Theory & Research

Bowen developed his family systems theory in the course of clinical family research. He continued to test the theory in clinical practice over his entire life. The “research attitude” is a basic principle of psychotherapy and of differentiation of self. The principle is based on recognition that there is much known and much to learn in science, in the family and in psychotherapy.

There are good sources to learn more about theory. The main ones would be Murray Bowen’s collected writings in his book Family Therapy and Clinical Practice and the Epilogue he wrote in the book Family Evaluation by Michael Kerr. On the Bowen Center’s website Dr. Kerr has written One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory to illustrate how the concepts of the theory apply in a fictional family story. The websites of many of the other centers summarize theory in their way and direct viewers to books, articles, journals, and audiovisual resources. Check our resource page for links to many of these sites. Finally, the Murray Bowen Archive Project is an organization working to make available Bowen’s extensive collection of unpublished manuscripts, notes, letters and audiovisual recordings that are being archived in the National Library of Medicine. In time this will be a resource for those researching Bowen’s development of the theory, which he based on biology and evolution, factual aspects of psychoanalysis, and thinking in natural systems.

Theory is a work in progress rather than a set of static concepts. Bowen defined the family concepts in a way that they could be elaborated and modified in response to new knowledge from the natural sciences. The question of how to research complex biological systems is at the cutting edge of science and improving models of capturing complex systems and the interplay of multiple interdependent variables will in time enable a better understanding of how to research and elaborate Bowen’s discovery of the family as an emotional system and how it changes. Meanwhile clinical research goes on at the Bowen Center and around the country and is reported in the journal Family Systems and in the Family Systems Forum as well as at the various meetings and on the various websites of the centers around the country. Here we briefly describe Bowen Theory and the research agenda of Programs in Bowen Theory.