ANZJFT Special Issue: Bowen Family Systems Theory
(June 2024)


The Family Systems Institute is pleased to present this Special Edition of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy which showcases current scholarship and clinical applications of Bowen Family Systems Theory in practice in the field of family therapy. The collaboration of authors on the project represents Australian practitioners as well as clinicians practicing from a Bowen Theory informed approach in Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

Bowen Family Systems Theory: Illustration and Critique Revisited

Dr Jenny Brown and Lauren Errington
Due for publication June 2024

The Family Emotional System

Dr Daniel Papero
Due for publication June 2024

Two Perspectives on Family Rifts: The Concepts of Estrangement and Cutoff

Dr Anne McKnight
Due for publication June 2024

Borderline Personality Disorder: a Symptom of the Family System

Martina Polombi
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) May 2024

The present article explores the Bowen family systems theory (BFST) view that a mental disorder such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) is not a dysfunction occurring within an individual but a maladjustment of the family emotional system. A case study is presented illustrating how the emotional process moves between individuals within a family system so that when relationship processes become severely compromised, one member absorbs more of the stress, becoming vulnerable to acute symptoms.

Link to ANZJFT article

Intimate Partner Violence and Bowen Family Systems Theory: Promoting safety and expanding capacity of families

Katherine Burke and Amie Post
Due for publication June 2024


Reducing risk? Navigating Emotional Triangles in clinical work with youth suicidality and self-harm

Jo Wright, Robyn Milligan, Michelle Varcoe
Due for publication June 2024

The Language of Nature in Murray Bowen’s Writings: How Connection to Nature Informs Bowen Theory and is Essential to Human Survival

Dr Carrie Collier and Dr Ashley Mader
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) May 2024

The human is a product of nature, and the same emotional process at work in families is at work in the relationship of the human to nature. Current global concerns and environmental changes highlight the need for humans to revisit their relationships with the natural world. The purpose of this study was to survey Murray Bowen’s professional letters to reify the constructs of Bowen theory. Results from this analysis reveal that Bowen’s writings are grounded in the language of nature and that Bowen’s thinking about the human species and the family offers ways in which to see the family and humans as part of a larger system. Relating more maturely to the natural world is essential for human survival.

Link to ANZJFT article

Moving Around the System:  A Way of Working Clinically Using Bowen Family Systems Theory

Katie White
Due for publication June 2024

Bowen Theory, Culture, and Therapeutic Applications to Asian Families

Peggy Chan
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) May 2024

This paper attempts to address the uncertainty of some non-Western learners about the applicability of Bowen theory to Asian culture, as the theory was developed out of research on Western families and stresses defining self. It reviews the basic tenets of Bowen theory and its underlying premise that families are regulated by emotional processes that also operate in all living beings, that is, biological and universal. The paper discusses the use of Bowen theory in working with Asian families and Asian women, with case illustrations in enhancing mature and flexible practice of cultural values and increasing differentiation of self.

Link to ANZJFT article

The Biology of Reactivity in Human Relationships: A Conversation with Victoria Harrison

Victoria Harrison interviewed by Dr Linda MacKay
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) May 2024

The concept of differentiation of self and its relationship to the natural capacity of humans and other social animals to adapt underpins clinician and researcher Victoria Harrison’s long-term investigation of the biology of reactivity in relationships. Her most recent project, the ‘Observations of Change in Physiology and Family’ research, highlights how work on differentiation of self improves functional outcomes in physical and mental health for the family.

Link to ANZJFT article

A Personal Reflection on Bowen Family Systems Theory by Dr Michael Kerr

Dr Michael Kerr interviewed by Dr Linda MacKay
Due for publication June 2024

Bowen Family Systems Theory: Theory & Application

Exploring changes in family functioning when a child participates in a School-Based Filial Therapy program

Jane Cooper, Mong-lin Yu, Linda MacKay, Ted Brown (2023)
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT), 00, 1-24

Using Bowen theory as the guiding theoretical framework, this article presents a research project that examines the impact of children’s participation in School Based Filial Therapy upon family functioning.

Keywords: Bowen Family Systems Theory, family functioning, family therapy, School-Based
Filial Therapy, school play therapy

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From Gestalt Therapy to Family Systems: How Theoretical Frameworks Inform Clinical Applications

Martina Palombi (2018)
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT), doi: 10.1002/anzf.1334

This article describes the author’s transition from a Gestalt psychotherapy framework informed by attachment theory and developmental theories to Bowen family systems theory when working with a client.

Keywords: Bowen Family Systems Theory, gestalt therapy, therapeutic relationship, theoretical framework, systems,relational

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A Wider Lens : Bowen Theory and a Natural Systems View of Symptoms

Victoria Harrison MA
The CAPA Quarterly Feb 2013

This article describes a natural systems view of symptoms, provides an overview of the neuroscience and stress research that helps make sense of symptoms. Bowen theory provides a wider lens to view the interaction between factors at play in the development of symptoms and in responses to treatment.

Keywords: Bowen Family Therapy, family of origin, physiological Reactivity, Anxiety & Symptom Development, Psychotherapy

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Interview with Michael Kerr

Barbara Fraser, Linda MacKay & Lu Pease
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.31 No.1 2010 pp. 100-109. The CAPA Quarterly Feb 2013

The following article was written by Dr Michael Kerr in response to questions put to him by family therapists. Michael Kerr was trained by Murray Bowen and subsequently went on to work as faculty at the Georgetown Family centre, and succeed Bowen as director.

Keywords: Bowen Family Therapy

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Is Bowen Theory Still Relevant in the Family Therapy Field?

