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


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