Coming to grips with Bowen Family Systems Theory in a collaborative learning environment.

Reflections from our New Year Symposium

Reflections from our NEW YEAR SYMPOSIUM A systems approach to developing the self of the therapist 

A couple of weeks ago the FSI launched its professional development offerings for 2013 with a group of presentations to promote thinking about the self of the clinician from some different family systems perspectives. Almost all feedback forms that we received noted that the participant was prompted to think about themselves in their own families. The following are some summary points from the presentations that we hope will trigger some fresh thinking about the self in the helping relationship. Each summary reflection is followed by a quote from an article written by the presenter on their topic:

Jenny Brown MSW – The therapist and their family of origin – Guidelines to “going home again”

  • Bowen family or origin work is not about correcting faulty beliefs inherited from the family of origin or getting free form “toxic” family members – it is about learning how each person affects each other. The most symptomatic family member is the one who has made the most accommodations in their functioning in reaction to family sensitivities. Family intensity has landed more on this member than others and has impinged more on their capacity to grow in self directed relating.

“Redefining myself outside of my strong responsible role has had significant ramifications for my therapy practice. I am less prone to taking on a support role in my clients lives and instead am free to invite them to access their own resources from within their current relationship network….. I am willing to share my ideas but only when I have given adequate space for the clients own expertise to come through”

From: Going Home Again:  A family of origin approach to individual therapy.  J Brown, 2007. Psychotherapy in Australia Vol.14 No.1 pp. 12-18.

Jo Wright, Reg Psych – The therapist’s own self soothing – developing capacity for emotional self regulation in the face of systems arousal

  •  Jo described therapist self soothing (or regulation) in 3 steps – 1: to quiet down physiological responses; 2: To bring anxious patterns into conscious awareness; 3:  to decrease levels of sensitivity.

The therapist efforts at self regulation go towards getting interested in the clients system rather than forming opinions about what they should or shouldn’t do. There is an effort towards focusing on the self- what’s in our control – rather than on the other. It’s about changing the way we are as a helper rather than necessarily a change in the counselling method.

“…this requires an ongoing focus on the development of my own capacity to self regulate, because sitting with human need and distress activates my own emotional orientation to caretaking and problem solving. When I can restrain my impulse to step in and soothe the client, I am, paradoxically, more able to engage compassionately with another’s suffering without feeling the need to relieve them of it.”

From: Self Soothing: A Recursive Intrapsychic and Relational Process:  The Contribution of Bowen Theory to the Process of Self-Soothing   J Wright , 2009.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.30 No.1 pp. 29-41

Linda Mackay PhD – The therapist and trauma – systems awareness of trauma experiences in clinical work

  • Linda asked: How do we organize ourselves around different trauma models? Does the model of therapy define our job description or does our effort to manage ourselves take precedence?  What is the difference between trying to rescue the client versus being present with them and interested in their current patterns of managing? The therapist efforts to manage themselves leads towards gradually reducing the degree to which they absorb the client’s anxiety.

“Work within a Bowen family systems frame recognises that any extended focus on feeling responses reduces the ability of the survivor to think rationally, to have access to her higher cortical functions, and consequently set a course of action, guided by her own principles and values.”

From: Trauma and Bowen Family Systems Theory:  Working with Adults Who were Abused as Children.  L Mackay 2012. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.33 No.3 2012 pp. 232-241.

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