Jenny Brown
Journal of the Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association of NSW Inc (CAPA) Quarterly Issue 3 pp. 11-17.

This paper considers the common questions asked about the relevance and effectiveness of Bowen’s model and allow readers the opportunity to think for themselves about whether or not it has something to offer.

Keywords: Bowen Family Therapy, family of origin, individual therapy, emotional process

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Bowen Family Systems Theory: Supervision

Collaborative Approaches to Family Systems Supervision: Differentiation of Self

Linda MacKay and Jenny Brown
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, (ANZJFT) 2014, 34, 325–337

This paper provides an overview of collaborative approaches to supervision in family therapy from a Bowen theory perspective. It focuses on differentiation between supervisor and supervisee as a mutually useful approach to the supervision process.

Keywords: collaborative, family systems, Bowen, supervision, differentiation 

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Family of Origin Supervision in the Workplace: Impacts on Therapist and Team Functioning

Holly Donnelly & Megan Gosbee
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.30 No.4 pp. 300-314

Through an anecdotal account based upon a trial this article examines Bowen’s Family of Origin Coaching’s usefulness to clinical supervision.

Keywords: Supervision, Bowen Family Therapy, individual and workplace functioning, family of origin, clinician anxiety 

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Bowen Family Systems Theory: Family and Couple Therapy

Making sense of the parenting ‘soft/hard split’

Jenny Brown, 2023
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.44 Issue 2, 2023

This article explores the common parenting style tension around nurture versus limit-setting evident when working with families with a symptomatic child.

Keywords: Bowen theory, child mental health, family interactions, family therapy approaches, family therapy history, parent hope, parent manuals, parent styles, parenting tensions, parenting, qualitative research, sequences, soft/hard split, triangles

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Tracking Emotional Process in Relationship Interactions Using Sequences

Lauren Errington, 2022
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.43 No.1 2022

This paper explores the clinical application of tracking sequences in family therapy with a particular focus on Bowen family systems theory. It considers the similarities and differences of a Bowen theory-informed approach compared other therapy models.

Keywords: therapy, sequences, family interactions, patterns, emotional process, family therapy, observation, self-awareness

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Inviting Each Partner out of the Fusion: Bowen Family Systems Theory and Couple Therapy

 Jenny Brown and Jo Wright, 2010

This article explores fusion in couples, and considers the goals of therapy when working with couples from a Bowen theory approach

Keywords: Bowen family systems theory, couple therapy, fusion

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We Don’t Need Your Help, But Will You Please Fix Our Children?

Jenny Brown, 2008
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.29 No.2 pp. 61-69

This paper will draw from parents’ feedback in two cases in an effort to shed some light on the conditions that may facilitate a parent’s willingness to consider looking at their own contribution to the circular relationship patterns in which symptoms have emerged.

Keywords: therapy, sequences, family interactions, patterns, emotional process, family therapy, differentiation, self-awareness

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Assisting the Two-person System: An Approach Based on the Bowen Theory

Daniel V. Papero, 2014
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2014, 35, 386–397

This paper reviews basic concepts of the Bowen theory and describes their role in guiding the clinical approach to the disturbed two-person relationship using a systems rather than conventional cause-and-effect therapy lens. 

Keywords: Bowen theory, differentiation of self, anxiety, emotional reactiveness, triangles, nuclear family emotional process, cutoff, systems thinking, I-position

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Bowen Family Systems Theory: Family of Origin

Separations: A Personal Account of Bowen Family Systems

Martina Palombi, 2016
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2016, 37, 327–339

This paper offers a personal account of a therapists own family of origin research. It explores the impact of separations from parents, nuclear family, and extended family through a Bowen family systems theory perspective.

Keywords: anxiety, Bowen family systems theory, family of origin, family therapy, separation anxiety, systems thinking

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Going Home Again: A Family of Origin Approach to Individual Therapy

Jenny Brown, 2008
Psychotherapy in Australia Vol.14 No.1 pp. 12-18

This article explains a Bowen systems approach to looking at family of originated which provides a bigger picture of interactions across the generations and enables one seek to constructively understand the influence of their previous generations.

Keywords: Bowen theory, coaching, family of origin, family systems theory, generations, psychotherapy, relationships

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Bowen Family Systems Theory: Grief and Trauma

Bowen Family Systems and Grief

Jenny Brown, 2012
(“Loss and recovery: responding to grief with the compassion of Christ and the skills of all Gods people.” Ed. Wesley M, Mosaic press, 2012).

This paper draws on Dr Murray Bowen’s family systems theory to consider different families manage the death of a member. Addressing how grief responses can vary for family members, and concludes with implications for counsellors and carers.

Keywords: Grief, differentiation of self, triangles, emotional reactivity, nuclear family emotional process

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Trauma and Bowen Family Systems Theory: Working with Adults Who were Abused as Children

Linda MacKay, 2012

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT) Vol.33 No.3 2012 pp. 232-241.

This paper combines the family systems approach and recent brain research to trauma. It considers how post trauma symptoms are viewed as part of the ‘family emotional process’ even when traumatic events have emanated from outside the family system itself.

Keywords: child abuse trauma, anxiety, dissociation, Bowen family systems theory

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Bowen Family Systems Theory: Ministry

Bowen family systems theory in Christian ministry; Introduction

Jenny Brown and Lauren Errington, 2019

In this introductory chapter the authors provide a brief description of the theory, and its key concepts. It provides a sketch of Bowen’s theory of change, and how that interacts with the Bible’s as a work of both Holy Spirit and human responsibility. 

Keywords: Bowen Theory, change, ministry, Holy Spirit, differentiation of self.

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