What Does it Take to Observe Self in Your Own Family?


Do you find yourself wondering what makes you avoid family relationships? Do you wonder, what is going on, why is so and so upset or picking fight or will not return phone calls,  etc.?  What are people trying to tell you?  What must you do to figure out relationship issues? How can I see who is influencing me and how am I influencing them? Where do “I” begin and end? How much can I do for others before “I” am over functioning for them, and being less responsible for self? What happens if I become overly helpful, too distant or too conflictual?  How do any of us become more self-defined?

Relationships under pressure have common automatic responses to heightened anxiety and over time people are less and less able to be with one another without feeling threatened. The questionnaire below is one way to consider how you participate in your family system.  By making a disciplined effort to be a better observer of relationships one can step back and observe the push and pull in relationships as part of how family systems just naturally operate.

Based in evolutionary theory and the behavior of other social species, Murray Bowen, MD, described the family as an emotional unit, distributing anxiety unfairly. Living in a family unit often results in greater pressure being put on the weakest members of the unit. This automatic response to stress can be decreased by one person being a more separate yet connected individual in the family organism. Leaders can direct and deal with anxiety far better than the weaker members who become symptomatic.

Not to be forgotten is just how the emotional system promotes both the survival of the unit and of the individual. There is a cost and a benefit to belonging to social groups. If over time you are better defended from predators or get the needed help raising children by being a member of a family group, then joining the groups enhances your survival.  Yes, we each pay the cost of belonging and of doing for others. It may be that we have to lend some energy to others or they to us. Do for me and I will do for you, but let’s hope it does not cost that much to belong.

“In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behavior whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism’s fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time.” Robert Trivers

 Social systems are organized to encourage or force individuals to assume functional roles.  If an organism fits into the “needed” roles the anxiety in the group is diminished. When anxiety is high the system applies more pressure to individuals to perform more for the system than for self-directed needs. Observing the system increases the ability to clarify values and positions and to relate with greater openness. If one person in a system begins to think for self and decides to challenge the status quo it is expected that others will react negatively to the change. If the person thinking for self does not react to the negative responses, and continues to relate differently, then the system slowly settles down to a new level with more knowledge.

Below are some of the assumptions of the challenges of understanding the family as an emotional unit that governs individuals’ behavior and development over evolutionary time.

  • While there is variation, we all have a resistance to self-scrutinize.
  • Less awareness promotes automatic responses to challenges.
  • Observing self requires a considerable amount of energy and time.
  • Our behavior is influenced by emotional and logical needs to be in any social group.

There are many methods that can enable people to become better observers and manage self in relationships. The questions below are one effort to keep track of your effort to understand your family system by observing the extent to which you are influenced by the emotional system.  It also provides a way to keep track of changes in the family when one believes they are taking steps to be more separate and more mature in relationship to others.



By becoming an observer of the family system one can become aware of the impersonal forces operating in one’s family thereby becoming more sure of self and better defined.The formula below enables people to understand the various influences on behavior.

Self – The ability to manage anxiety (A) and to stand on principles (P).

Self is then influenced by

  1. the amount of emotional intensity in triangles(T)
  2. how one manage his or her functional role as a sibling, (S)
  3. in the family emotional process (FSP),
  4. in the multigenerational family emotional process (MGFEP),
  5. in the nuclear family process (NFEP),
  6. which includes the four mechanisms in the family projection process (FPP 4)*,
  7. the level of emotional cut off (ECO)
  8. and finally, the current state of society or societal emotional process (SEP).



One has to manage (A) and  defined principles (P)

Self is also influenced by often unseen social pressures.


                              S (A) (P)

 T+ FSP + MGFEP + NFEP + FPP (4) + ECO + SEP

(FPP 4 = 1)  Automatic mechanisms that mange anxiety: distance, 2) conflict, 3) reciprocal relationships, 4) projection onto children


Tracking the nature of the contact with family members: 

First name each person in your three-generational family. Then describe the nature of the relationships: close, distant, conflictual

  1. How many people in your three-generational family have you had contact with during your life time?
  1. Have you made an effort to contact people who have drifted away from you?
  1. Are there people you are mad at and do not want to see?
  1. Who have you contacted in the last six months?
  1. Who contacted you?
  1. Please name them and note the kind of contact: positive, negative or neutral.
  1. Did the contact with this individual alter the way others in the family related to you? Yes or No. Please describe:
  1. Was the contact made just to stay connected, to be polite?

