About Bowen Theory

Family diagram, 1957. There are family diagrams in use as early as 1947 in Dr. Bowen's clinical work at Menninger. These types of diagrams were used in every research meeting after 1954.

More than 25 years after Dr. Murray Bowen’s death, the theory he developed continues to resonate with students of human behavior. The applications of Bowen family systems theory are evident to a wide range of people who come in contact with the theory — business executives, physicians, educators and ministers, as well as Bowen theorists and their clients. For followers of current affairs, Bowen theory helps put political and world events into a new perspective, which can help one reach for understanding and move beyond merely assigning blame.

A New Perspective on Human Behavior

Dr. Bowen proposed a new lens for looking at human behavior. Rather than focusing on individuals, and assuming that humans are unique within the natural world, Bowen theory sees humankind as a part of the natural world and the product of millions of years of evolution. Dr. Bowen’s unique perspective recognized that the human is part of a system, with patterns of behavior that repeat across a family’s multi-generations. This understanding has implications for understanding human behavior in the workplace and in society, as well as in the family. Dr. Bowen developed his theory while working with people whose life struggles were overwhelming, and he measured the accuracy of the hypotheses of the theory by observing shifts in functioning. The value of Bowen theory is that it helps people to “pull themselves out of the morass” (Bowen 1963) and to manage self and relationships in more effective ways.

Efforts to develop theory continue today through the center that Dr. Bowen founded, the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, and a network of similar centers that have been established around the country.