Traces of the development of Bowen theory are scattered throughout Dr. Bowen’s formal and informal writings: in personal and professional letters, in early drafts of papers, in clinical and informal notes, in doodled drawings and presentations. This documentation, from Dr. Bowen’s own hands and in his own words, is invaluable to deeper understanding of the theory and its development, as well as to its future evolution.
Beyond this documentation are additional sources of learning and understanding: people with whom Dr. Bowen worked during the years he was developing and advancing his theory. The goal of the Oral History Interviews, led by Andrea Schara, is to collect information on how Dr. Bowen influenced and interacted with others, ways in which he explicated his theoretical ideas in everyday life, and ways in which people extended theoretical research into their own families and lives. You are invited to read and/or listen as interviewees tell their stories and share their thinking.
Check back each month for a new Oral History Interview.
From her first encounter with Dr. Bowen's "Anonymous" paper in 1976, Dr. Laurie Lassiter was intrigued with Bowen Theory. After she convinced him that her family was very interesting, Dr. Bowen worked with her as coach from 1986 until his death in 1990. Dr. Lassiter is a family therapist in the Amherst, MA area. With her advanced studies in the field of biology, and her pursuit of links between Bowen Theory and the life sciences, Dr. Lassiter's work and thinking are significant contributions to ongoing work with the theory.
Although Peg Donley was first introduced to Bowen theory in the mid-1970's at the University of Kansas, the first time she actually met Dr. Bowen was in 1985 when she began the post-graduate program. Hearing him talk was, as she describes it, "a pretty mind-blowing experience!" Over the years, Ms. Donley has focused on learning about relationships and behavior from the perspective of natural sciences – from neuroscience as well as from evolutionary biology and animal studies.
Founder of the Princeton Family Center, Selden Illick talks in this interview of her introduction to Dr. Bowen’s thought through his “Anonymous” paper, and her introduction to Dr. Bowen himself at a family therapy meeting in 1981. Ms. Illick’s central interest in Bowen theory is its application. How do people use the theory in their everyday life? Ms. Illick reflects on how knowing and interacting with Dr. Bowen changed her own life and her own family relationships.
Dr. Bowen’s Family Study Project at the National Institutes of Mental Health ran from 1954 to 1958. Dr. Warren Brodey joined the project as a Co-investigator in July 1956 continuing through the project's termination. This interview, conducted by Catherine Rakow, occurred when Dr. Brodey visited the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family in Washington, DC in 2002 to assist in identification of materials he may have authored that are part of the L. Murray Bowen Collection now housed at the National Library of Medicine. The interview is divided into four segments which will be posted during December 2016 and January 2017.
Priscilla Friesen was introduced to Bowen theory during graduate school at University of Kansas in 1976. She moved to DC in 1978 to learn more. This began her long-term association with the Georgetown Family Center/Bowen Center, first as a temporary clerical staff and then soon after, assisting Dr. Lilian Rosenbaum with the Biofeedback Programs. She has been on the faculty there since 1986, directing the Postgraduate program. She has presented on physiology and relationships and has incorporated neurofeedback into methodologies of differentiation of self. Currently, Priscilla serves as Vice President of The Murray Bowen Archives Project, in which she has been involved since before Dr. Bowen’s death in 1990.
Dr. Lilian Rosenbaum has over a fifty-year history of integrating Bowen theory with biofeedback. Her relationship with Dr. Bowen motivated her to found the biofeedback program at the Georgetown School of Medicine—the first of its kind in the D.C. area, and perhaps nationally. Her integration of biofeedback with Bowen theory created a different outcome—a stronger application—in approaching biofeedback’s use. Dr. Rosenbaum is Clinical Associate Professor, from 1970 to the present, at Georgetown University Medical School. Since 1968, she has maintained a practice as a family systems psychotherapist. This interview documents her journey and accomplishments in the field of biofeedback, changes in thinking and integrating it with Bowen theory.
Ruth Sagar met Dr. Bowen in 1970 when she interviewed for a new position in the Department of Psychiatry at Georgetown University to coordinate the Family Programs. While at the University she was promoted to administrator in 1975 when the Family Center received a grant from NIH to fund a fellowship for psychiatrists who had completed their residency training. Other new programs soon developed. She received her Master’s degree in English at Georgetown in 1975 and taught writing and literature at Northern Virginia Community College from 1976 to 1986. When the Georgetown Family Center became a 501(c)(3) in March 1990, plans to publish a journal were well underway. At the first meeting of the editorial board in September 1990, Ms. Sagar was appointed Managing Editor of Family Systems: A Journal of Natural Systems Thinking in Psychiatry and the Sciences.
Mr. Combs spent his career in administration in public agencies: first, as mainly a supervisor in child welfare in a large suburban county in Maryland (Prince George's) for about 15 years and, later, for about 15 years as a director of a social services department in a small, rural county (Caroline) on Maryland's Eastern Shore. His knowledge of Bowen Theory was gained mainly through regular attendance of the Wednesday Theory Meeting for 18 years under Murray Bowen and over 20 years under Michael Kerr. As he states, "what amazes me is Bowen's effort at defining as concepts processes driven by the emotional system. It's been two generations since the NIMH project, and, still, no one has come close to this."
Ms. Ferrera was in the Georgetown Postgraduate Program from 1978 to 1980. She has continued her interest in Bowen theory through research, writing, and teaching. She is a founding faculty member of Center for Family Consultation in Evanston, IL, and has a private practice. This interview shows an appreciation of Dr. Bowen as a scientist and his discipline of objective observation and how that led to the development of Bowen theory. Ms. Ferrera notes the experience of relating to Dr. Bowen and how it challenged her to think more deeply, become more self-aware, and see more options for self.
Randy Frost/Bob Noone
Rev. Randall Frost has been Executive Director and Director of Training and Research at Living Systems since 1991. Living Systems is a pastoral counseling center in Vancouver, British Columbia that uses Bowen theory as its primary approach to counseling, training, education and research. Rev. Frost first personally encountered Dr. Bowen in the in-town postgraduate program in 1975 following graduation from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Dr. Bob Noone first heard Dr. Bowen present in 1969 at the state hospital he was working at, but didn't pursue knowledge of Bowen theory until 1975 when he entered the postgraduate program at Georgetown. He engaged him as a coach in 1984 and continued to meet and correspond with him until his death in 1990.