Yes or No If no please describe the reason.

  1. Was the contact made to allow you to be separate from the emotional system? Yes or No. Please describe:
  1. Was the contact an effort to de-triangle? If yes please describe.
  1. Were there other efforts to be more separate? Please describe:
  1. Did you anticipate a negative reaction in trying to be more self-defined? Please describe:
  1. Were you thrown off by any reactions? Please describe:
  1. If people are critical can you stay in low keyed contact? Please describe:
  1. Are there people you cut off from as they are just to difficult to relate to?

Please describe:

Understanding the family system and making an effort to be more defined.


Overview of Relationships and the Level of Reactivity

  1. Can you name those in your family that you are currently most aligned with and those you are distant from?
  1. Can you name those you react to the most?
  1. Can you name those who currently have symptoms and the extent to which those symptoms manifest from mild to severe?
  1. Can you identify the level of functioning, from high to low, for each individual you’ve identified above?
  1. Can you note the individuals’ level of ability to be open from high to low?
  1. Can you observe the basic relationships patterns in those you are close to?
  1. If so identify the dominant pattern: conflict, distance, reciprocity or projection onto others?
  1. What do you do with yourself to alter these relationships patterns?
  1. Which relationships are the most challenging for you and which are more open?
  1. Are you currently working on being more open with any one in your family?
  2. And if so, why did you select this person?
  1. How do you go about being more open?
  2. (For example, some people will think ahead of time and others will practice being spontaneous, just keeping the goal in mind. There is not one right way as people are different.)
  1. How many people do you have contact with in your three-generation family?
  1. How much do you know about your extended family?
  1. Can you go back a hundred years in any of your family lines?
  2. If yes can you describe in one paragraph how you learned about these ancestors?
  1. What kind of visits do you have with family members?
  2. Do you visit people or do they visit you?   What is the difference?
  1. Are you able to notice the formation of triangles, (the two against one formation) often found in innocent social gossip about others?
  1. Name the people you are on the inside with and those where you are on the outside.
  1. Have you ever set out to purposefully get on the outside of a triangle by putting two people together and pulling self out?
  2. If yes, please describe in one paragraph.
  1. Do you have a time line for changes in your family?
  1. Can you create a time line as to disruptions following a nodal event?
  1. Can you track efforts to change self in the system, and how the system responds? Please describe one effort:
  1. Have you ever taken a stand to alter your part in the relationship system? Please describe:
  1. If you changed yourself in how you relate to others in the relationship system,what kind of resistance have you encountered?    Please describe:
  1. What kinds of techniques do you use to manage self when anxiety rises?
  1. How do you manage your own upset in relationships?
  1. Do you prefer to write out issues to clarify where you stand?
  1. Do you tell people where you stand based on a principle?
  1. Do most people in the family know your principles?
  1. Do you know where your principles came from?
  1. What do you do when people challenge your viewpoint?
  1. Would you consider yourself open to others’ feedback?
  1. What does it mean to be emotionally independent?
  1. Can you write out how you think you have been more for self and less caught reacting to the system?

Don Lorenzo Servije An Interview

Don Lorinzo died today, February 3, 2017,  at 98 years of age.  Nine years ago I had the great honor of interviewing Don Lorenzo, who was a giant of a man, and founder of the world wide bakery Bimbo. (revenues of $14 billion in 2014) The interview was arranged by Maria G Bustos Porcayo. She had been in my supervision group at the Georgetown Family Center back in the early nineties. Her goal was to have a book in Spanish that introduced Bowen family systems theory to the Mexican people through the lives of people who recognized the important of family in their success.

Mario Bustos had talked to Francisco Gonzalez, the general director of USEM http://www.usem.org.mx/ and he brought in Heberto Ruz to publish the book.  Francisco ask Don Lorenzo to allow me to interview him for my book. He agreed mostly as he believed that family is where values begin and one most live their values.  The interview began and ended about the tremendous gratitude he had for his family and most especially for his wife, the mother of their eight children. His wife had died before him and he missed her. It took courage to talk to a stranger about this, but he had tons of courage.

