Theories of Family Therapy

Theories of Family Therapy
Working with families means giving them information, advice, and therapy to help them deal with health problems. Families need education to help them understand the health problems they face and how to deal with them successfully. Family therapies are based on ideas that explain how they are put together and how they work. Using these theories, the goals of family therapy are to solve family problems, deal with special family situations, and make the home setting work better (Varghese et al., 2020). This talk looks at modern and postmodernist views of family therapy and how they affect families.

Theories’ Important Ideas

Bowenian’s Theory of Family Systems

Bowen family systems theory is a way of looking at the family as a social unit. It uses the way a system works to explain how the family works. The theory is based on eight ideas that fit together and are used to deal with worry by making the family more aware. The first idea is “emotional fusion and differentiation of self,” which means that a person’s feelings are put aside for the sake of family peace (Erdem & Safi, 2018). Bowen agreed that it is hard to have different feelings over the course of a lifetime.

The second idea is that triangles in the family show the smallest stable relationships that can be seen when someone is anxious. For example, there may be a two-dyad in a family, but if there is worry in the home, it can become unstable. When this happens, a third party is needed to help the family as a whole feel less stressed. The third idea is about how unstable relationships in the family can cause worry to be passed on to the child (Ahluwalia et al., 2018). The multigenerational transmission process is another idea. This is how actions get passed down to lower levels.

The emotional cutoff is a way to deal with stress or disagreement in the family by pulling away from other family members. Bowen said that this method can be used to make relationships less tense and stressful. Sibling position is the idea that the oldest family members have certain parts to play when there are problems in the family. For example, when there is a fight, older children may be pushed to act like adults or role models. The last idea is the emotional process of the nuclear family, which shows how much tension there is in the family. Bowen showed that there are problems in four key areas: conflicts between intimate partners, problems or worries in one partner, emotional distance, and kids who can’t do their jobs well.

Story-telling therapy

Narrative therapy is a type of psychotherapy that tries to change the way a person tells stories about their life to improve their mental health. Michael White and David Epston came up with the idea to help people deal with good changes in their lives (Monk & Zamani, 2019). Narrative therapists think that the stories people tell about their lives shape who they are. The therapy is based on four well-known ideas about how one’s story should go. The first premise is that people make up reality. It has been seen that how we connect with other people affects how we see the world.

The second idea of the therapy is that words can change reality. How people talk about things affects how they see reality, and sometimes different people see the same event in different ways. The third rule is that having a story can help you keep track of and make sense of reality. When there is a story, people are more likely to find meaning and sense in their lives. The last idea in the narrative theory is that there is no objective truth. People have different worlds based on the same events, and what is true for one person might not be true for another.

Theorists’ Effects on History

Bowenian’s Theory of Family Systems

Bowen’s form of family therapy is known to be the most unique because it looks at more than just symptoms. Many well-known therapists have used and built on this idea to try to help families with problems. Bowen gave therapists a way to talk to families about problems using steps that are still used today. Bowen says that the first step of therapy is to help the client feel less worried about their symptoms (Rodrguez-González et al., 2019). The therapist urges the patient and his or her family to learn about the patient’s symptoms in order to help with acceptance. This way of doing things has given modern therapists a place to start when it comes to therapy and taking care of family problems. Second, Bowen says that therapy should focus on adults to help them deal with their own problems and bring the family closer together.

Bowen’s ideas have also helped come up with ways to handle conflicts without involving kids. The detriangling move is used to make sure that adults take the place of children in a fight to help people understand each other better. Since the early 1980s, people like Carter and McGoldrick have used Bowen’s theory to pay attention to the family life cycle (Rodrguez-González et al., 2019). Therapists have also learned to take into account how gender, race, and culture affect how a family moves through the different stages of life. This means that families can now talk about the roles they play in their relationships and try to understand each other better.

Story-telling therapy

Michael White, an Australian social worker and family therapist, came up with the idea of story therapy. As the theory was being made, the thinker talked about different ways to solve problems that are still used today. For example, one method is called “constructing a narrative,” in which the therapist lets the client or the family tell the story in their own words. The re-storying process helps people find new meanings in the stories they have already told. Second, white made it possible for therapists to analyze events in order to figure out what was going on. It has turned out to be a good way to treat people with conditions like sadness and get different results.

