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PSY556 Bowen Family Systems/Intergenerational Family Therapy

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Anxious Attachment
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A pathological form of closeness driven by anxiety. (The hallmark of these emotionally stuck-together, or fused, relationships was a lack of personal autonomy)
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Fusion
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Families operate with one brain
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Pragmatist
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More concerned with action (we need to give families tools to work with) than insight (i.e. psychoanalysis)
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Togetherness vs. Individuality
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Human relationships are driven by these two counterbalancing life forces. (How successfully people reconcile these two polarities of human nature depends on the extent to which they have learned to manage emotionality = differentiation of self)
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Differentiation of Self
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The capacity to think and reflect, to not respond automatically to emotional pressures, internal or external. It is the ability to be flexible and act wisely, even in the face of anxiety. (What we need to strive for; the emotional process of being our own individual self among the whole; ability to keep a healthy distance from family; separate emotion from reason)
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Undifferentiation
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Individuals are easily moved to emotionality; driven by reactivity; react with submission or defiance; difficult to maintain autonomy; echo what they’ve heard; agree instead of argue.
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Emotional Triangles
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Bring in a 3rd party or thing (i.e. stay at work late; go to the bar); the majority of triangles are bad, but some are good. The more anxiety driven people are, the less tolerant they are of each other and the more polarized they are by difference. Third party: Can push to change (good) or can maintain permanence (bad). The therapist models how to detriangle. The therapist has to recognize countertransference.
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Nuclear Family Emotional Process
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The way a family deals with specific issues (i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) –> FEELING.
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Family Projection Process
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In nuclear family; what parents project to their kids.
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Multigenerational Transmission Processes
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If we don’t pay attention to the Family Projection Process, patterns result; it has to be a conscious decision to not act like your parents (in times of stress, you’re going to revert back).
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Undifferentiated Family Ego Mass
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Excess of emotional reactivity or fusion; one mind; how the family thinks about specific issues (i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) –> THINKING.
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Fusion in Marriage
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Emotional distance between partners; Physical/Emotional dysfunction in one partner (pursuer-distancer); Marital Conflict; Projection of problems onto the children
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Sibling Position
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Personality characteristics based on position among siblings. (Repeats after a 7 year age gap)
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Sibling Rivalry
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Mother’s Anxiety (when mom has more than one child, she tries not to favor kids); Sibling Conflict (result of mother’s anxiety)
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Eldest Child
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Identify with power and authority; more likely to succeed; supposedly more ego-driven; takes charge; over-conscientious; nurturing; likes to adhere to tradition
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Middle Child
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Mediators; often over-looked; more even-tempered; excellent negotiators.
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Youngest Child
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Identify with the oppressed and inclined to question the status quo; spoiled; carefree; creative; lazy; challenges power structure
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Emotional Cutoff
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Flight from an unresolved emotional attachment; in order to reduce discomfort generated by being in emotional contact, individuals may experience this. Greater the fusion, the more likely to cutoff. The way people maintain anxiety between generations. Not always mutual.
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Societal Emotional Process
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Social Influence on the family; Toxic Social Emotional Processes (Sexism, Class, Ethnic Prejudice); Families with higher differentiation can combat these
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Pseudo Self
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When you are undifferentiated.
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Solid Self
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When you are able to be you (differentiation of self)
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Bowenian/Intergenerational Therapist Role
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The therapist is the EXPERT and is also DIRECTIVE; must minimize emotionality; questions asked to foster self-reflection (helping them understand the process). Ask each member the question. Don’t focus on family dialogue. Must control their own emotional reactivity and avoid triangulation (avoid taking sides; each party must take responsibility in the problem).
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Family Life Cycle
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Grow up in families/Foundation. Leave home/Decrease contact. However, unfinished business exists and is transferred into other relationships. Emotional attachment resembles family of origin. LIfe cycle event impact.
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Development of Behavior Disorders
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How well can you handle stress? The more differentiated, the better you can handle stress because of your flexibility. Autonomy leads to a mature relationship (Criticism: makes people seem like isolated creatures). Lack of (immature relationship): Absorbs anxiety. Emotional fusion passed from one generation to the next. Vertical problems (anxiety/toxicity) vs. Horizontal (life cycle transitions). Home/work patterns with rewards. Problem = partners select individuals with similar levels of differentiation. Conflict: Emotional immaturity in the other.
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Conditions of Behavior Change
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Change begins in the couple (Therapist creates a new triangle with couple and themselves while being emotionally neutral). GOALS: Increasing parents’ ability to manage their own anxiety; fortify the couple’s emotional functioning. Distinguish between thinking and feeling when it comes to relationship problems; Understanding one’s own role in interpersonal processes; Understanding that awareness, not action is the first step. Change can happen with couples/individuals who affect the entire family, but awareness in the entire unit is needed.
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Goals of Bowenian/Intergenerational Therapy
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Not to change people (also not interested in solving problems); Learn about themselves and their relationships and assume RESPONSIBILITY for their problems. TRACING Process: patterns of emotional reactivity (how members relate). Structure: interlocking network of triangles (recurrent patterns of interaction that define and stabilize the shape of relationships). Decrease ANXIETY. Increase DIFFERENTIATION in one or more family members.
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Process Questions
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Slow people down, diminish reactive anxiety, start thinking.
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Phase One of Intergenerational Therapy
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ASSESSMENT: Patterns of emotional functioning (create genogram; triangles; everyone’s level of differentiation); Levels of anxiety; Amount of stress: assess the resources they have or lack; Therapeutic Techniques = Understand how a family operates and forget technique; PROCESS QUESTIONS. Relationship experiment: Recognize their response to the problem is perpetuating the problem. What is it like to act counter to their emotionally driven response?
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Phase Two of Intergenerational Therapy
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Study GENOGRAM: Symptom; Sibling Position; Nuclear Family Emotional Process; Stress; Emotional Reactivity; Adaptiveness; Stability and Interactiveness; Emotional Cutoff; Therapeutic Focus. PROGNOSIS: If no one has broken free of the repeating patterns, this indicates a more challenging problem.
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Phase Three of Intergenerational Therapy
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DIFFERENTIATION: Individuality vs. Togetherness
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Bowenian/Intergenerational Techniques
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Understand how a family operates and forget technique (Detriangulate; Nonanxious Presence; GENOGRAM; Process Questions; Supporting Differentiation; Going Home Again; Displacement Stories; Coaching).
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Contributions of Bowenian/Intergenerational Theory
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Emotional reactivity; Anxiety; Differentiation.
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Shortcomings of Bowenian/Intergenerational Theory
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Individual vs. Nuclear Family. Differentiation is vague (how do we do that?). Very gendered (deep look at the mother)