Family Therapy Techniques

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Therapeutic techniques may include reframing or redefining a problem scenario or using paradoxical interventions for example, suggesting the family take action seemingly in opposition to their therapeutic goals in order to create the desired change.

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Strategic family therapists believe change can occur rapidly, without intensive analysis of the source of the problem. Intergenerational family therapy acknowledges generational influences on family and individual behavior. Identifying multigenerational behavioral patterns, such as management of anxiety , can help people see how their current problems may be rooted in previous generations. Murray Bowen designed this approach to family therapy, using it in treatment for individuals and couples as well as families. An individual with a high level of differentiation may be better able to maintain individuality while still maintaining emotional contact with the group.

A person with a low level of differentiation may experience emotional fusion, feeling what the group feels, due to insufficient interpersonal boundaries between members of the family. Highly differentiated people may be more likely to achieve contentment through their own efforts, while those with a less-developed self may seek validation from other people.

An emotional triangle represents the smallest stable network of human relationship systems larger relationship systems can be perceived as a network of interlocking triangles. A two-person dyad may exist for a time but may become unstable as anxiety is introduced. A three-person system, however, may provide more resources toward managing and reducing overall anxiety within the group.

Despite the potential for increased stability, many triangles establish their own rules and exist with two sides in harmony and one side in conflict—a situation which may lead to difficulty.

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What typically leads to the most improvement in the child is management, on the part of the parent s , of their own concerns. The multigenerational transmission process , according to Bowen, depicts the way that individuals seek out partners with a similar level of differentiation, potentially leading certain behaviors and conditions to be passed on through generations. A couple where each partner has a low level of differentiation may have children who have even lower levels of differentiation.

These children may eventually have children with even lower levels of differentiation. When individuals increase their levels of differentiation, according to Bowen, they may be able to break this pattern, achieve relief from their symptoms of low differentiation, and prevent symptoms from returning or occurring in other family members. An emotional cutoff describes a situation where a person decides to best manage emotional difficulties or other concerns within the family system by emotionally distancing themselves from other members of the family.

Cutting emotional connections may serve as an attempt to reduce tension and stress in the relationship and handle unresolved interpersonal issues, but the end result is often an increase in anxiety and tension, although the relationship may be less fraught with readily apparent conflict. Bowen believed emotional cutoff would lead people to place more importance on new relationships, which would add stress to those relationships, in turn.

Sibling position describes the tendency of the oldest, middle, and youngest children to assume specific roles within the family due to differences in expectation, parental discipline, and other factors. For example, older children may be expected to act as miniature adults within the family setting. These roles may be influenced by the sibling position of parents and relatives. The societal emotional process illustrates how principles affecting the emotional system of the family also affect the emotional system of society.

Individuals in society may experience greater anxiety and instability during periods of regression, and parallels can be noted between societal and familial emotional function. Factors such as overpopulation, the availability of natural resources, the health of the economy, and so on can influence these regressive periods. Limitations and Concerns Though Bowenian family systems therapy is a popular mode of treatment that both therapists and people in treatment have attested to the effectiveness of the approach, at present there is a limited base of empirical evidence backing the approach.

References: Baege, M. Bowen family systems theory. Is Bowen theory still relevant in the family therapy field? One family's story: A primer on Bowen theory.

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Systemic family therapy: From theory to practice. Last Update: Join GoodTherapy. Mental health professionals who meet our membership requirements can take advantage of benefits such as: Client referrals Continuing education credits Publication and media opportunities Marketing resources and webinars Special discounts Learn More. Notice to users GoodTherapy is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition.

This captures how the whole family joins in The Family Projection Process, for example, by reinforcing the beliefs of the family. Bowen stressed sibling order, believing that each child had a place in the family hierarchy, and thus was more or less likely to fit some projections. The oldest sibling was more likely to be seen as overly responsible and mature, and the youngest as overly irresponsible and immature for example. This refers to an extreme response to The Family Projection Process.

This entails a complete or almost-complete separation from the family. The person will have little, if any, contact, and may look and feel completely independent from the family. However, people who cut off their family are more likely to repeat the emotional and behavioral patterns they were taught. These processes are social expectations about racial and class groups, the behaviors for each gender, the nature of sexual orientation… and their effect on the family. In many ways, this is like The Family Projection Process scaled up to the level of a society as a whole.

Families that deal with prejudice, discrimination, and persecution must pass on to their children the ways they learned to survive these factors. The coping practices of the parents and extended family may lead to more or less adaptive emotional health for the family and its members. To Bowen, all families lie along a continuum. In many ways, Bowen was among the first of the culturally sensitive family therapists. Bowen believed that optimal family development occurs when family members are differentiated, feel little anxiety regarding the family, and maintain a rewarding and healthy emotional contact with each other.

Fogarty offers that adjusted families.


Bowen believed that family problems result from emotional fusion, or from an increase in the level of anxiety in the family. Families face two kinds of problems. Thus, adults who had cold and distant relationships with their parents do not know how to have warm and close relationships with their children, and so pass down their own problems to their children.

Horizontal problems are caused by environmental stressors or transition points in the family development. This may result from traumas such as a chronic illness, the loss of the family home, or the death of a family member. However, horizontal stress may also result from Social Emotional Processes, such as when a minority family moves from a like-minority neighborhood to a very different neighborhood, or when a family with traditional gender roles immigrates to a culture with very different views, and must raise their children there. The worst case for the family is when vertical and horizontal problems happen at once.

In general, the therapist accomplishes this by giving less attention to specific problem they present with, and more attention to family patterns of emotions and relationships, as well as family structures of dyads and triangles. More specifically, the therapist. Carter has assigned tasks to the adult couple to help them realize more about their family history, and encourages letter writing to distant members, visiting mother-in-laws… to speed things up.

He will also use stories or films to present another real or imaginary family with the same problem as the family in therapy, and highlight how the family in the story or film overcame their difficulties. Family therapy can be done with one person. Such therapy typically focuses on differentiation of the person from the family. The therapist helps the individual stop seeing family members in terms of the roles parent, sibling, caretaker… they played, and start seeing them as people with their own needs, strengths, and flaws.

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The individual learns to recognize triangulation, and take some ownership in allowing or halting it when it happens. The individual client should have good insight into the family genograms may be especially helpful in this , and be very motivated to make changes either in his or her own life, or in the family. You must be logged in to post a comment.

If you find our site helpful, we invite you to like our Facebook page to get our latest updates. By using HealthyPsych. What is Bowenian Family Therapy? Differentiation of Self The first concept is Differentiation of Self, or the ability to separate feelings and thoughts. Triangles Triangles are the basic units of systems. Think about a couple who has an argument, and afterward, one of the partners calls their parent or best friend to talk about the fight. The third person helps them reduce their anxiety and take action, or calm their strong emotions and reflect, or bolster their beliefs and make a decision.

Think about a mother who lived through The Great Depression, and taught her daughter to always prepare for the worst case scenario and be happy simply if things are not that bad. The daughter thinks her mother is wise, and so adopts this way of thinking.

She grows up, has a son, and without realizing it, models this way of thinking.