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Phase 2 of Family Diagram App is Coming

The Family Diagram app is undergoing a second phase of development. This second phase builds on countless observations and conversations with both clients and the most experienced professionals of Bowen Theory. This phase will simplify the app into one data entry form that automatically builds an animated timeline and diagram for you.

Phase 0: The Challenges in Bowen Theory

Building a first tool for anything forces you to see the state of the art for that thing more clearly than anyone has before. Bowen theory is no different.

Anyone that attempts to build a tool for Bowen Theory will encounter an incredible number of technical problems. From the theory, to the literature, to the training, to the relationship system surrounding the theory, the challenges are everywhere and they are not trivial. Building a tool that doesn’t conflict with Bowen theory requires diving into so many rabbit holes that one has to be practically obsessed.

Moving through these problems requires absolute clarity of the theory itself. What exactly does it say and what part of applying it is repeated enough to work as software?

“Clarity” on the theory does not mean memorizing some scripture because there is no canonical source for what Bowen Theory is. Clarity means consuming the entire corpus of seminal literature spread about many sources, some multiple times, knowing what all the seminal thinkers said and what the living ones still say. Then it requires taking something like the lowest common denominator of all of them, and evaluating whether a single way of applying them all is possible.

This is no easy task for Bowen Theory. It takes years of training and navigating the many relationships, emotions, and intellectual work to “get it.” Both the literature and training contains confusing uses of the terms “fact,” “science,” and “prediction” that imply there is something that can be easily translated into a tool than there really is. This confusion increases many trainees’ confusion about what the theory can do, cannot do, and can never do.

It may help to clarify that while Bowen Theory uniquely uses concepts that are compatible with Biology, it has not been validated to the standards of the global scientific community. It is not “science” in the sense that formal research requires. Formal research implies formal explicit predictive models which implies translation of those models into software or other manufactured tools.

The only thing software can do for us is automate work we’d rather not do manually. To build software, you literally need some method that you intend to automate. A scientific model of an mRNA vaccine, or a model that identifies the song from a microphone, or species of flower from an image are the kinds of things that make people think “magic” when they hear the word “app” today.

What can you use then, if there are no formal scientific models and no “technique “for Bowen Theory? Sure, you can make another diagraming app, but many of those already exist. What exactly would a “Bowen theory app” do?

Phase 1: Pure Induction

This was the major challenge during the first phase of the Family Diagram app. The beta version was mostly a diagramming app that used symbols from Michael Kerr’s chapter 10 in his 1988 book, Family Evaluation. Beta users almost always asked questions that had no answer, and some crystal clear vision for what this app was for was needed so that these questions didn’t require a team of paid personnel to answer.

Almost all the questions implied some new feature that needed to be added. Examples were, “how do I show an emotional regression,” or “how do I show unresolved emotional attachment,” or “How do I show that this child was the favorite but this child was the projected one.” Fulfilling these kinds of questions with new features would quickly turn this app into just another “genogram” app, one with endless symbols and no coherent underlying theory and method.

The solution to deal with this problem was akin to the default “research position” commonly taught in training in Bowen Theory. That position is one of observation and collection of facts to form a basic starting point for further work. A decision was made to focus the app on pure induction by optimizing for the collection of nothing but facts that would hypothetically have something to do with family emotional process. Putting the “hypothetically” problem back into the users kept the app’s concepts straightforward and manageable.

This key first principle has generated many new terms, concepts, methods, a seminar, and unprecedented clarity on the scientific state of the many different parts of Bowen Theory. Here are a few articles and presentations that came from this:

It’s easy to say that this principle has driven a prolific phase. Further, the app now has very few bugs and gains 1.5 new free users every day. This is quite an achievement with only word of mouth advertising and a staff of one.

However, the app is still not used as much as it should be. Though there is an age disparity, many of the most experienced professionals in Bowen theory still do not use it.

The biggest problem with the app is that it is highly technical. It is technical because it was designed to capture the kind of data required by the very broad claims of Bowen theory. After countless observations and conversations with all of the people most experienced in Bowen theory still alive today, it turns out that it is too difficult for most to engage the theory itself on purely scientific terms. It only became possible to observe this fact after the app removed the technological barrier to recording the complex data and visualizing it in simple form. Now all that remains are the barriers of competence in the professionals and precision in the theory.

While the app is a powerful data collection and visualization tool, most people who apply Bowen Theory do not use it for true objective research or professional practice. Instead, most use Bowen Theory as new food for thought in a mostly subjective effort at differentiation of self in one’s own family. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, after all the role of family in individual functioning and vice versa it is a wild frontier of unknowns. But there is a long way to go before a case formulation can be formally argued to a panel of good faith critics who aren’t already interested in Bowen theory.

This level of precision must be achieved before translating the theory into tools is a straightforward deduction.

Phase 1 of the app has clarified many of the problems writing a tool for Bowen Theory mentioned above. Now phase two will build on this clarity to provide a simpler tool for a wider audience, but without losing that hard-won foundation of what is and is not scientific thinking.

Phase 2: Automatically Build an Animated Diagram & Timeline

The app brings two novel contributions to Bowen Theory; The animated diagram and the timeline. The idea for phase two is to bridge the gap between these contributions and the way people already use Bowen Theory. That means tracking a timeline of nodal events and facts of functioning, then illustrating the ebb and flow of anxiety and functional level of differentiation, and the various other relationship symbols like the four mechanisms, inside/outside, toward and away, cutoff, and defined self.

Phase 2 is about one simple idea: You should enter events into a simple form and the app should build an animated family diagram and timeline for you. The required date field on the form will force you to think chronologically, something that is essential for systems thinking. You will simply enter data in terms of what happened, whom it happened with, when (and maybe also for how long), where, and how it impacted the main variables of the theory.

Not much will change under the hood to make this happen. The existing app will serve as an engine to this new form. All the old features will be retained for researchers and power users who want to edit their data in a more detailed way. But the average user will just enter dated events with a few key variables that will automatically build out a timeline of nodal events and a diagram from that timeline.

One goal is to be able to look back at the generated diagram and timeline to gain insight about the emotional process shown. Another goal is to track how your view of how the family works changes over time. Definitions of the symbols will be up to you, it will be based on whatever you think they mean at the time. It will be a tool for the kind of fuzzy-objectivity at the core of applying Bowen Theory; observing how much of your own behavior is being chosen versus how much is being driven by automatic reactions to the family emotional system.

It is the hope that simply logging important events over time will allow people to see things they had not seen before about their own functioning.

Next Steps: Beta Test & App Seminar

The mandate of Phase 2 is to make the app easy to use for people already trained in Bowen Theory. This means that there will be another phase of beta testing by both people who are very experienced in Bowen Theory and people new to the theory. The beta phase will be free of charge and open to anyone.

Send us a message if you would like to be a part of the beta.

The existing app seminar would either be revamped or a new seminar would be created to match this mode more focused on functional facts. The existing seminar may remain an advanced seminar focused on pure induction since there is no other seminar out there that does this. This new phase will also allow for training seminars in the app where Phase 1 did not.

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