blog post is based on Stephanie Ferrera’s presentation at the 32nd Midwest Symposium in May, 2017

Like all of the species on earth, humans depend on the bountiful resources of the planet for our very existence.  Ian Morris titled his book Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels to delineate the three main ways that humans, over millennia, have made a living, or, in Morris’ terms, the three modes of “energy capture.”

For 90% of homo sapiens’ time on earth, foraging, the hunting of …

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Polarization: What Happened to the Continuum?

Authored by John Bell, M.Div.

The ideas presented in this blog are taken from a new training module that is available to congregations and community stakeholders who are interested in addressing polarization in their communities.  If you’d like more information about the training, contact John Bell at moc.snoitagergnocgniknihtnull@nhoj. Reverend Bell also presented these concepts on May 6, 2017 at the 34th Midwest Symposium Theory and Therapy.

Polarization takes a toll on communities and creates additional problems for institutions.  Compromise, collaboration, and cooperation are replaced with confrontation, obstinacy, …

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Blame and Blaming

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

One of the central ideas of Bowen Theory is differentiation of self—a concept of how one sees oneself, emotionally, as an individual and in relationship to and with others.  Often people studying Bowen Theory struggle with the idea of separation of self and other.  Of course, it is complicated.  The two, self and other, are at the same time both separate and connected.  It is exactly that paradox which makes the concept challenging for many: “Am I a separate self or …

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Symposia, Science: Why it Matters

Authored by Cecilia Guzman, M.S.

It is clear that one of Dr. Bowen’s primary goals in developing his Family Systems Theory was to merge the understanding of human behavior and functioning from simply a “soft science” or one that has little objectivity towards a more “hard science”, one that incorporates and is consistent with research in biology, evolution, biochemistry, neuroscience, genetics, etc. Indeed, his theory was developed on the assumption “that an understanding of man’s emotional functioning must extend beyond psychological constructs to recognize the human’s …

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Cutoff: The challenge of the parent/child relationship

Authored by John Bell, M. Div.

“The more a nuclear family maintains some kind of viable emotional contact with the past generations, the more orderly and asymptomatic the life process in both generations” Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 383.

Phillip Klever, LCSW, LMFT recently published the results of a fifteen-year research project on cutoff in the family.  He studied the most extreme cases in his family of high symptomatology and low symptomatology.  He found five couples on either end of the continuum of symptomatology (high …

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Diagnosis is not Destiny

Authored by Sydney Reed, L.C.S.W.

Three months ago after having been diagnosed with cancer, I sat in my living room and marveled at all the beautiful bouquets, orchids, plants and lovely thoughtful cards that surrounded me.    It brought to mind the article I had read some eight years earlier by Elyn Saks in American Prospect.  She commented that she was in the hospital for cancer surgery and was surrounded by flowers and observed,

“When you are in the hospital for cancer everyone sends you flowers, when you …

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How do people work out their differences?

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

In his book on Bowen Family Systems Theory, Mike Kerr stated “The main problem is not differences in points of view; it is the emotional reaction to those differences.  When people can listen without reacting emotionally, communication is wide open and differences are an asset, not a liability”.

This applies when working clinically with an individual, couple or family.  The effort is best focused on probing and questioning individuals to elicit their best thinking.  We know that when the pre frontal cortex …

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Understanding Triangles is Key to Conflict Resolution

Authored by John Bell, M.Div.

The concept of the triangle was one of the first concepts added to Bowen Family Systems Theory in 1955.  Dr. Murray Bowen wrote that the triangle, “a three-person emotional configuration, is the molecule or the basic building block of any emotional system, whether it is in the family or any other group.” (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 373)

Three examples of triangles

Let’s say you are the chair of the trustees for your congregation.  You’re about to walk into a worship service and …

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