Leone Centre Glossary

Bowenian Family Therapy

Bowenian Family Therapy

Bowenian family therapy, developed by psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen, is a type of family therapy that emphasises the importance of understanding relationships within the family unit. This approach looks at patterns of behaviour and emotional interactions over generations to gain insight into current family dynamics.

Key Concepts

Bowenian family therapy revolves around several key concepts:

  1. Differentiation of self: This concept refers to the ability of individuals to maintain their sense of self while remaining emotionally connected to their family. Higher differentiation means better emotional regulation and decision-making.
  2. Triangles: Triangles are the smallest stable relationship units. When tension arises between two people, a third person is often drawn in to stabilise the relationship. Understanding these triangles helps in resolving conflicts.
  3. Family projection process: This is how parents transmit their emotional issues to their children. By identifying these projections, families can work on healthier interactions.
  4. Multigenerational transmission process: Patterns of behaviour and emotional responses are passed down through generations. Recognising these patterns can help break negative cycles.
  5. Emotional cutoff: This occurs when individuals attempt to manage unresolved emotional issues with family members by reducing or eliminating contact. Addressing these cutoffs can restore family harmony.
  6. Societal emotional process: This concept extends family systems theory to societal influences, recognising that societal norms and pressures can impact family functioning.

Application in Family Therapy

In practice, Bowenian family therapy involves:

  1. Genograms: Creating detailed family trees that include emotional relationships and significant events. This helps in identifying patterns and issues that span generations.
  2. Sessions: In therapy sessions, the focus is on understanding these patterns and developing awareness rather than attempting to change behaviour directly.
  3. Self-reflection: Encouraging family members to reflect on their roles within the family and how their behaviour affects others.


Bowenian family therapy offers numerous benefits, including:

  1. Insight into family dynamics: Gaining a deeper understanding of how family history and relationships impact current issues.
  2. Improved relationships: Enhancing emotional connections and communication within the family.
  3. Personal growth: Helping individuals accomplish better self-awareness and emotional regulation.


What is the goal of Bowenian Family Therapy?
To understand and improve family dynamics by examining behavioural and emotional patterns across generations.
How does differentiation of self contribute to family therapy?
It helps individuals maintain their identity while staying emotionally connected to the family, leading to better emotional regulation and decision-making.
What role do genograms play in Bowenian Family Therapy?
Genograms map out family relationships and significant events, helping identify patterns that influence current dynamics and resolving conflicts.


  1. Bowen, M. (1978). Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. Jason Aronson.
  2. Goldenberg, I., & Goldenberg, H. (2012). Family Therapy: An Overview. Cengage Learning.
  3. Nichols, M. P., & Davis, S. D. (2020). Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. Pearson.
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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision