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Professional Training Programme in Bowen Family Systems Theory and Therapy

2020 – 2022

The 2-year part-time training programme aims to enhance the systemic perspective to view relationships and to facilitate helping professionals to apply Bowen theory in clinical work.


Click  here  to download the Programme Booklet.


  1. To enhance the systemic perspective to viewing human relationships and to facilitate the development of the solid self.
  2. To help clinicians to apply Bowen theory in clinical work.

Participants will……

  1. Learn to take a broad view of situations, and not only focus on the symptoms.
  2. Learn the basic concepts and clinical strategies of Bowen theory.
  3. Learn to apply systems thinking to dealing with the challenges arising from daily life and work situations.
  4. Undertake research of their own families, and develop better understanding of their functioning patterns in families and important relationships.
  5. Learn the connection between the family systems theory and the natural sciences.

Course Content

Year 1

  1. Fundamentals of the Bowen family systems theory –
    • The family as a natural system
    • The family as an emotional unit
    • The counterbalancing forces of togetherness and individuality
    • Family and the brain in evolution
  2. Chronic Anxiety and Differentiation of Self in the family emotional system
  3. Other emotional processes in the family system –
    • Triangles
    • Anxiety binding mechanisms in the nuclear family system
    • Multigenerational Transmission Process
    • Sibling Position
    • Emotional Cut off
  4. Symptom development –
    • the systems model of disease
    • unresolved emotional attachment
    • family systems variables in symptom development
    • Maintenance and resolution of symptoms
  5. Evaluation of the Family emotional system –
    • family diagram
    • The family evaluation interview
    • Interpretation of data
    • Therapeutic focus and prognosis
  6. Clinical Practice –
    • Bowen’s perspectives of the helping relationship
    • Defining the relationship processes and reducing anxiety
    • Detriangling
    • Neutrality and objectivity
    • Teaching the functioning of family emotional systems
    • Defining an I-position
    • Coaching the individual towards self- regulation and self-change in the family
  7. The therapist and his/her family system –
    • Patterns and triangles in one’s family system
    • Chronic anxiety and managing emotional reactivity
    • Multigenerational Transmission Process
    • Emotional self-regulation
    • Defining self in one’s family system

Year 2

This will involve –

    1. Examination of the above areas at a deeper level.
    2. Specific topics of interest to the participants will be selected for deeper study, e.g. families with marital difficulties, abuse, addiction, and child-focused families. The emotional processes and clinical strategies for working with these families will be examined.
    3. Application of Bowen theory in other emotional systems
    4. Anxiety and the larger society

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this training programme recognized by any international organizations?

The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, Washington D.C., U.S.A., is the leading organization providing training on Bowen theory.  The ISS Family Institute is listed as one of the 16 Bowen Programmes Elsewhere on its website.

The ISS Family Institute works closely with with the Bowen Center for the Study of Family in the promotion of Bowen theory both in Hong Kong and around the world:

  • It organizes regular conferences and webcast lectures presented by the faculty of the Bowen Center, and senior members of the Bowen Network.
  • Its Director of Programme, Mrs. Peggy Chan, regularly attends the meetings and conferences organized by the Bowen Center in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Chan is currently participating in an advanced program (Research Seminar) of the Bowen Center.
  • Mrs. Peggy Chan had presented at the 51st Annual Symposium of the Bowen Center.  She was the plenary speaker on “Learning and Teaching Bowen Family Systems Theory in the Context of the Chinese Culture – Resources and Challenges” at The First International Conference on Bowen Family Systems Theory in Pittsburg, U.S.A. in August, 2015.  She also presented at the  the 3rd Annual Symposium of the Center for the Study of Natural Systems and Family (CSNS&F), Houston, Texas in Feb. 2017.
  • Mrs. Chan is currently a member of the Bowen Network Program for the Advancement of the Bowen Theory, and collaborates with other Bowen theory training centers around the world to promote better teaching and learning of Bowen theory.
  • The ISS Family Institute co-organized the 2nd International Conference on Bowen Family Systems Theory with The Hong Kong Polytechnic Unversity on May 17-19, 2018.  More than 30 senior learners of Bowen theory from different parts of the world congregated in Hong Kong to share their best thinking in Bowen theory during the 2nd International Conference on Bowen Family Systems Theory.  The Conference offered 52 presentations and workshops on the theme of “Systems thinking in Daily Life: Bowen Theory in Families, Organizations and Communities”.  The  Conference was well-attended by over 300 attendees from 14 countries and cities.  It generated lively dialogue and interchange amongst the attendees on the theory and applications of Bowen theory in  different contexts.

How can I benefit from this training programme?

Through in-depth study of how human emotional systems function, trainees will learn a comprehensive framework on how to understand human functioning and relationships. Trainees will get regular coaching on how to apply the theory to their clinical practice, work and family relationships, so that they can solve problems and manage themselves effectively in these arenas.

How can this programme help me in my counselling work?

