Doug Hester, D. Min      Ministry Leadership Concepts

Bowen Family Systems Theory is a way of thinking that translates into a way of being.  The theory understands the family as a single emotional unit made up of interlocking relationships existing over many generations.  Problems do not exist within the individual alone.  They exist in a broader context: the family, the work place, the social network.  But change begins solely within the individual.  Family systems theory affirms that the individual can change behavior if aware of the impact current and historical family behavior has on the definition of his or her choices. 

Bowen Family Systems Theory offers you an opportunity to: 

   • Look at patterns of emotional reactivity in your self and family. 
   • Learn to be more objective when faced with problems. 
   • Take responsibility for yourself in your life. 

This approach attempts to move beyond cause-and-effect thinking to a more comprehensive understanding of the multiple factors which interact across time to produce problems or symptoms.  It recognizes an interplay between biological, genetic, psychological, and sociological factors in determining individual behavior.  And it views most of human life as being guided by emotional forces (automatic responses), which to a varying degree can be regulated by individuals.

Edwin Friedman pioneered in the application of Bowen Family Systems Theory to larger systems like churches and synagogues.  Friedman contended that differentiation in the leader acts as a broadspectrum antibiotic that will get at whatever problems exist in the system.  His focus was on strength, challenge, and self-differentiation; not pathology, comfort, or herding for togetherness.  It is a position that is difficult to maintain in a society that is more focused on safety than adventure.