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Differentiation of Self in Bowen Family Systems Theory

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Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy


Differentiation of self is a fundamental concept in Bowen’s family systems theory. In Bowen theory, families are conceptualized as emotional units and individual functioning is thought to be best understood in the context of relationship processes within nuclear and multigenerational family systems (Bowen 1976, 1978; Titelman 2014). Bowen recognized that human behavior is influenced and shaped by the fundamental need for both autonomy/self-determination and connection in relationships, and he conceptualized heterogeneity in the functioning of individuals and systems along a continuum of health in terms of differentiation of self.


Bowen theory is regarded as a comprehensive explanation of psychological health and functioning from a systemic and multigenerational perspective (Titelman 2014). Bowen theory provides a rich foundation for the field of family therapy that renders it distinct from individual theories. Its central construct, differentiation of self,...

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Correspondence to Maria Schweer-Collins .

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Schweer-Collins, M., Mintz, B., Skowron, E.A. (2017). Differentiation of Self in Bowen Family Systems Theory. In: Lebow, J., Chambers, A., Breunlin, D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Springer, Cham.

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