Narrative therapy focuses on the stories that a person seems to tell over and over again. People use these stories to explain relationships, and knowing them helps people make sense of it. Michael White was the first person in the medical field to show how post-structural ideas could be used in therapy talks. (Suddeath et al., 2017) say that Michael’s work on “Maps of Narrative Practices” and “Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends” brought a new wave of ideas that changed the way family therapy was done. Michael White’s other addition was in the area of identity. He was interested in how people told stories about themselves. This part led to the idea of “externalizing the problem,” which therapists use to remove the problem from the person.

Family therapists’ jobs

Family therapists help families deal with mental illnesses by doing a number of different things. These therapists meet with individuals or the whole family to help people build relationships that work. Messina et al. (2018) say that the family therapist’s main job is to meet with the family and talk about the problems that are getting in the way of their lives. The therapy knows that the goal is to deal with emotional and mental problems that are affecting the whole family. Depending on the idea of family therapy that is being used, the roles of the family therapist may change from time to time.

Bowenian’s Theory of Family Systems

The Bowenian theory says that families grow and work when the forces of individuality and togetherness are in balance. Bowen thought that a family grows when its members have their own personalities, feel little stress, and stay in good emotional touch with each other. While helping the family, the therapist knows that the habits and feelings of the family are more important than the problem itself. So, the therapist tries to reduce worry to help the family communicate better. If you calm down without focusing on the problem, the problem will get buried and there will be less room for future problems.

In Bowenian theory, a family therapist stays neutral and avoids getting involved in fixing problems. For example, if there’s a fight between two family members, you don’t have to pick a side; you just have to help the family members understand why they disagree. (Messina et al., 2018) One member of a big family can cause changes in the rest of the family. The therapist can help the family tell the difference. While working on family problems, it’s important to build personal relationships to help people make stronger bonds and get a handle on the situation. The therapist also coaches and talks with the family and shows them how to build skills that will help them in the future.

Story-telling therapy

Narrative therapy tries to change the stories that people tell about their lives so that they can change for the better and have better mental health. In narrative therapy, a person or a family is seen as an expert in their own right. People are seen as different from their problems, so the therapist’s main focus is on the issues. The therapist’s job is to help families work through their problems without putting blame on anyone. At this point, the therapist can use different methods, such as a positive story, externalization, or deconstruction. In the “constructing” part, the therapist’s job is to help the patient find new meaning in their stories.

Externalization is a method that involves making the client see things from a different point of view. During therapy, it is the therapist’s job to make sure that the person no longer sees himself or herself as a problem. The therapist tries to separate the person’s personality from the troubles he or she is having. Lastly, the therapist works to push the family and each person to use chances in new ways to get different results. People are told to take advantage of small chances to make big changes in their stories.

Putting Theories Apart

Bowen’s family system theory is a way of doing family therapy that stresses how important it is to understand connections and family histories. The theory says that the family is an emotional unit in which a change in one person’s behavior changes how the others work. Narrative therapy is a way to solve problems that sees people as the experts in their own lives. The main thought behind the theory is to separate the problem from the person who has it. The way counseling is done and how a person changes during problem-solving are different in these two ideas.

Bowen’s theory is the most popular and widely used way for families to solve problems. People have noticed that the theory is based on two main forces: togetherness and individuality. These two forces decide how therapy goes. On the other hand, Narrative therapy is built around three main parts that decide how relationships with clients are made. (Monk & Zamani, 2019) Some of the parts are respect for the client, not blaming the client during coaching, and seeing the client as an expert. The narrative therapy method sees the family or individual as a partner when it comes to these ideas. The therapist’s job is to look into the problem and help the family find a good solution.

The second difference between the two theories is that they focus on different key ideas. Bowen’s theory talks about eight key ideas, such as “differentiation of self,” “triangles,” “nuclear family emotional process,” “family projection process,” “multigenerational transmission process,” “sibling position,” “emotional cut-off,” and “societal emotional processes” (Monk & Zamani, 2019). These things connect the goal of therapy to how society has changed over time. They talk a lot about how family relationships are important for social and mental health. On the other hand, narrative therapy is based on four main ideas: the social construction of reality, the role of words in shaping reality, having a story, and objective reality. All of these ideas have to do with stories and how different people understand them.

The Bowenian theory is a good way to do family therapy when some family members don’t want to be involved. The theory shows how learning to be less emotional in family relationships can help solve problems within the family. Narrative therapy is different in this way because its dissection method helps people share their stories more clearly. (Jafari et al., 2016) This also means that narrative therapy is based on sharing information and can help with psychiatric problems like sadness, anxiety, and anger. But if the patient doesn’t share knowledge or talk about their stories, the sessions won’t be very helpful. Bowen’s method seems to work better when the problem comes from the family. Studies show that the idea works for families, couples, and single people.

