Chapter in Death and Chronic Illness in the Family: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives and Reviews of Your Mindful Compass Book

What does it mean to be ‘present and accounted for’ when a family member is facing chronic illness or death? How does one define a self in relation to the ill or dying member and the family? Rooted in Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, this edited volume provides conceptual ideas and applications useful to clinicians who work with families facing chronic illness or the death of a member.

The text is divided into four parts: Part I provides a detailed overview of Bowen’s theory perspectives on chronic illness and death and includes Murray Bowen’s seminal essay “Family Reaction to Death.” In Parts II and III, chapter authors draw upon Bowen theory to intimately explore their families’ reactions to and experiences with death and chronic illness. The final part uses case studies from contributors’ clinical practices to aid therapists in using Bowen systems perspectives in their work with clients.

The chapters in this volume provide a rich and broad range of clinical application and personal experience by professionals who have substantial knowledge of and training in Bowen theory. Death and Chronic Illness in the Family is an essential resource for those interested in understanding the impact of death and loss in their professional work and in their personal lives.



ABSTRACT: As we move from our current seven to eight billion (by the year 2024) people, it is worthy of our time and effort to develop models, based in a system approach to promoting ways to enhance functioning among our family members, organizations, and even nations. The need for individuals to give and receive feedback is eroded by social pressure. The family is a micro world where we respond in a moment as a “reflex” to our perception of others. We learn what we need to be in order to be accepted or we rebel against it, losing the ability to be more of a self under pressure.

Family system thinking plus the use of neurofeedback to alter the brain have proven useful for those making an effort to go against group think and social pressure.  In making the effort for one person in the system to move toward greater ability to be better defined in cooperative relationships, leaders emerge.  These individuals are both sitting boundaries and allowing for a broad acceptance of differences.

 The challenge is is to decrease almost instinctual reactivity to others, eventually this can lead to cooperation and a thoughtful acceptance of all. In this era of diminishing resources we clearly need more mindfulness in relationships to other people who are different and an increased ability to modify our automatic, reflexive ways, which program us to continue to distance, to engage infall kinds of conflict, to dominate and blame others, all automatic behaviors that appear as anxiety arises.  We human are programed in very instinctual ways.  Old communication patterns can be altered as people begin to be aware of this unconscious or togetherness forces at work.

Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies for Navigating Life/Work Relationships in Any Social Jungle

The effort in writing this book was to describe the process of change for any leader. what isa the individual or the leader up against in dealing with the emotional side of families, business or groups?

The Mindful Compass allows us to see more of what is involved in altering one’s behavior. Being able to see how a system works more neutrally allows leaders to change themselves to impact a system.

Changing self and the predictable response are knowable processes: The four points on the Mindful Compass are 1) taking actions for self, 2) preparing for resistance to forward progress, 3) using knowledge, and 4) standing alone until the system can reorganize.

System theory can enable people to see a path through the social jungle, refocusing on what one person can do as he or she moves towards a more mindful change. Relationship awareness is not part of the automatic way the brain manages information from the environment. Being more aware of patterns in systems and then less automatic and reactive to them is a skill, which will become increasingly necessary in a world of rapid change, increasing demands and scarcity.


Laurie L. Lassiter – See all my reviews
This review is from: Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies For Navigating Life/Work Relationships In Any Social Jungle (Paperback)
Murray Bowen hoped that his family theory would provide people with tools for dealing with a fundamental challenge we face as humans: how to be ourselves as individuals while at the same time being able to live and work closely and cooperatively with others. Ms. Schara’s engaging new work, Your Mindful Compass, offers an informed understanding of Bowen’s family theory based on in-depth knowledge of the twists and turns that accompany the effort toward differentiation of self. Just how vulnerable we all are to being regulated by social and family environments is carefully laid out, with intriguing analogies drawn from nonhuman social systems. Schara offers illuminating examples of people who have managed themselves successfully in family and work systems, and analyzes what we can learn from them and from their families. She outlines important aspects of Bowen theory and practice that are not well known or written about, including the use of the triangle in the effort to become more of a self.
—Laurie Lassiter

By Laura Havstad
I’ve known Andrea Schara in her journey with Bowen theory since we were trainee’s together in the special postgraduate program at the Georgetown Family Center under Murray Bowen’s leadership, in 1976. Andrea and I became part of a special cohort of students of family systems theory, talking with one another, and watching one another over these decades, in what continues to be a pioneering effort to study the process of differentiation– as clinicians, researchers and members of our own families. The individuality of the way each person approaches talking about and applying theory and how our relationship systems are changed as a result, has produced an incredibly enriching long-term exchange within this pioneering group of clinicians and consultants. A Mindful Compass captures the unique voice of one of the important contributors to the advancement of Bowen theory in this cohort trained under Bowen’s watch before his death in 1990. Choosing leadership as the vehicle, this book presents case studies as natural histories of family emotional process and how the quite admirable individuals interviewed came to define themselves as leaders. The book clarifies and makes accessible functional principles of differentiation, in the person, and between the individual and the group, that characterize those who rise to solid leadership. The application to the family and all the other relationship systems is the same – – the foundation of change towards getting and being better lies with the one who will rise up to take the responsibility based on realistic contact with self and others, who has the vision and conviction to sustain such a course in the face of the entrenched interests and their resistance to change. In addition to being a challenge, the process of differentiation can be kind of fun too and those who know Andrea won’t be surprised that she gets that in to her book. I think this is a book for those looking for knowledge and clarity that will support them in their efforts to be hale, hearty, and a source of strength for themselves and others in the important systems of their lives.
Laura Havstad
Stephenie Ferrera -I also know Andrea Schara personally and know that she is one who has “walked the walk.” She is an oldest in her family and has been a leader there, making a life-changing difference for family members. She learned “differentiation of self” directly from the master, Murray Bowen. Understanding differentiation intellectually is one thing; operationalizing it in one’s own life is an entirely different thing. Schara has the gift of words that translate the theory into everyday life. This book will be my Christmas gift to members of my family.
Stephenie Ferrera

