Family Systems Approach

The family systems approach is a theory developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen in the 1950s. Specifically, Dr. Bowen built family systems theory and its eight interlocking concepts on the core assumption that there is an emotional system governing human relationships in families. Thus, family systems theory uncovers the network of relationships that define a family.

What Is the Family Systems Approach?

The family systems approach, also known as family systems therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that helps people resolve issues in the context of the family unit. Given the role of family triggers in many mental health conditions, healing the microcosm of the person often calls for the healing the macrocosm of the family. Since what happens to one member of a family happens to everyone in the family, the family systems approach fosters insight into the family group dynamic to promote overall health.

Family systems therapy, informed by family systems theory, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of teens. Consequently, mental health conditions like teen depression, teen substance use disorder, teen anxiety, and teen eating disorders often respond well to the family systems approach. When the whole family is involved, family system issues are truly addressed.

The eight interlocking concepts in Dr. Bowen’s family systems theory include: 1) differentiation of self from the family as a whole; 2) the emotional system regulating the family and their relationships; 3) multigenerational transmission of issues from parent to child; 4) the family projection process, in which problems are projected by a parent onto a child; and 5) emotional cutting-off by family members when faced with a crisis.

Sources: The Bowen Center for the Study of FamilyPsychology TodayNational Center for Biotechnology Information

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