Who holds the key to change in a family?

by Rod Smith

Differentiation of Self is central to my approach to therapy. This is a term coined by the reputed founder of the Science of Family Therapy, Dr. Murray Bowen. In short, Bowen, a psychiatrist, tired of treating individuals for what was, to Bowen, clearly a family or a group issue.

Controversially, Bowen would hospitalize an entire family because one member displayed mental issues.

Dr. Bowen believed that emotional, mental health, and family problems were not “inside” the thinking or lack of functioning in the symptom bearer – the person who was said to be ill – but rather the “problem” resided within the relationships of the family or group.

Differentiation of Self is the capacity to:

  • Remain and individual while also being an integral part of a larger group.
    Be responsible for one’s own life and choices.
  • Stay committed to important relationships in the face of disagreement and conflict.
  • Express thoughts, feelings, preferences, agreements and disagreements, despite natural group or family pressures to conform.
  • Remain on track and committed to goals while respecting maintaining relationships with important others who would rather you were less ambitious.

Murray Bowen observed that the key to a family’s health was the person (or persons) who were working on their levels of differentiation.

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