Suzanne Brue “” – See all my reviews
This review is from: Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies For Navigating Life/Work Relationships In Any Social Jungle (Paperback)
If you want to understand family process and the automatic nature of human interactions, Your Mindful Compass is the book for you. Schara takes the groundbreaking family systems theory of Murray Bowen, MD, and breaks it down into workable, manageable steps. The author’s humor shines through, and the book is is filled with interesting examples and interviews to help motivated individuals grasp and apply the essential insights of Bowen theory. A must read for those interested in improving their important relationships.
Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph (East Tennessee and Virginia) – See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: Your Mindful Compass (Kindle Edition)
This is not a perfect book structurally. It needs some professional editing but, that said, it is a very gentle and empowering introduction to the Bowen Theory of family emotional functioning. It provides the reader with a self-help template for looking at their own family. But it also makes the reader aware that Psychiatry today is not the sole purveyor of [truth] and that there are actually other viewpoints to be considered when a family member ends up in the throes of the psychiatric system.

Ms, Schara’s conversational style of writing is provocative and engaging, and encouraging. Those reading it for self-help purposes are surely going to find much more between the lines: (1) they will learn a little about the important family systems concepts enunciated by Dr. Murray Bowen; (2) they will be exposed to some of the history of family systems thinking; (3) and they will become privy to some interesting academic studies in support of the Bowenian view of how families function.

The world of psychiatry today is a jungle of prescription-based treatments and maddening assumptions. It was like that when I was in the mental health system years ago and about all that has changed since is that the prescriptions have become increasingly lethal. Psychiatry focuses blindly on individual patients at the expense of the families they were born into and have grown up with…and in the process important relationship processes are completely overlooked, processes that have remedies if one only knows where to look.

[Immaturity] and [anxiety] dictate the idiotic directions being taken today in medicine, psychiatry, politics, and even in science. This shows up in the form of fusion and togetherness forces that glare back at us at every turn. These destructive emotional forces arise in families and are carried forth into the world of business and politics in the form of behavioral symptoms of all kinds…in the form of sickness, unethical behavior or controlling behavior, and more.

The importance of this book to uninitiated readers when thinking about their families is this: the best approach when things go awry in a family is to learn how to be an individual while staying connected to family members regardless of any anxiety that exists. When even one family member can learn to stand apart from it all as an individual, then the rest of the family will eventually calm and clearer thinking will prevail.

I was a Bowen family therapist for more than twenty years and I can attest to this simple but profound truth.

Eric Mikelait, LMSW – Most Bowen books preach to the choir, so, if you’re not well-groomed in systems thinking, they are of little value. Andrea’s book is for the choir as well as the uninitiated. If people want to be initiated, they can enter the dark forest with the wonderful compass that Andrea has provided.

I immediately dove into the bio information at the end of the book, in Acknowledgements. On page 292, in the middle of the second paragraph, I found this sentence: “How fortunate for me to have a great with this family.” I think Andrea meant to say, “How fortunate for me to have a great run of luck at the casinos with this family” (or, more likely – how fortunate she was to have a great relationship with this family).

How fortunate we are to have this great book to add to our knowledge base. It’s all about the stories – and Andrea tells them like no other. You go Life Coach! Eric Mikelait, LMSW

lina- See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies For Navigating Life/Work Relationships In Any Social Jungle (Paperback)
This book has compelling insights. A book to help us understand our social system: how it works and how we work within it.

By Vicki Canada February 1, 2014

An excellent exposure to Bowen Family Systems for those familiar with this school and a profound personal story to invite those not familiar to get on this path of discovery.  I have known the author since we were young and just want to say I marvel at how she has used all the many conflicts from childhood as opportunity for growth and healing and for carrying the message within and beyond her family system.  Congratulations on publishing a very helpful and well laid-out book for those trying to absorb Bowen’s remarkable work. Thank you also for the bits of humor and wit peeking out from between the pages. It is so helpful to have some humor available when dealing with such serious matters.
Vicki Canada, Vancouver, BC

One comment

  1. Valuable ideas . I loved the info , Does anyone know where my business could locate a sample IRS 8027 document to work with ?

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