Murray Bowen was a child psychiatrist who specialized in treating psychotic children. After World War II, Bowen served on the staff of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, which at the time was a bastion of the psychoanalytic movement. He was initially influenced by the writings of Freida Fromm-Reichman on the role of the schizophrenogenic mother in child psychosis. Fromm-Reichman postulated that these mothers were needy, insecure women who smothered and overprotected their children to the point at which they had a schizophrenic break, an idea no longer believed to be credible.


In 1951, Bowen began hospitalizing schizophrenic children and their mothers at the Menninger Clinic in the hope of observing and eventually treating this phenomenon. It was during this period that he began to question the psychoanalytic notion of schizophrenia as existing in the “head” of the patient, and began to assess the interactional dynamics of the mother/child relationship. His new ideas about schizophrenia as an interactional disorder rather than an intrapsychic one drew the wrath of many of his colleagues at Menninger’s and eventually led to his departure (Wylie, 1992).


In 1954, he moved to Washington, DC, to join the staff of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This was a creative wellspring for bright young mental health mavericks who were interested in studying emotional phenomena that ran counter to traditional mental health ideas.