Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On BFST Orthodoxy

A colleague invited some of us on a discussion on the phenomenon of BFST orthodoxy. This is the tendency we've seen among some "Bowenians" to guard the orthodoxy of the theory. At times it manifests itself in:

* A focus on the correct use of terms, concepts, and vocabulary
* The creation of a list of verbotem words, phrases, or references
* A dismissal of certain concepts that are considered "outside" the original theory's schema
* The identification of "camps" (e.g., Bowen vs. Friedman) and the self-identification with the original conceptualizer with an accompanying dismissal of those not deemed disciples of direct succession.
* The manifestation of the affects of hubris and exclusivity.

I think it is acurate to identify these as reactivity. What I most appreciate, and endorse to others, about BFST theory is that it is THEORY. In certain introductory presentations I enumerate the components of what constitutes a "valid theory." I use the list in presentations, and in my introductory systems course to get past latent "resistance" on the part of skeptical and cynical students.

The list includes the following:

Theories describe phenomenon as they are perceived (the are descriptive, not prescriptive)
Theories are grounded in a discipline (in the case of BFST, in clinical psychology)
Theories are universally applicable to the focus of their concern (in the case of BFST all "relationship systems" regardless of their context)
Theories are open to being disproved.

The point being that BFST is a "theory" and not "doctrine" or "ideology."

When I read or hear "Bowenian Purists" go on about parsing terms or being the self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy by listing what is "verboten" then in my view they have ceased to be theorists and have become ideologists--with the accompanying characteristics of willfulness, exclusivity, and cutoffs. Understand that I think using terms accurately is important, and, it is important to "stay grounded" in the theory and its field (I created a presenation titled "Systems Misunderstandings" to address the issue of the missuse and misunderstanding of basic terms of the theory).

However, the search for a "pure" Bowenian theory is, I think misguided, and dismisses the richness of Bowen's genius in positing a theory. Theories are not set in stone, and are not meant to be. Theories by their nature develop, grow in their nuance, are open to scrutiny, incorporate new information and adapt to new truths as they are revealed or discovered. Because theories eventually lead to application they are shaped by the contexts in which they are applied, and, by the contributions of the innovators who who carry the theory forward over time.

Of greater danger is the potential of making a religion out of the theory. This happens when the dynamic of inclusion and exclusion comes into the picture. Religion is about "membership," about determining who is "in" and who is "out"; who belongs and who does not. That tendency creates the necessity of self-appointed or ordained priests to guard belief (orthodoxy) and to make the declarations about who belongs and who does not.

The pattern is all too, shall we say, "systemic"? The biblical example that comes to mind is those who disciples of Jesus who claimed the priviledge of direct succession--calling themselved Apostles. These gave the Johnnie-come-lately Paul fits. Paul, in his own differentiation of self move had little trouble calling himself an Apostle much to others' consternation. Later on we have the situation of those who, lacking substantive capacity of Self, would identify with "camps": those who claimed to be of Paul and those who claimed to be of Apollos. Move ahead a few years and, predictably, we have the Church Councils gathering to define Orthodoxy, determine who is "in" and who is "out" and to exclude those deemed unworthy of belinging.

But, this is par for the course in professions and guilds also--one can trace such a dynamic with Freud and his psychoanalysts, for example. Friedman has that great story and getting called on the carpet by the psychoanalytic guild for dariong to put the term "diagnosis" in his brochure. The claim there was that only those who were "in" psychoanalytic guild were previledged, certified, and capable of doing "diagnosis." Friedman's characteristicaly droll response was that the guild should go after Sears' auto service due to their service of diagnosing engine problems.

Copyright (c) 2011, Israel Galindo