When I met Don Lorenzo his mind was alive with ideas. With an almost poetic ability he told me the story of his early years, which you can read below. Two things stood out in the interview: one, his deep appreciation for relationships. In the interview, he talked about the early years after his father died and his decision to work with his mother and other family members in the bakery. A religious man who understood the importance of passing on values to children and grandchildren he went to mass every day.  Don Lorenzo Servitje was also very concerned with leadership in his community and the transmission of family values.  Secondly, I was very impressed with his fundamental understanding of the importance of past relationships on the future. I do not think he had ever heard of family systems theory but he knew the importance of family roots to ongoing stability of the family.

Going back to Spain had helped him stay connected with his family roots and decreased the forces that say – look at me I am successful. Instead its more about – I came from these plain roots.  I was lucky. I worked hard. I understood the debt to my family and went back to Spain to see were the family roots were.  He somehow knew it was important to take his family there. As a reminder, they took pictures on the front porch, as they had when they were young.

Because I was writing a book about the influence of the family on one’s ability to be a leader, he kindly took time out of his schedule to let me interview him and the interview was videotaped.

I think family contact can change your brain.  My assumption is that those willing to learn from the past will have more complex thought process and be better at seeing the world without as much illusion.  By seeing the world in a more realistic way people can often make better decisions as to the future.

Possibly brain connections are influenced by family connections. That is the greater the connections between people, the greater the behavioral flexibility.  Flexible people are also less likely to be blinded by emotional reactions. Some have suggested that understanding your family’s past, without judgment, is likely to reduce one’s level of anxiety. If your anxious and or cut off from the past your brain has less information and perhaps more fantasy.

Family relationships are just more  complex, people make generations of assumptions about who you are.  Then you have to figure it out, and be who you are.

Talk about complexity, Don Lorenzo Servitje’s company was established in Mexico City in 1945. Born in Mexico City in 1918, Mr. Servitje was the child of immigrants who had come from Spain in search of “broader horizons.” Juan Servitje, his father, began working at a bakery and pastry shop and eventually established the El Molino bakery, which remained popular for generations.

While his son, known as Don Lorenzo, began working at the bakery at the age of 16, he decided to study to become a public accountant. When Juan Servitje died suddenly, leaving a wife and four young children, Don Lorenzo quit school and took charge of the family bakery.

Adopting a business philosophy of “Believe — Create,” the Servitjes began baking loaf bread at a small plant with 35 employees, 10 delivery trucks and formulas to bake four different types of pan bread. Also partners in the business were his uncle, Jaime Sendra, and his brother, Roberto, who would spend the next half century in a leadership position at Bimbo.

According to the company, the objectives were straightforward — “To bake really good, nutritious, tasty and fresh bread under clean conditions and perfection.”


Over time, Grupo Bimbo, has become one of the three largest bakeries in the world in terms of production and sales volume.  They supply over one million points of sales in eighteen different countries, requiring them to deliver products daily to an outlet or a factory. The distant equivalent to traveling around the globe about 46 times a day. The company is committed to high productivity and responsible community projects such as reforestation. They reported sales of $5.9 billion dollars in 2006.  They have 76 plants and operate three trading agencies. (As an exercise think of what it would require of you to see and lead successfully in a system of this complexity.)

As I understand it, Don Lorenzo Servitje also helped found the society for entrepreneurs, USEM.  USEM organizes web seminars, distant learning and various kinds of meetings bringing new ideas to business people. http://www.usem.org.mx/ It was through this organization and its director, Francisco Gonzalez, that I was invited to interview Don Lorenzo Servitje.

My first question was: How did your family encourage him to be a leader?

Don Lorenzo Servitje said that he was not sure if his family thought he would be a good leader but that his mother had a very high opinion of him. Her ideas were based on some facts, as he was usually second or third in his class in school.  He noted, that “I was not afraid to talk with people and I was able to perform well. My mother was my main interest as my father died when I was 18.”

I asked Don Lorenzo Servitje, “Are you the oldest son in your family?”  He noted that, “I had an older brother but he died when I was four years old and then I became the oldest son. I also had a sister who was three years younger and two younger brothers. One was ten years younger and the other eleven years younger.  They were like sons to me, in a way.  Years later, one of them said I was like his father. The death of my father in 1936 forced me to go ahead.  My mother and I had worked in the pastry shop with my father.  Now, it was up to us to support the family. We were in the pastry business for nine years.  I saved money.  Then together with a friend, and a cousin, we formed the industrial business of Bimbo.”