When the narrative and Bowenian theories of treatment are used, the kinds of people involved are different. The Bowenian theory makes it hard for kids to figure out how to solve problems. Erdem and Safi (2018) say that the adults do more because they have more power in the family. No one can’t go to therapy because of the story theory. It shows how important it is to tell stories and keep the problem separate from the person. The job of the therapist in making change happen is also different between the two types of therapy. The Bowenian therapist pays less attention to individual problems and more attention to emotional patterns in the family. The job of the story therapist is to help people face their problems and think about other ways to explain them.

Effects of Theory

Bowenian’s Theory of Family Systems

Bowen’s idea about family therapy is based on relationships and how they link up in a family. The therapy seems to help with both mental problems and problems that have their roots in the family. People work together to solve problems that touch a family, which has shown that the theory is a good way to get people to work as a team. For example, Bowen’s method has helped fix broken relationships and solve long-term problems by using different techniques. The idea has also had an effect on how children act, which is another thing it has done. For example, family therapy is used to treat drug abuse in families. The therapist helps the person understand how and why the drug is making them feel bad. The family members also think about how they may have contributed to the bad behavior and agree on how to fix the problem.

Story-telling therapy

Through the idea of telling stories, narrative family therapy has been shown to be helpful for both families and people. Jafari et al. (2016) say that the main mechanism is to help the person put together stories and help them find different meanings in the stories. For example, narrative therapy has been shown to help family members or people feel better about themselves. The therapist gives people a chance to talk about their problems and figure out what they mean. The people can see the different results that come from changing their stories.

Narrative therapy encourages people to use their skills, talents, and strengths to make changes in their lives. Patients or their families are told to look at the good things about a problem they see and figure out how the problem can be fixed. For example, people who are having problems in their marriage are told to look at how the problem is affecting their marriage rather than the problem itself. The partner can figure out why the problem is happening and then fix it. (Varghese et al., 2020) Also, narrative therapy lets the family heal and talk about anger or hate. Using methods like the positive psychology program, narrative therapy helps couples who are having trouble in their marriage figure out what their purpose and worth are.

Conclusions and Thoughts

Family therapy is a type of care that helps families deal with problems that affect how well they work and how healthy they are. Theories like Bowenian family systems therapy and the story therapy theory, among others, guide the way this treatment is given. The Bowenian theory says that people can’t be separated from their connections or networks. In this theory, there are eight ideas that fit together to explain how families grow and work. By focusing on the person instead of the problem, the story theory helps people become experts in their own lives. It gives people a way to share their stories and help others see their problems from a different point of view. There are differences between how these two theories can be used and how families see issues and solve them. The Bowenian theory works better for fixing family and marriage problems, while the narrative theory works best for dealing with personal problems.


Ahluwalia, H., Anand, T., & Suman, L. N. (2018). Marital and family therapy. Indian Journal of Psychiatry60(Suppl 4), S501–S505.

Erdem, G., & Safi, O. A. (2018). The cultural lens approach to Bowen family systems theory: Contributions of family change theory. Journal of Family Theory & Review10(2), 469-483.

Jafari, L., Hashemian, K., & Mohammadi, A. Z. (2016). The impact of narrative therapy with creative drama on orphan children self esteem. European Psychiatry30(S1), 1-1.

Messina, K. C., Kolbert, J. B., Bundick, M. J., Crothers, L. M., & Strano, D. A. (2018). The impact of counseling on Bowen’s differentiation of self. The Family Journal26(2), 150-155.

Monk, G., & Zamani, N. (2019). Narrative therapy and the affective turn: Part I. Journal of Systemic Therapies38(2), 1-19.

Rodríguez-González, M., Martins, M. V., Bell, C. A., Lafontaine, M. F., & Costa, M. E. (2019). Differentiation of self, psychological distress, and dyadic adjustment: Exploring an integrative model through an actor–partner analysis. Contemporary Family Therapy41(3), 293-303.

Suddeath, E. G., Kerwin, A. K., & Dugger, S. M. (2017). Narrative family therapy: Practical techniques for more effective work with couples and families. Journal of Mental Health Counseling39(2), 116-131.

Varghese, M., Kirpekar, V., & Loganathan, S. (2020). Family Interventions: Basic principles and techniques. Indian Journal of Psychiatry62(Suppl 2), S192–S200.

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