Dr. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, originated his theory and its eight interlocking concepts. He formulated the theory by using systems thinking to integrate knowledge of the human as a product of evolution with knowledge from family research. A core assumption is that an emotional system that evolved over several billion years governs human relationship systems. People have a “thinking brain,” language, a complex psychology and culture, but they still do all the ordinary things that other forms of life do. The emotional system affects most human activity and is the principal driving force in the development of clinical problems. Knowledge of how the emotional system operates in one’s family, work, and social systems offers new, more effective options for solving problems in each of these areas.

On this page are resources to help you learn more about Bowen theory. In The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory, Michael E. Kerr, Director Emeritus of the Bowen Center, uses the experiences of a fictional family to illustrate and explain each concept. The contents of these pages are also available for sale as hard-copy or PDF publications, under the title One Family’s Story, For translations in other languages, please go to the Publications page.

In video, the Bowen Center offers access to recordings of Murray Bowen. The Basic Series features one hour lectures by Dr. Bowen. In The Bowen Kerr Interview Series, Dr. Kerr interviews Dr. Bowen on theory related questions.

The family diagram is an important tool in the application of Bowen theory. It was developed by Murray Bowen to create a visual depiction of the experience of multiple generations in a family. Read more about it below.

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The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory

Bowen Theory Videos

Below are introductory videos describing the basic theoretical concepts of Bowen theory. These materials have recently been made available for free to make it easier for both new and old students to develop a basic conceptual foundation for what it means to see the family as an emotional unit.

Family Diagram


Murray Bowen, MD, developed and used family diagrams in his own research, in clinical practice, and in training other professionals. A family diagram is a graphic depiction of facts of functioning over several generations.  It is a tool for seeing the family as an emotional system, for recognizing patterns of reactivity that govern the lives of family members, and for observing the family as it adapts to circumstances of life.

Learn More

The Bowen Center offers a wide variety of training and conferences in Bowen theory.