Murray Bowen

Among the pioneers of family therapy, Murray Bowen's emphasis on theory and insight as opposed to action and technique distinguish his work from the more behaviorally oriented family therapists (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon). Bowen's therapy is an outgrowth of psychoanalytic theory and offers the most comprehensive view of human behavior and problems of any approach to family therapy. The core goal underlying the Bowenian model is differentiation of self, namely, the ability to remain oneself in the face of group influences, especially the intense influence of family life. The Bowenian model also considers the thoughts and feelings of each family member as well as the larger contextual network of family relationships that shapes the lie of the family.

Bowen grew up in Waverly, Tennessee, the oldest child of a large cohesive family. After graduating from medical school and serving five years in the military, Bowen pursued a career in psychiatry. He began studying schizophrenia and his strong background in psychoanalytic training led him to expand his studies from individual patients to the relationship patterns between mother and child. From 1946 to 1954, Bowen studied the symbiotic relationships of mothers and their schizophrenic children at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Here he developed the concepts of anxious and functional attachment to describe interactional patterns in the mother-child relationship.

In 1954, Bowen became the first director of the Family Division at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He further broadened his attachment research to include fathers and developed the concept o triangulation as the central building block o relationship systems (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. 4th ed. Allyn & Bacon). In his first year at NIMH, Bowen provided separate therapists for each individual member of a family, but soon discovered that this approach fractionated families instead of bringing them together. As a result, Bowen decided to treat the entire family as a unit, and became one of the founders of family therapy.

In 1959, Bowen began a thirty-one year career at Georgetown University's Department of Psychiatry where he refined his model of family therapy and trained numerous students, including Phil Guerin, Michael Kerr, Betty Carter, and Monica McGoldrick, and gained international recognition for his leadership in the field of family therapy. He died in October 1990 following a lengthy illness.

Historical Overview | Therapist Profiles | Home | Links | Timeline