Bowen Theory's Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families (Paperback)

Bowen Theory's Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families By Michael E. Kerr, M.D. Cover Image

Bowen Theory's Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families (Paperback)


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A much-needed update to one of the most significant family therapy theories of the past century.

Murray Bowen (1931–1990) was the first to study the family in a live-in setting and describe specific details about how families function as systems. Despite Bowen theory being based on research begun more than seventy years ago, the value of viewing human beings as profoundly emotionally-driven creatures and human families functioning as emotional units is more relevant than ever. This book, written by one of his closest collaborators, updates his still-radical theory with the latest approaches to understanding emotional development.

Reduced to its most fundamental level, Bowen theory explains how people begin a relationship very close emotionally but become more distant over time. The ideas also help explain why good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, and how family life strengthens some members while weakening others. Gaining knowledge about previously unseen specifics of family interactions reveals a hidden life of families. The hidden life explains how the best of intentions can fail to produce the desired result, thus providing a blueprint for change. 

Part I of the book explains the core ideas in the theory. Part II describes the process of differentiation of self, which is the most important application of Bowen theory. People sometimes think of theories as "ivory tower" productions: interesting, but not necessarily practical. Differentiation of self is anything but; it has a well-tested real-world application. Part II includes four long case presentations of families in the public eye. They help illustrate how Bowen theory can help explain how families—three of which appear fairly normal and one which does not—unwittingly produce an offspring that chronically manifests some time of severely aberrant behavior. 

Finally, the book proposes a new "unidisease" concept—the idea that a wide range of diseases have a number of physiological processes in common. In an Epilogue, Kerr applies Bowen theory to his family to illustrate how changes in a family relationship system over time can better explain the clinical course of a chronic illness than the diagnosis itself. 

With close to four thousand hours of therapy conducted with about thirty-five hundred families over decades, Michael Kerr is an expert guide to the ins and outs of this most influential way of approaching clinical work with families.

Michael E. Kerr, MD, succeeded Murray Bowen as director of the Georgetown Family Center. He is coauthor with Bowen of Family Evaluation (Norton) and lives in Islesboro, Maine.

Product Details ISBN: 9781324052647
ISBN-10: 1324052643
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: December 6th, 2022
Pages: 408
Language: English
As with Bateson's fireside chats, Bowen's coaching of the first generation of family therapists resonated beyond his day, and Kerr is revealing what that meant to a generation that may not have heard of them. Welcome back.
— Metapsychology Online Reviews

This book is nothing less than a 21st-century masterpiece of Bowen theory and therapy. Only Michael Kerr could have written this update and expansion of the classic Bowen model. A striking bonus is Kerr's insightful and courageous sharing of his own family of origin journey. Bowen would be proud.
— William J. Doherty, PhD, Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, co-author of Helping Couples on the Brink of Divorce

In his new text, Bowen Theory’s Secrets, Michael Kerr does a masterful job of presenting his latest understanding and refinement of Bowen theory. Dr. Kerr applies its principles to clinical narratives, personal systems work and current psychological and sociological situations. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the work of Kerr and Bowen must have this book for study and enlightenment. It will inspire the on-going systems creativity of the next generation.

— Philip J. Geurin, MD, Founding Director of the Center for Family Learning, Rye Brook, NY

When clinicians in the psychiatric ward such as Murray Bowen and Michael Kerr worry about the theoretical underpinnings of their craft, consider it legitimate to contemplate animal societies and trees in the forest, and are capable of reaching out to toolkits such as systems theory, there is hope yet for the emotionally troubled Homo sapiens.

— Raghavendra Gadagkar, author Survival Strategies, Founder and President of the Indian Society of Evolutionary Biologists

How does one move from thinking that locates problems in the individual to a view of the family as an emotional system that governs the development of strengths and symptoms in its members? Dr. Kerr present clear, compelling evidence that supports the systems theory of family functioning developed by Murray Bowen. Invaluable to students of Bowen theory and accessible to people who have never heard of the theory, this book deserves a wide reading.
— Randall Frost, Director of Training and Research, Living Systems, Vancouver, Canada