MERCER vs. BOWDEN
Annotated Bibliography and Applied Summary
Murray Bowden and Ramona Mercer
Murray Bowen family systems therapy
Goldenberg, I. & Goldenberg, H. (1990). Family therapy: An overview. Pacific Grove:
Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
A core concept of Bowen family systems therapy is that a psychologically healthy member of a family has a reasonable sense of differentiation from other family members. In contrast, an unhealthy family dynamic is one in which family members are poorly differentiated from others and are codependent upon other members of the family. This creates a dynamic riddled with tension and anger as family members are not able to fully appreciate or understand where their needs and boundaries begin and end.
Knauth, D. (2003) Family secrets: An illustrative clinical case study guided by Bowen family systems theory. Journal of Family Nursing, 9: 331
This article examines Bowen family systems therapy specifically from a nursing perspective and advocates Bowen therapy as uniquely beneficial for the nursing process. Bowen Family Systems therapy specifically describes family health in terms of interpersonal dynamics and the role that different family members play in relation to one another. The nurse acts as a facilitator to enhance family functions. This article focuses on concepts such as family 'triangles' and secrets -- the more intermeshed and more poorly differentiated the family, the greater the likelihood of secrecy and deceit.
Weinstein, D. (2004). Culture at work: Family therapy and the culture concept in post-World
War II America. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 40(1), 23 -- 46.
Family therapy stands in stark contrast to the individualistic orientation of psychodynamic therapy. Family therapy arose during the post-Cold War era as more and more people began to be interested in the family as the central unit of society and the role of culture in the shaping of the individual psyche came to be of greater interest. Family therapy is an intensely interdisciplinary approach that brings sociology as well as anthropology into its foundational concepts. Human beings do not exist outside of the social unit and thus to some extent all family therapy is 'culturally-sensitive' therapy.
Ramona Mercer's theory of maternal role attainment
Husmillo, M. (2013). Maternal role attainment theory. International Journal of Childbirth
Education, 28 (2): 46-48.
This article explains the application of Mercer's theory to nursing practice. It is highly complementary of Mercer's theory and discusses the different stage-by-stage process of maternal 'becoming' critical to Mercer's theory. It emphasizes the importance of skin-to-skin contact between mother and child and breastfeeding. Potential barriers to maternal care are also addressed, such as socioeconomic status.
Mercer, R. (2004). Becoming a mother: Maternal role attainment. Journal of Nursing
Scholarship, 36(3): 226-232.
This is Mercer's original article, defining the core components of her theory. Mercer defines the process of becoming a mother as a learned process and one of acculturation, not simple instinct. The nurse must be aware of the fact that the birth experience, self-concept, role strain, perceptions of motherhood, culture, and many other factors will affect the ability of the woman to attain a positive self-concept as a new mother. As such, the nursing process can enhance the process of a positive transition into the woman's next stage of life.
I. Introduction to Bowen family systems therapy
1. Shift from individualistic psychodynamic view
B. Concept of independence and dependence
II. Introduction to Ramona Mercer's maternal attachment theory
A. Social construction of motherhood
1. Becoming a mother as a process
B. Encouraging dependence of mother and child
1. Maternal touching
C. Role of nurse in acculturation process of motherhood
A. Different views of dependence and independence
B. More limited scope of Mercer's theory -- only applies to mothers, not families as a whole
A. Cultural considerations for applying both theories
B. Need for sensitivity and individuation in applying both theorists to the individual circumstances of the patient
Interdependence and codependence:
Bowen family systems therapy vs. Ramona Mercer's theory of maternal role attainment/becoming a mother
Bowen's family systems therapy was a ground-breaking development in the history of modern psychoanalysis. Previous to Bowen, the primary focus of most forms of psychotherapy was the individual in isolation (Weinstein 2004: 24-25). However, after the Cold War, the revival of interest in the family dynamic shifted the dominant thought processes within the psychoanalytic community. Instead of focusing on the internal dynamics of the human psyche, theorists began to examine how the family as a unit and family culture impacted the psychological health of the individual. Regarding the individual in a state of isolation was seen as less effective than analyzing relationships and culture. Family therapy interjected an element of sociological or anthropological analysis to the therapeutic framework, given that family structure by definition is produced by culture. "How does cultural change and migration affect a family's expression of psychopathology? Are there family structures or processes that are pathological in one culture but not in another? How do families contribute to socially destructive conditions such as prejudice and poverty "(Weinstein 2004: 25)?
Bowen focuses upon the family unit as an agent that can potentially foster health or, conversely, foster very unhealthy relationships. "To Bowen, the degree to which a differentiation of self occurs in an individual reflects the extent to which that person is able to distinguish between the intellectual process and the feeling process (emotions) he or she is experiencing" (Goldenberg & Goldenberg 1990:1). Many families, rather than supporting independence instead create a state of codependence, whereby individuals are unable to separate their feelings from other family members. A classic example of this might be that of a 'stage mother' who is unable to separate her ambitions from her offspring and her own sense of need and craving for self-worth.
In Bowen family systems theory, the fundamental unit of analysis within families is that of the triangle, an intermeshed network of three individuals. The most dysfunctional families exist in a state of pure 'ego mass' and Bowen rates family relationships based upon a scale regarding their sense of differentiation from others. Differentiation is healthy, not unhealthy and while differentiation is a continuum for all individuals, ideally a higher level of differentiation allows for more rational and less hurtful interactions with others, while low levels of differentiation pull an individual into the triangular dynamic of the undifferentiated dyad (Goldenberg & Goldenberg 1990:2). Yet another example of families with poor levels of differentiation are families where substance abuse is rife: the mother may constantly chide her substance-abusing son, get angry at herself and her husband for causing the son's problem, and use the son's problem to vent her other frustrations about the marriage. In many situations, one individual is hyper-functional and assumes the responsibilities of others, while letting others under-function and not grow up.
Within triangular relationships, there is a tendency to demonize certain family members, scapegoating them for all of the family problems. Conversely, some family members are deemed to be the 'good' ones. "To Bowen, the only effective way to resolve current family problems is to change the interactions with the families of origin" and to shift this type of black-and-white thinking (Goldenberg & Goldenberg 1990:4).
Bowen's theory is extremely all-encompassing and deals with families during multiple stages and undergoing varied levels and types of stress. Bowen's theory is not designed specifically to deal with nursing-related problems, but his concept of unconscious role-playing can be extremely useful for a nurse dealing with families under strain because of caregiving demands and the psychological or physical problems of a family member. Bowen's theory can also potentially help identify barriers to changing lifestyles. For example, a child may be labeled as the 'fat one' versus 'the pretty one' in the family unit, which can impede encouraging the child to make positive changes because family members unconsciously engage in sabotage of the child's weight loss.
In contrast, to Bowen's rather mistrustful view of family relationships, theorist Ramona T. Mercer stressed the positive implications of intermeshed relationships. Mercer specifically focused upon strengthening the bond between mother and child. She began her work as a nurse on maternity wards. Not unlike Bowden, Mercer's theory of maternal role attainment/becoming a mother arose as a result of changes in social philosophy during the era when she worked. Rather than viewing motherhood as something that naturally blossomed immediately after giving birth, Mercer stressed that motherhood was a socially constructed process that proceeded through a series of stages and was not an individualistic process (Husmillo 2013: 46).
However, while the goal of Bowen's family systems is independence (at least to some degree) of family members, the goal of Mercer's theory is dependence, namely the acknowledgement of the role of the mother of the child and the fostering of a mutually beneficial and loving relationship between mother and child. This is the result of Mercer's relatively narrow focus: her theory is designed to address the specific needs of mother and child during the early stages of development.