I had always maintained an interest in the social sciences and in 1992 I made the decision to enter a graduate program. When I looked more closely at the various disciplines available to me it became clear that my interest was in the study of the family. This led me to pursue a graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of San Diego.
Why Bowen Family Systems Therapy
Of all the theories of human behavior I was exposed to in graduate school, the one that resonated the most was Bowen Family Systems Theory. Murray Bowen, M.D. studied families over time and discovered that all families are subject to the same opposing forces of togetherness and independence. Families differ in how well they manage the challenges of life, but every family and every individual struggles with the same basic issues of how to be a member of the group while remaining a distinct individual.
Bowen theory does not provide an easy path for a clinician, focusing as it does on the personal growth, individual responsibility and maturity of the clinician as the most important factor in successful treatment.
My goal is to continue to deepen my understanding of Bowen Theory for the purposes of enhancing both my personal relationships and my clinical work. I trust that this ongoing effort benefits my clients and my loved ones, now and into the future.
Michael Nelson is a prelicensed clinician who has graduated with his master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. He is currently working towards obtaining his California licensure. Michael practices under Lorna’s direct supervision and training (Lorna Hecht-Zablow, MFC35604) but is able to offer his excellent services at a lower fee.
Michael Nelson, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern IMF #76130, is 54 year-old San Diego native, who brings a wealth of life experience to the therapy room.
He worked for over 20 years in the restaurant industry, specializing in food production, and management. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Guitar Performance from San Diego State University, performs weekly at the Lodge Torrey Pines, and teaches music at the Chula Vista Academy of Music. He completed his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at SDSU, and entered the world of psychotherapy. This “calling” was no surprise; as his parents, grandmother, and great-grandmother were teachers and counselors. From Michaels’s earliest days, he was exposed to discussions regarding the self, strengths, the effects of family of origin, the effects of society, sexuality, gender roles, expectations for one’s self and others, challenges, dreams, predicaments and potentials. He is very excited and energized by the opportunity to work with people and carry on this family legacy.
Like many other people, Michael experienced anxiety, relational difficulties, and a period of estrangement from his family. His thinking about his position in his family of origin changed when he encountered Bowen Family Systems (BFS) theory in his graduate work. Dr. Bowen’s theory is based on Eight Concepts, which include triangles, differentiation of self, nuclear family emotional process, multi-generational transmission process, emotional cutoff, sibling position, and societal emotional process. Michael reconnected with his family, and engaged in thoughtful communication with family members. This personal experience with BFS theory increases his effectiveness as a therapist.
Michael works in a variety of clinical settings and has accrued over 2000 hours of supervised professional experience. In the past, he conducted individual and family psychotherapy at Hoover High School, with a highly diverse client base. Michael conducted individual, couple, and family psychotherapy sessions at the YMCA’s Youth and Family Services clinical program. He facilitates a YMCA Kinship support group, which offers support to relative caregivers of children whose parents are unable to care for them. He serves Roosevelt Middle School as the YMCA Healthy Start Building Bridges Coordinator, where he provides support for students and their families. In addition, he provides psychotherapy to bereaved family members through VITAS Innovative Hospice Care. Finally, Michael caps off this job list with the addition of his Internship under the Supervision of Lorna Hecht-Zablow, MFT, License #MFC 35604. With this wide range of experience, it is Michael’s great honor and privilege to offer his services to you as a psychotherapist.
How to get the most out of therapy using Family Systems Theory
It is inevitable that tension will arise between any two people who spend enough time together. The natural reaction is that one or both of them will involve a third person in the relationship. This can be done through gossip, affairs, “venting” to an outsider, joining together to worry about or blame a third person, or hiring someone to intervene in a conflict (therapists, lawyers, consultants, mediators, etc.). This is what Bowen called “triangling,” the purpose of which is to relieve anxiety in the emotional system by providing it with another “circuit” to run. When the simple triangle is no longer able to absorb the anxiety in the system, another triangle will be created. Bowen saw all relationship systems as connected series of interlocking triangles. (Bowen, 1978, p. 161)
At any moment in time participants in the emotional triangle form a two-insiders one-outsider configuration. This insider-outsider formation can shift rapidly. For example, in a simple triangle between a mother, father, and child, the mother and child may be chatting in the kitchen (insider position) while dad watches TV in the den (outsider position). Then Dad comes into the kitchen and asks the child if she’s done her homework, moving the two of them to the inside position and Mom on the outside. If Mom answers Dad for the child, “Yes, she’s done her homework,” then she’s moved herself into the inside position with Dad, putting the child into the outside position. This is a completely ordinary interaction and simply describes the way humans-and probably other animals as well-form and maintain relationships.
“The young adult who runs away from home never to see his parents again may have more basic attachment to his parents than other siblings who continue to live with their parents.” (Bowen, 1978).
Family members are attached to one another through intense emotional bonds, or fusions. The force of the fusion compels individuals to modify their thoughts and behavior in an effort to maintain harmony. It can be this very effort that paradoxically leads to conflict in some cases.
Throughout life, people tend to automatically recreate variations of their original fusions with their parents in new romantic relationships, friendships, work and other settings. It is common for people to try to escape the fusion by maintaining emotional and/or geographical distance. However, that which remains unresolved will be played out in new relationships or with one’s children.
A primary goal of therapy is to heighten awareness about one’s part in relationship fusions, and to determine goals for behaving with more autonomy and thoughtfulness in the face of emotional pressure to revert to the familiar fused postures.
Differentiation of self is defined as your ability to distinguish between your thoughts and feelings in your relationships. Ultimately, the goal of therapy is to increase your level of differentiation. The less well-differentiated you are, the more dependent you will be on the acceptance and approval of others. This dependence will prompt you to either adjust what you think, say, and do to please others or else decide what others should be like and pressure them to conform.
Characteristic of a higher level of differentiation is the willingness and ability to recognize your realistic dependence on others, and the ability to stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking based on facts from thinking clouded by emotionality. Thoughtfully acquired principles help guide decision-making about important family and social issues, making you less at the mercy of your feelings of the moment. You can act selflessly, but acting in the best interests of the group is a thoughtful choice, not a reaction to pressure from the group. Confident in your thinking, you can either support another’s view without following blindly or reject another view without making anyone a “bad guy”. This is a lifelong journey, as no one is ever “differentiated”. It’s always a work in progress. The higher your level of differentiation, the fewer the interpersonal difficulties you’ll tend to have, and the easier time you’ll have coping with life’s inevitable challenges. You’ll also find it easier to be intimate with your loved ones because closeness won’t feel like being “swallowed up”.
According to Ed Friedman (Friedman, 1999, p. 183):
- Differentiation refers to a direction in life rather than a state of being:
- Differentiation is the capacity to take a stand in an intense emotional system.
- Differentiation is saying “I” when others are demanding “we”.
- Differentiation is containing one’s reactivity to the reactivity of others, which includes the ability to avoid being polarized.
- Differentiation is maintaining a non-anxious presence in the face of anxious others.
- Differentiation is knowing where one ends and another begins.
- Differentiation is being able to cease automatically being one of the system’s emotional dominoes.
- Differentiation is being clear about one’s own personal values and goals.
- Differentiation is taking maximum responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others or the context.
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I think my husband and I need couple’s counseling but he won’t come in, what should I do to convince him?
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My mother is emotionally abusive. She’s the one who should be getting counseling, right?
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