A Brief History of The Bowen Theory

In the mid 1950’s several psychiatrists working independently began treating families with an emotionally disturbed member; thus the beginning of what came to be known as the Family Movement.  In the early days of family systems development, most of the psychiatrists utilized the psychoanalytic theory as the approach to treatment. Since the basic concepts of psychoanalytic treatment were not in keeping with seeing more than one person in a given session, the family therapy movement was so called “underground”.  The family treatment modality did not gain much acceptance until the 1960’s.
In 1954, Dr. Murray Bowen embarked on a research project with the National Institute of Mental Health. The purpose of the project was to study the dynamics of schizophrenia. He devised the research in such a manner that he began studying the mother-child relationship. He soon learned that the process involved not only the mother and child, but the entire family. While studying families who lived on the research unit, he also studied families with less debilitating problems and even families who were so called “normal”. What he observed occurring in the families who had a schizophrenic member in an intense degree he also observed occurring to some degree in all families. Thus he began to think in a new way about emotional illness.