- Paperback: 138 pages
- Publisher: Leading Systems Press; 1 edition (February 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 097634551X
- ISBN-13: 978-0976345510
- Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory 1st Edition
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About the Author
Dr. Roberta Gilbert is a practicing psychiatrist whose main interest is emotional processes in the family and in organizations. She first studied the family in a Post Graduate Program at the Menninger Clinic. Subsequently, she studied with Dr. Bowen and became a faculty member at the Georgetown Family Center, now the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, where she continues to teach.
Dr. Gilbert maintains a practice in Falls Church, VA. She is the founding director of the Center for the Study for Human Systems, where she developed and now directs "Extraordinary Leadership Seminars." In addition to "The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory," she is the author of "Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions" and "Connecting with our Children: Guiding Principles for Parents in a Troubled World," both published by John Wiley & Sons, 1992 and 1999. Dr. Gilbert is frequently called upon to speak at special events and conferences.
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, I’ll also offer two critiques – one of Bowen theory, and one of this book. First, Bowen theory is a product of its time and vastly over-privileges the rational intellect. It often seems to dismiss any wisdom embodied in the emotional reactive system itself. For a counterpoint, read Jung. Somewhere, there’s a balance between reason and information stored in the collective system; it is a hollow victory to become “fully differentiated” in the Bowen theory sense.
Second, as another reviewer noted, the author seems unable to see herself systemically. In talking about the "regression" of society, Gilbert falls victim to the very type of emotional reactivity that Bowen theory seeks to expose. She is highly invested in the theory, suspicious of any evolution in the family/societal system away from prior norms, and anxious to deflect criticisms that Bowen theory itself has contributed to the blaming of families that feeds into the changes she dislikes. In short, her anxiety level rises and suddenly a list of "causes" for societal regression appear. Are they really objective causes, or just another triangle attempting to shift focus and find someone to blame?
Family systems theory helps to make sense of these connections by focusing on “the family as an emotional unit”, rather than on particular individuals (3). This focus runs counter to most counseling approaches which assume the clinical model where the individual is treated as autonomous. Problems with their origin outside the individual obviously cannot be solved by treating the individual alone but that is the common practice. The systems approach often yields counter-intuitive results . Family systems theory is often applied to other “emotional units”, like offices, churches, and groups, where relationships are intense and span many years.
In her book, The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory, Roberta Gilbert outlines 8 principles of family systems theory which outlines her chapters. These chapters include:
1. Nuclear Family Emotional System;
2. The Differentiation of Self Scale;
5. Family Projection Process;
6. Multi-generational Transmission Process;
7. Sibling Position; and
8. Societal Emotional Process (4).
These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue. Murray Bowen developed family systems theory in the 1950s working as a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Health in Washington DC; he elaborated this theory as a faculty member at Georgetown University . Robert Gilbert was one of his students.
In her explanation of emotional units, Gilbert write:
My grandfather’s herd of cattle…Say the cattle are peacefully grazing…but…one cow gets too close to the electric fence, sustaining a shock, she may jump, vocalize and even jump or run, showing that she is in a very anxious state. How long does it take for the other cows in the pasture to ‘catch’ the anxiety? Of course, it happens almost immediately. Their behavior soon becomes agitated, showing they have taken on the anxiety of the initial individual. The cattle are showing, by the movement of anxiety through the herd, that they are an emotional system (6).
Anxiety transmission is a flag for the limits of an emotional system. Gilbert classifies anxiety as acute—in response to stress—and chronic—the background anxiety in a group (7-8). Relational responses to anxiety come in 4 patterns:
3. Distancing; and
4. Overfunctioning/underfunctioning (11-12).
Anxiety is infectious (7). Anxiety transmission is more rapid and intense in tightly “fused” groups where individual are relatively close and unprocessed emotions run wild, so to speak (21). Anxiety transmission is less rapid and intense in groups with individuals who are “differentiated” where individuals are able to separate feelings from thinking and emotions are less readily shared (33). Gilbert’s grandfather attempts to be a “calming presence” when he is working with his cattle (22).
Family systems theory clearly focuses on how a particular group resolves anxiety.
Triangling. An important therapeutic result from family systems theory arises in how anxiety is resolved. If a parent is anxious, then the other parent picks it up. If a child is nearby, they too will become anxious—the child becomes the third corner in a “triangle”. If this situation is repeated, then the child may develop a symptom (48). This symptom could be simple things, like sleep problems or bed wetting, or it could develop in social problems, like acting out, fighting, etc. If the child’s symptom developed in response to parental conflict (think about divorce or separation), then sending the child out for counseling will not resolving the problem. However, the child’s problem could be resolved by dealing with the parental conflict.
Conflict. Gilbert defines conflict as: “when…neither [party] gives in to the other on major issues.” (15) Obviously, conflict has the potential to generate a lot of chronic anxiety.
Distancing and Cutoff. When people resolve conflict or anxiety through leaving—either temporarily or permanently—nothing is resolved—only deferred. Gilbert writes:
“Distanced persons think about each other, the relationship and the conflict that led to it, a great deal. By distancing, they are far from free of the problem. They are still emotionally bound and defined by it” (16).
To see this effect, think about a reunion that you have attended—what did people talk about?
Gilbert speculates that because grief is, in part, the result of emotional cutoff (distancing), remaining in contact with the deceased persons extended family can help mitigate at least some of the grieving process (62). This is part and parcel of a traditional funeral.
Overfunctioning/underfunctioning. Gilbert writes: “the overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity describes partners trying to make one self out of two.” (17)
• Knows the answer,
• Does well in life,
• Tells the other what to do, how to think, how to feel,
• Tries to help too much…
• Relies on the other to know what to do,
• Asks for advice unnecessarily,
• Takes all offered help, needed or not, becoming passive,
• Asks the other to do what he or she can do for self… (18)
Gilbert notes that in the workplace, leaders can be overfunctioners (19).
An important outcome of family systems theory is that differentiation-of-self functions as a shock absorber on the emotional system. High functioning leaders lead through principles (not emotion), stay grounded in facts and thinking, and remain in good contract with appropriate individuals in the system (43).
Gilbert’s The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory is a helpful book. In my case, I was already aware of the principles of Bowen theory, but had not fully absorbed their significance. Gilbert’s presentation simplified my learning process.
While his theory is made up of only eight key concepts, the networking between the eight can be quite complex.
Roberta M Gilbert created a magnificent contribution to students of Murray Bowen in her book, "The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory." Gilbert is able to increase one's understanding of Bowen's theory in this short, 127 page book (including the excellent index), She offers easily understood definitions of the concepts, explores the inter-relatedness of the various concepts, and demonstrates through anecdotes how one individual caught in a highly charged emotional tangle can change his/her emotional response but also open the door for others to respond in a more mature, wholesome manner.
Whether one is just becoming acquainted with Bowen or is an advanced student of Murray Bowen's theory, this is a book that will be well used in applying the eight concepts to one's own life or in clinical practice.
I am excited by the book and am sure most other readers will be as well.