Research and Programs in Bowen Theory

Part of the mission of Programs in Bowen Theory is to support the efforts of those working towards a science of human behavior. Two projects are in progress under the direction of Laura Havstad, PhD, who serves as primary investigator.

The Symptom and the System: This study tests the proposition of family systems theory that exacerbation and amelioration of symptoms are a function of processes in the relationship system. The test of this hypothesis is proceeding based upon a completed pilot project which studied successful diet to goal weight. For twenty eight women who dieted to goal weight, there was in each case, a shift in the family emotional system that preceded successful dieting. The shifts in the family system that preceded successful dieting impacted chronic anxiety levels which turn affects capacity and motivation for self-regulation. The universal presence of a shift in the family emotional system with concomitant change in chronic anxiety level in each and every case of the pilot sample is unusual in social science research. The current effort is methodological with the goal to establish that there can be inter-rater reliability in assessing shifts in the family system based on family evaluation interviews. If that can be established, a formal study replicating the pilot study with multiple raters will proceed. Kathy Sheffield, MA, MFT is assisting this project.

The Psychology Project: The goal of the psychology project is to test the integrative power of Bowen theory. Conceptual integration of psychology as a discipline requires solving the problem of understanding basic reflexes, high-level mental processes, the person, and social dynamics within a single theoretical frame of reference, since psychology encompasses all these phenomena . Bowen’s concept of the scale of differentiation of self puts behavior on a continuum from reflexive and stimulus bound to behavior that involves thought and is potentially under the control of the individual. The hypothesis is that the concept of differentiation is a powerful integrative construct for the range of psychological phenomena. The ratio of stimulus bound and self initiated functioning determines the individuality or level of differentiation of the person. The level of differentiation or capacity for self-regulation impacts the person’s ability to be part of the relationship system and yet be self directed, which in turn impacts on the relationship system and its characteristic tolerance for individuality in its members. In testing the integrative power of Bowen theory, the psychology project involves reviewing the sub disciplines of psychology and analyzing the fit between what is known and the hypothesis that the scale of differentiation can serve as an integrative concept for study of mind, behavior, the individual, and the social group, in psychology.