I was interested in how much he had learned by running a small business, the pastry shop with his father. I told him that my son-in-law, Michael Mauboussin, (More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places) had explained business dynamics to me back in 1991. Michael helped me understand my family business by talking about how to capitalize and run a small lemonade stand. For example, I had never considered that a business had to continue to earn over the cost of capital for things the business owned clear and free, like the land the lemonade stand was on.  Nor had I put enough energy into the ways one had to save to keep the stand looking good and to expand dynamically.

I asked Don Lorenzo Servitje if he had a vision of the future when he made the decision to invest in Bimbo. He said that he and his colleagues had developed experience between 1940 and 1945 supplying companies throughout South America.  That experience, coupled with people who trusted him and planned with him, was the launching pad for the industrial baking business, Bimbo.  He explained: “We took our savings and borrowed an equal amount of money to make this happen.  It has grown over the years.  During this period my mother remained as an owner of the company.  Then she remarried at the age of 63.”

Don Lorenzo Servitje continued: “I was 26 when I married. We had eight children. There were six girls in a row and then two sons. The youngest son is an original thinker.  He has a special gift for business. He went to Stanford and was the first in his class. He is far better than I am.”

I told him that we all hope that our children will do better than we do. If our children do better perhaps we have done something right.  Part of collecting family stories is to encourage other people to do well by understanding how real people have become successful leaders and overcome hardships. It is encouraging for others to know that successful individuals have overcome difficulties like the early loss of a father.

We talked a bit about how the early loss of a father is a common theme in American politics today. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama grew up without their fathers’ influence. It would seem that both men want to be better fathers, both in their families and for their country.

(In my book I highlight that some of us are leaders by default we had to rise up, and lead when difficult things happen. Others are natural leaders who rise up without trauma or serious losses.  One way is not necessarily superior to another. I developed The Mindful Compass to point out that leaders are those who have a vision and are willing to act with knowledge, even if they must act alone. Leaders have the courage to overcome challenges. If they are mindful of their impact on others and can also enable others to become leaders, then they are mature leaders.)

I noted that Don Lorenzo Servitje also seems to have become the father for his siblings, family and company and perhaps for the people of Mexico.

Don Lorenzo Servitje then said, “I am too old.  I am 89. I lost my wife six years ago. Carmen was 80. She left me without advice.”

I said “Perhaps that is a gift.  It could be.  Suppose she told you to marry again?” I said. And he replied:  “I am faithful. She was a very wise woman and a very sweet woman.  I have suffered many times because of the business. But I was a workaholic. She held everything together.  She was a very typical housewife. She loved to be at home with the children. She was the queen of the house. I had no problems with the children or the home. She was a very responsible woman and I suffer in her absence.”

I was not sure that his wife Carmen would like it if he were suffering.  I was sure I did not want him to suffer any more than necessary so I said, “I would like it if her memory made you happy.”  He thought for a moment and said “Her loss is a very sweet pain.”

I asked him what he would say to the young people in Mexico that they might carry in their hearts as important principles.   He said:  “One, keep your faith, be good Christians.

Two, work hard and be wary of distractions and a frivolous life.   Three, learning is important.  I love to read lots of books.  My life has been study and work.  I am a very plain man.”

I noted that perhaps a simple man can see the simple truth.

Don Lorenzo Servitje said, “I see what I think is right and I keep on going.”

“Were your parent’s family religious?” I asked.

“My mother’s family was more religious than my father’s family.  I know my extended family. I have pictures and stories as I researched my family back to 1770. They were mostly working in the fields.  They were peasants.”

“What made you do family research?” I asked.

“I was traveling to Spain often. My family was from Spain and as a hobby I looked for the origins of my family in the records of the Churches. I learned many curious things about the family.”

I noted that in my years as a family therapist I had found that healthier and stronger people just automatically were more interested in family history and knew more about their family roots. These people are often more accepting of different kinds of people as they see all the variations possible in four or five generations in a family.

Don Lorenzo Servitje said “I talked with my children about their ancestors. Also, I took my children to Spain to see where the ancestors lived. I also showed them where I lived when I was a young boy.”

It is not easy to go visit the homes of your very distant relatives. I told him about my visit to Ireland and how I had felt uneasy in a town where several generations ago the family I am related to had a fight between the older and younger brother. When I was in the town of the younger brother’s family I became ill. When I was in the older brother’s home town I was fine.  Was I sensitive to a fight that occurred over a hundred and fifty years ago?  Perhaps by going back to these two places I was more able to accept my own sensitivities.  It takes time to understand and respect the difficulties people have lived with over the generations.

