Bowen Family Therapy: Definition, Techniques & Benefits

Bowen Family Therapy: Definition, Techniques & Benefits

According to research carried out by The American Heart Association, nearly 90% of families attending regular family therapy sessions reported an improvement in their emotional health.

Bowen Family Therapy: Definition, Techniques & Benefits

One of the most effective approaches to family therapy is Bowen family therapy. Also referred to as Bowenian family therapy, this model focuses on the intergenerational dynamics of a family, working to resolve conflicts while simultaneously improving communication. This is implemented with the help of several techniques, including genograms, differentiation of emotions, I-statements, triangles, intergenerational patterns, and normalizing challenges.

In this article, we’ll discuss all there is to know about Bowenian family therapy in detail, highlighting each technique as well as the potential benefits.

What is Bowen Family Therapy?

What is Bowen Family Therapy

Bowen family therapy focuses on identifying patterns across generations and then using them to resolve conflict. The goal is to break toxic practices, leading to a balance between the individuality of each member and their togetherness as a family.

The practice of this therapy originates from the Bowen family systems theory, an ideology developed by American psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen in the late 1940s. Dr. Bowen spent nearly a decade researching how family systems functioned, studying the effects of different family dynamics on each member’s mental, physical, and social well-being. 

According to Dr. Bowen, if one family member is experiencing a mental health issue like anxiety or depression, he/she alone doesn’t need to receive therapy. Instead, the bigger picture should be examined, with the individual’s family history, generational trauma, and relationships between other members of the family closely studied.

Types of Bowenian Family Therapy

Types of Bowenian Family Therapy

Although the therapy is typically carried out with several members of a family, a therapist may conduct sessions with just the head couple or individuals in certain situations. 

Below are the different types of Bowenian family therapy and when they may be utilized.


This is the most standard approach to this type of therapy. Sessions conducted with all members of the family at once help to identify intergenerational patterns while clarifying why certain issues continue to occur. 

This type of therapy is also best for conflict resolution, as members of the family can understand how best to approach disagreements in the future.


For couples who may be experiencing issues in their marriage, Bowen family therapy may be an excellent solution. The techniques used in this form of therapy forces partners to look within themselves, while simultaneously focusing on the impact of their words and actions on the family unit. 

This may be particularly helpful when the couple is recovering from one partner being involved in an extramarital affair. Therapy can also prevent problems from being projected onto the children.


Sometimes it may be necessary to isolate an individual to improve his mental health. By focusing on the individual’s past trauma with family members, the individual can work towards solidifying his identity without their influence–working towards fostering healthy boundaries and improved communication in the long run.

Bowenian Family Therapy Techniques

Bowenian Family Therapy Techniques

Therapists following the Bowenian family therapy approach may use several techniques to carry out their practice. These are unique methods designed to reduce the emotional reactivity of members of the family by identifying the issues they may have as multigenerational. 

  • Genograms: One of the purposes of Bowen family therapy is to understand how an individual is shaped by their family. Genograms can be very helpful with this, as they are graphic representations of a family over the years. Your therapist may construct a genogram at the start of your first session and continue to update it as time goes by, recording family members’ names, health history, behavioral patterns, relationship status, and more.
  • I-statements: Statements that begin with “I”, as opposed to he, she, or you, are encouraged by therapists as they bring to light an individual’s own emotions rather than their family member’s. This can be particularly useful in defusing conflicts, such as saying “I felt taken for granted today” instead of “You never help me around the house”.
  • Triangulation and Detriangulation: Bowenian family systems theory defines triangulation as the process of introducing a third individual between two family members in conflict as a means to promote balance and harmony. This role can be maintained by the therapist. Gradually, this triangle is diffused so the two-person system can stand as stable, with this method being known as detriangulation.
  • Identification of Intergenerational Patterns: With the help of the genogram, your therapist may be able to identify some patterns of behavior being passed down through the generations. If these are positive, the family may be encouraged to benefit from them, while negative patterns are challenged and broken out of.
  • Relationship Experiments/ Roleplay: Practitioners of Bowen family therapy may employ the use of relationship experiments to help display to members what would happen if they responded in a different way than usual to certain situations. Such a technique may uncover new ways of communicating and processing ideas within the family.

Benefits of Bowen Family Therapy

Benefits of Bowen Family Therapy

Below are some of the potential benefits of Bowen Family Therapy:

Conflict Resolution

Family members are often unable to resolve arguments quickly and efficiently, leading to years of resentment and strained relationships. By using techniques like differentiation and roleplaying, family members may be able to change the way they act during and after conflict, resulting in stronger ties and a peaceful environment at home.

Healthier Boundaries

Sometimes the dynamic between family members is such that one person feels burdened with load while the others feel neglected. Bowenian family therapy can help establish clear boundaries between loved ones by bringing to light emotions felt in past instances. 

Once every individual is aware of the impact of their words and actions, they can work to ensure everyone’s needs are met while continuing to foster the family.

Breaking Toxic Patterns

Oftentimes, there may be certain attributes of our personality that are a reflection of the generations before us. We may think these to be genetic and unchangeable, allowing us to continue to wreak havoc on our relationships. 

Using techniques like studying genograms can help identify these patterns and display their ill effects–encouraging steps toward change and healing.

Ending The Cycle of Projection

When a couple is no longer getting along with each other, they may sometimes take out their frustration on those whom they have control over. This may be their children, younger siblings, or even grandchildren. 

Family therapy using Bowenian techniques aims to put a stop to this, providing alternative methods to react to conflict. A child on the other end of this projection can also learn what to do or say, ensuring they do not continue this cycle in the future.

Key Takeaways
  • Attending regular family therapy sessions can lead to better emotional and physical health 90% of the time.
  • Bowen family therapy is a type of family therapy that considers the family as one emotional unit, focusing on identifying patterns across generations leading to a balance between the individuality of each member and their togetherness as a family.
  • The therapist may conduct sessions with a married couple, individual, or all members of the family at one time, though the latter is the most standard approach.
  • There are several techniques used in conducting Bowenian family therapy, some of which include self-differentiation, genograms, i-statements, triangulation, and de-triangulation.
  • Potential benefits of Bowen family therapy include conflict resolution, healthier boundaries, breaking toxic patterns, and ending the cycle of projection.