During this period, Bowen questioned the interactional pattern that maintained schizophrenia belonged solely to the mother/child dyad and began to examine the role of fathers in this relationship. He and his research team were able to hospitalize four families and study several others in the community. They found these families engaged in a pattern in which the mother and child were unusually close and the father was distant; however, in times of stress, the alliance would shift to the father and child, with the mother on the outs.


This finding led Bowen to study how these behavioral sequences were transmitted through the generations in families, which he called the multigenerational transmission process. Bowen’s desire was to develop a natural systems model of human behavior— a model that showed how all living systems behave according to innately programmed patterns. As the years passed, he turned more toward the field of biology and the natural sciences than to the traditional psychological models that pervaded the mental health literature (Bowen, 1978). In 1958, Bowen left the NIMH to go to the Georgetown University School of Medicine where he set up his family therapy training program.


In 1967, he experimented with his ideas for altering entrenched multigenerational family patterns with his own family of origin, the family in which he grew up (Anonymous, 1972). This was an important undertaking for Bowen, as he found this experience so profound that he mandated all of his family therapy trainees have a similar experience with their own families.