Then Don Lorenzo Servitje showed me some photos from his family research.

“Here you can see a picture in 1976, and then seventeen years later the same group of children has grown up. This is the place I was born in 1924. This is the house of my father.  This is the wedding invitation of my mother. My brother was very handsome. Here is a picture of my brother and me and here is one of myself and my sister in the house where we grew up. Here is a picture 50 years later.

My sister died before my wife. My other brother died after my father. Yes, I lost two brothers and my sister, the youngest one died two years ago. Such is life.

Here is a picture of my wife when we were young. One of my granddaughters is a painter. Here you see a picture of a grandchild and then you can see into the past and there is my wife.”  I said, “Your granddaughter is an artist who paints dramatically the connections between people.  Some might say its all in the genes.”  I did not have time to elaborate on this thought but I did think she must understand the family emotional process at a deep level where the past is folded into the future. The past does not determine the future but it influences and reminds us of our connections to others.

My interview with Servitje concluded when he had to leave for a meeting.

I said, “Yes, people still need you. I appreciate so much the time for this interview and meeting you in your home. I think this interview will demonstrate the importance of family for a life well lived.”

Don Lorenzo Servitje’s Mindful Compass Points

(1)  The ability to define a vision: Don Lorenzo Servitje allows us to see how his vision for a larger company arose out of his experiences with his family’s smaller pastry business.  It was not that he started with this vision.  It happened as part of his personal growth with others.  When he had an opportunity to expand into the industrial arena he had also built a trustworthy team which he kept with him over the years.

The early death of his brother and then his father were pivotal events. They are high stress events for everyone.  Most difficult for families is dealing with and adapting to the loss of the primary wage earner. It is a threat for most families. Many people have found their lives torn asunder following the loss of a father.  The fact that his family could keep going and did so well testifies to the resiliency in the larger family system.  In his case the loss may have forced him to make responsible decisions at an early age. His decisions to work in the family pastry shop were made as much to support his family as they were to build his career.

Obvious Don Lorenzo Servitje became the leader of his family, and business yet he gives a great deal of credit for success to his mother, his other business partners and to his son in the next generation. His wife was in the middle of it all and was a very wise woman who was his responsible partner in life.  Although he misses her mightily he keeps contributing to society in many unknown ways. It seems in his nature to play down the work he does and to build up others.

Caring about others is a very deep value that also resonates with his religious values.  Therefore, we hear consistent values which are being converted into actions. There is little interest in finding love and approval but more in getting any job done well.

Don Lorenzo Servitje is a leader with instinct. He seems to know just what the best action to take is, and then he just does it. His common-sense attitudes lead him to spend time and energy investigating the past generations of family members.  This is an unusual action for a person to take in our society.  It is the sign of a leader who can look way beyond the short term. Here is a leader who knows that if something is important then he must find the way to do and have fun in the process.  He discovers his family roots and shares this knowledge with his children, taking them to Spain to see where past generations of the family lived and walking in their footsteps.

It is easy to see how he can inspire others in his work settings and also in his family. He seems to deeply enjoy his work.  He also gives his Christian religion a great deal of credit for all he does and hopes that future generations will also keep true to these time-tested values.

Mature leaders look beyond charisma to find sustaining principles and values promoting courage and steadfastness in their lives. Don Lorenzo Servitje leads by example.

(2) The resistance to change in self and in any system: Overcoming obstacles is not something that Don Lorenzo Servitje focused on. We know that he overcame the early loss of his father without bitterness or longing. His attitude of just doing what needs to be done, despite the difficulty, gives us a glimpse of man who chooses to do his work without focusing on the difficulties. He seems to be a contented man who is at ease with himself and with all kinds of other people.  Any obstacles are overcome without making them into a big deal. I could see this in his ability to change his attitude about the loss of his wife. He could focus on her positive qualities and to let go of the sadness saying, “Her loss is a very sweet pain.”

(3) The ability to connect and use systems knowledge: Few people have shown the ability to build a successful family and business network as complex as that of Don Lorenzo Servitje.  *(I wondered how much his business ability was influenced by his ability to deeply understand his multigenerational family.)

Apparently from an early age Don Lorenzo Servitje was able to perform and be at ease with people. He recognized the importance of his family relationships on his ability to function well.  He was clear that his mother’s ability to see him in a positive light was significant for him. There is no way of knowing exactly what enabled him to understand the importance of the family history.

