5 Ways Working with a Clinician Trained in Bowen Family Systems Theory Can Help You Reduce or Relieve Symptoms


Working with a clinician trained in Bowen Family Systems Theory can help you to reduce or relieve your symptoms or symptoms in a family member.  This is because of the way BFST conceptualizes symptoms.

What is a symptom? The dictionary says a symptom is; a physical or mental feature that is regarded as indicating a condition of disease, particularly such a feature that is apparent to the patient. Symptoms can be:

Emotional: Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADD

Social or Behavioral:  DUIs, frequent job changes, marital conflict, addictions, behavior problems in a child

Physical:  Cancer, Hypertension, Diabetes, Migraines

The varieties of possible symptoms are obviously much, much larger than what is listed here.

Medical doctors primarily view symptoms as being caused by one or a couple of specific factors.  For example; a cold is caused by a virus, alcoholism may be inherited by your parents, and depression may be due to a recent job loss.  A cancer may have been caused by a defective gene.

Many therapists believe things like; your depression or anxiety has been caused by the loss of your mother at an early age, or because you have repressed anger at your father.  You may have difficulty forming healthy relationships today because you were molested when you were a child.

These are all cause and effect models of symptom development.  There is a cause; a virus, life event, bad gene, etc., and there is an effect; a physical, emotional, or social illness.

Unlike cause and effect models, “Family systems theory links all clinical symptoms to the emotional system.  A disturbance in the balance of the emotional system, both within an individual and within his relationship system, can trigger the development of symptoms.”

“Sickness is not the result of the presence of any one or all of the factors, but develops due to a disturbance in the balance of the relationship system between them.  People can have cancer cells and tubercular bacilli in their bodies and not get clinical symptoms.  Clinical symptoms indicate that a yet poorly understood balance has somehow been disturbed.”

“A systems model does not preclude the possibility that a specific defect or pathogenic agent is necessary for the development of a specific disease…However, the primary question posed by a systems model is not, ‘What has caused this disease?’ but, ‘How has the harmonious balance of relationships within the sick person and within his central relationship network been disturbed?’”

“The pertinent question becomes, ‘Why does this patient have this disease now?’”

Therapy with BFST focuses primarily in disturbances in the client’s relationship systems.  This does not mean that clients should not address other levels that may be involved in the development and perpetuation of symptoms.  Many illnesses, including emotional illness, respond well to medication, physical therapy, and any number of other treatments. However, “…a therapeutic approach guided by knowledge of family process has the potential to influence processes at other levels.”

Working with a clinician trained in Bowen Family Systems Theory can help you to reduce or relieve your symptoms or symptoms in a family member in the following 5 ways:

  1. By working with you to identify some or all of the levels contributing to the development and perpetuation of symptoms in you or a loved one.
  2.  By helping you identify how you are operating within your emotional systems; ways of functioning that may be contributing to your level of anxiety (and consequently to your symptoms) or the anxiety and symptoms of a person or persons close to you.
  3.  By helping you to see how you may be functioning in an over-or under-responsible way in your important relationships.
  4.  By coaching you on ways to increase your ability to distinguish between your thoughts and your feelings and to solve your problems in a thoughtful, rather than reactive, fashion. 
  5. By helping you to come up with ways of solving problems that permit you to take care of yourself without having to distance or cut off from important people in your life. 

**All quotes have been taken from Family Evaluation, by Michael Kerr and Murray Bowen, primarily from Chapter 9, Symptom Development, pp  256-281.


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