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The Bowen Family Theory and Its Uses by C. Margaret
Hall, M.D., New York: Jason Aronson, 305 pp., $25.00,
religion may maintain psychological stability, psychotherapy can enhance religious awareness. Interpersonal and
intrapsychic experiences during a course of psychotherapy
can be compared to religious enlightenment. Major turning
points in psychotherapy and in religious conversion may
indicate the same or similar phenomena."
Less differentiated members of the family are inclined to
have more external locus of control whereas more differentiated members are likely to have a more internal locus of
control. Religions, by their very nature, reinforce the infantile undifferentiated state with its external locus of control
and discourage differentiation and the development of
internal loci of control. There are many directives to this
effect: "Put your trust in God", "Except ye become as little
children, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Love of
self, a necessary prerequisite to differentiation is frowned
on: "Pride goeth before the fall." Most forms of psychotherapy aim at helping people to develop an internal locus of
control and, in essence, to overcome the regressive devastating pull of religions. So when the author states "Conversion
can be a regular, expected or predictable occurrence in a
successful course of psychotherapy" she is not talking about
any form of psychotherapy with which I am familiar. The
incremental gains that occur in psychotherapy bear no relationship to the quantum leaps of volte-face conversions.
In this chapter, one other sentence leaps off the page at the
reader, "By promoting co-operation between men and
women, religions can de-intensify the lethal quality of the
pervasive individualistic competition in modern society."
The assertion that religions promote co-operation between
men and women makes one wonder on what planet the
author has lived since birth; it certainly could not have been
this one. The evidence on this point, and-not all of it from
feminist literature, is quite to the contrary.
It's hard to know to whom to recommend this book.
Beginning students in family therapy should more properly
consult Bowen's own rendering of his ideas(l). It will probably have more value for students of sociology of the family
who will be more at ease with the sociological language.
It is difficult to appreciate why this book was written except
for the fact that it gave the author a second opportunity to
try to "digest various meanings and implications of his
The author, a sociologist and co-worker of Murray
Bowen, has taken the eight concepts which he has developed
as part of his approach to families, and examined each of
them in terms of their research potential, therapeutic considerations and in terms of one's own family. These eight
concepts are: (I) differentiation of self, (2) triangles, (3)
nuclear family emotional system, (4) a family projection
process, (5) emotional cut-off, (6) multi-generational transmission process, (7) sibling position, (8) emotional process
in society.
One could question the validity of calling any such collection of theoretical concepts a "theory" in the sense of a
closed model. As a psychiatric educator, I am always
alarmed at how easy it is for such models to be perceived as
ideological world views, and defended unto the death.
Parenthetically, this reviewer would love to see family therapists get together and standardize the terminology; should
we talk of "undifferentiated state" (Bowen), "psuedornutuality" (Wynne) or "enmeshment" (Minuchin)?
While a number of the ideas advanced by the author in
this book are provocative and stimulating, we should be
wary of imposing concepts relevant to family functioning
onto society as a whole, in the light of our experience in
transposing concepts relevant to the individual onto the
family. We are all used to the concept of socialization as it
impinges on the family and hence the individual; the author
ofthis book tries to make a case that "family processes are a
significant influence on non-family behaviour" and makes
the following statement: "People may be more conditioned
and programmed by patterns of inter-generational family
interaction than by membership in a particular ethnic group,
social class, occupational group or religion or by location in
a rural or urban environment." This is certainly a notion that
should not be allowed to drop out of sight in the literature.
In chapter I I, (Evolution) the author casts the Bowen
theory in an evolutionary light and hypothesizes that families higher on the social evolutionary scale wiII manifest
greater degrees of differentiation in the selfs within it, less
fixed patterns of triangulation, better functioning emotional
systems, less family projection and less use of emotional
cut-off within the family; and that these more adaptive
behaviours will be culturally transmitted from one generation to another. Family therapy is hypothesized as facilitating these changes in a more adaptive direction. This notion is
an intriguing one, with which most family therapists would
However, given this theoretical construction, Chapter 12
(Psychotherapy as a Secular Religion) is incomprehensible
to this reviewer. The author states: "In some ofthe ways that
1. Bowen, M. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New
York: Jason Aronson, 1978.
Wendell W. Watters, M.D.
Hamilton, Ontario
Attachment and Loss, Volume III: Loss - Sadness and
Depression by John Bowlby. Toronto: Clarke Irwin and Co.
Ltd., 472 pp., $37.95, 1980.
This is the third volume of Bowlby's trilogy on Attachment
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