We can call it intuition or common sense to understand that the past has an impact on the future.  Many people indulge in short term thinking about the family believing that only this generation is important.  People move away from those they consider difficult people or hard to reach family members.  In the business world, this tendency to cut off from the problem people in the family could convert to a tendency to walk away from difficult decisions, or to refuse to deal with difficult people, or with difficult jobs.

(4) The ability to be separate: Although Don Lorenzo Servitje did not talk about the usefulness of being alone to think, plan and take time to reflect on deeper values, obviously, he has done so.  Nothing tests people’s ability to stand alone more than loss. Even if one overcomes the sadness due to loss once, it does not mean that people will be able to do so in the future.


There are many reasons people find to carry on after the loss of a spouse.  With eight children, many grandchildren and great grandchildren, the love and fun of his family life is displayed thought his home.  Clearly the quality of the relationships surrounding him is a major factor in his well functioning life. Another factor is that he loves his work and other projects.

Don Lorenzo Servitje has lived to see many of his closes family members die and has found the needed reasons be a resource to the remaining family members. Some people might have become more sensitive to loss with age.  But here is a man who has the ability, the resiliency to deal gracefully with loss.

Those who have been able to deal with the loss of loved ones have had to learn to stand alone.  Although some may call this an assumption, I suggest that the ability to stand alone is increased when one has dealt well with the death of a loved one.

Don Lorenzo Servitje has had to deal with the death of family members from the time he was a young man, obviously, he has done so in many ways which have transformed the losses into reasons for carrying on and honoring those who have gone before.


Happy Birthday Dr. Bowen would have been 104 1/31/1913-0/1990

bowen chalk on finger tips

I first met Dr. Bowen at a conference in 1976.  He accepted me into the Post graduate Training Program and I became a kind of an apprentice.  In 1980 he hired me to be the audiovisual coordinator at the Georgetown Family Center. l learned so much from watching and relating to him. It has been twenty seven years since he died.

If you, like me, are interested in seeing some of Dr. Bowen’s original teaching tapes, you can get a flavor of how he taught and what made being with him such a lively and challenging experience just by going to the website of the Bowen Archives on The Murray Bowen Archives Project (TMBAP) website.    http://murraybowenarchives.org/videos-GreenBay.html

I taped many of these videos back in the eighties. Of course, some of the tapes have awful sound problems or the video breaks up. But back in the eighties that was par for the course with the equipment that was available.

Traveling with Bowen was a wonderful opportunity for which I will always be grateful. Bowen gave people a new paradigm to think about human behavior. Here is a quote from one of the video tapes produced in Green Bay, Wisconsin, April 19-20, 1990. This tape was made six months before he died.

“Individuality comes from inside self.  You don’t take it to the group to find out. If you do not know where you stand, then ask your neighbor….. How are you going to stand up if you do not know yourself?  Most people do not want to bother.”


The following is what Bowen wrote up as part of his Curriculum Vita

Practical Issues. New concepts introduced by the “Bowen Theory” include evolution to replace most of Freud; the part of Freud that is relatively scientific; and natural systems theory to combine the two. Numerous variables prevent clear writing when the reader is “hearing” Freud.

The differentiation of self and emotional systems are essential for the theory. Therapists use the correct words, but use their own heads to interpret meaning.

Beyond that, the theory includes the family diagram; a summary of a differentiation scale; triangles; fusion; cut-offs; projection of immaturity to succeeding generations, to minorities, or to the weakest link in the chain; extended family patterns; emotional objectivity; the multigenerational transmission process; sibling position; the extension of family process to work and social systems; societal regression; and a precise integration of the amalgam which is the family. Most patients and clients can change themselves if given a chance. Most therapists are trying so hard to be therapeutic, they cannot “think” theory. Good therapy is determined by the way a theorist thinks about human problems. When the therapist cannot think theory, the theoretical gap is closed by some fixed version of Freud, the therapy is less efficient than it could be, and the therapist is vulnerable to becoming the author of yet another personal procedure.

Theoretical Future. The theory will probably replace Freudian Theory within the coming decades. There are indications it may influence the whole of medicine, more than psychiatry and mental health. When theorists have become aware of its potential, the theory may move on to a “science like” baseline in which theory governs everything that occurs in the field. Good theory is never final. It can always be changed with new knowledge, but change is not frivolous or personally determined. It is interesting to guess what may have occurred by the middle of the 21st century.

Date and Place of Birth: January 31, 1913, Waverly, Tennessee

College: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, B.S. 1934

Medical School: University of Tennessee Medical School, Memphis, MD 1937

Family Background: Family in Middle Tennessee since the Revolution. Oldest of five. Father died in 1974 at 87. Mother died in 1982 at 95. All siblings are living. Married to second of three daughters. Four children, ages 42 to 37.

Internships: Bellevue Hospital, New York City, 1938; Grasslands Hospital, Valhalla, New York, 1939-41.

Military Training: Five years active duty with Army, 1941-46, in the United States and Europe. Rank: 1st Lt. to Major. Had been accepted for fellowship in surgery at Mayo Clinic to begin after military service. Interest changed from surgery to psychiatry during WW 11.

Psychiatric Training and Experience:

Menninger Foundation, Topeka, Kansas. 1946-1954. Fellowship in psychiatry, personal psychoanalysis, and on staff. Background interest in science led to a new theory, which uses evolution and systems ideas to replace Freud. Enough promise for the theory to seek full-time research in a neutral center.

National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, 1954-1959. Previous years on theory made research go rapidly. Live-in parents, with one adult schizophrenic child, provided a dimension for all children. Family therapy was a by-product of theory. It began the first year, about two years before it was known nationally. Concepts integrated with the new theory, emerged one after the other. None had previously been described in the literature, and none could have been “seen” with Freudian theory. They are now known as the “Bowen Theory.” Long-term research terminated by Institute for short-term research studies.

Georgetown University Medical Center. Washington, DC 1959 – present. Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Director of Family Programs, and founder of a Family Center. Half-time research and teaching. Each concept was extended, and woven into physical, emotional, and social illness. It has already gone far beyond another family systems theory. Through association with medicine, knowledge has been extended to every medical specialty, and even the prodromal states that precede medical diagnoses. The future is promising. As long as psychiatry exists to diagnose and treat emotional illness, its potential is limited. The theory is directed to human life rather than symptomatic cubicles. National popularity indicates the theory will eventually replace Freudian thinking. It may well contribute more to all of medicine than to psychiatry alone. At Georgetown since 1959.

Other Faculty Appointments and Consultantships. Visiting Professor in a variety of medical schools. More permanent included the University of Maryland, 1956-1963; and part-time Professor and Chairman, Division of Family and Social Psychiatry, Medical College of Virginia, Richmond, 1964-1978. Closed-circuit television in Richmond was used to integrate family therapy with the larger theory.

Current Appointments and Activities. Half-time, Clinical Professor in Psychiatry, Georgetown University Medical Center, and Director, Georgetown University Family Center, 1959 to present. Private practice, part time, family psychotherapy, Chevy Chase, Maryland, 1954 to present,

Organizations. List limited to those with a potential interest in a single theory. American Psychiatric Association, Life Fellow; American Orthopsychiatric Association, Life Fellow; Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, Life Member; Diplomate in Psychiatry, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 1961; American Family Therapy Association, Terminated membership 1989 after two consecutive terms as first President.

Biographies. Listed in Membership Directories. American Psychiatric Association, since 1950; Directory of Medical Specialists, since 1952; American Men of Medicine, 1961; World Who’s Who in Science, 1700 B.C. to 1966 A.D. (3700 years in one volume), 1966; International Biography, since 1968; Personalities of the South, since 1976; Who’s Who in America, 1978.

Recent Awards and Recognition.

Originator and First President, American Family Therapy Association, 1978-1982.

Alumnus of the Year, Menninger Foundation, June 1985.

Faculty, Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Erickson Foundation, Phoenix, December 1985.

Graduation Speaker, Menninger School of Psychiatry, June 1986.

Governor’s Certificate, Tennessee Homecoming ’86, Knoxville, 1986 Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, October 1986.

Publications. About fifty papers, book chapters, and monographs based on new theory of human behavior. The most important ones are in my book, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, Jason Aronson, Inc., publisher, Northvale, NJ, 1978, which contains twenty years of theory. Other papers are referenced in the book. The past ten years, most of the concepts have been described in detail in about twenty videotapes. A list of tapes, both theoretical and clinical, are available at the Georgetown University Hospital.

Addresses: Department of Psychiatry, Georgetown University Hospital, 4380 MacArthur Blvd., NW, Washington, DC 20007, or 4903 DeRussey Parkway, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815.

Washington, D.C.

January 1990