Through learning the Bowen theory, this program helps the counselor to take a broad view of the clients’ situation, and also to have a firm grasp of the underlying emotional forces that impact on the family members. It helps the counselor to understand the functional patterns of the family system and its members, and not only focus on solving the presenting problems. The counselor will guide the clients to have fundamental changes in their functioning patterns, so that the clients will be more effective in future relationships. This theory sees the family as an emotional unit, and that members’ functioning is heavily influenced by one another. This offers the counselor flexibility in the target clients to work with. The counselor can work with any member of the family to address his/her participation in the problem, even though the person having the presenting problem refuses to come.

I am not a counselor, can I still benefit from this programme?

The Bowen theory offers very useful concepts to understand human functioning in social systems or relationship networks. It provides a roadmap or blue print for us to lead a functional life and solve problems in our relationships. Besides clinical work, it has been applied to a great variety of settings, such as work relationships, organizational management, pastoral or church settings, and international relationships. Therefore, anyone interested in self-change, and in enhancing one’s functioning in his/her relationship networks, will find this programme useful.

What is family research? Why is it an important part of this training programme?

Dr. Bowen found out that the interns who had undertaken family-of- origin work did better with their clinical work besides having better functioning families. Our families are thus seen as a laboratory for trying out our new behaviours, and for learning the Bowen theory experientially. By doing family research, trainees study the functioning patterns of their families-of-origin, how anxiety plays out in their family systems, how they have positioned themselves to their family members, and how they can function better. Family research provides the opportunity for the trainees to integrate the theory experientially, and is a very important part of our learning.

Course Schedule

October 2020 – July 2022

(Satuday) 2:00pm – 6:00pm

This is a ten-month training programme which involves 4 hours of class (Theory/presentation/discussion), 4 hours of group supervision, and 1 hour of individual supervision per month, plus 2 clinical conferences (6 hours) for the school year, totaling 80 hours a year. Class time usually takes place on the last Saturday afternoon of each month, except when it is a public holiday. This will involve lectures, teaching videos, dialogue, presentations by trainees on different aspects of the theory and its applications.

Trainees are also expected to attend the Institute conference. Date to be confirmed.

Oct31, Nov 28, 2020

Jan 30, Feb 27, Mar 27, May 29, Jun 26, Jul 31, 2021

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Presentation by Mrs. Peggy Chan, Programme Director
3:30 pm – 5:00 pm Bowen video and discussion
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm Presentations by trainees

Each group will consist of 5-6 members. Group supervision sessions will take place on other Saturday afternoons (2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.), or Saturday mornings (9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m). Group members will fix the schedule of their group supervision sessions according to their availability and the availability of their supervisor.

Group supervision will focus on application of the Bowen theory in clinical work, management of self in family-of-origin, work settings and important social relationships.

Each trainee will have individual supervision with the supervisor once (1 hour) (outside the class and group supervision time) every month during the school year. Trainees will examine their understanding of the theory, and application of the theory in clinical work, family-of-origin, work settings and social relationships. Trainees will also practice doing research of their families.

Dec 19, 2020 , and Apr 24, 2021 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm

There will be 2 clinical conferences each year. The instructor or guest faculty will present a lecture on a particular theme followed by discussion of a clinical case that illustrate the theme. Discussion will focus on the application of the theory in conceptualizing the problems and in implementing the clinical strategies and techniques with the clients.

To enrich the exposure of the trainees to system thinkers from the broader Bowen network, the Family Institute organizes conferences led by faculty members of the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family (Washington DC, U.S.A.) or leaders of approved network programmes of the Bowen Center. Trainees are expected to attend the Institute Conference. Date to be confirmed.

Trainees will be given a reading list on Bowen theory. Trainees of this programme have access to the library of the Family Institute which consists of books, articles, audiovisual resources on Bowen theory produced by the Bowen Center and other network programmes. Trainees are expected to do much personal reading on the theory.


Peggy CHAN, MEd, RSW
Director of Programme
ISS Family Institute
International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS-HK)

Read More

Mrs. Peggy Chan started her study of Bowen theory in the early 1990s in Vancouver. She continues her study of Bowen theory through attending 5 years (2008-2013) of the Postgraduate Programme in Bowen Family Systems Theory and Its Applications at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, Washington DC, U.S.A, and its Research Seminar group since 2013. She is a member of the Bowen Center’s Network Programme for the Advancement of the Bowen Theory, and collaborates with other Bowen theory training centers around the world to promote better teaching and learning of Bowen theory.

Mrs. Chan presents work based in Bowen theory at the Bowen Center and throughout the world. She had presented at the 51st Annual Symposium of the Bowen Center in Nov., 2014, and was a plenary speaker of the First International Conference on Bowen Family Systems Theory, Pittsburg, U.S.A. in August, 2015.

Mrs. Peggy Chan was trained as a social worker (B.Soc.Sc., HKU), and counsellor (M.Ed., U. of Toronto) prior to her family systems training. She has over 20 years of experience in counselling individuals, couples and families, and training of professionals. Her areas of specialization include marital and women‘s issues, sexual issues, loss and grief, parent-child relationship diffculties, and cultural adaption. She is Honorary Assistant Professor of the University of Hong Kong, teaching and supervising M.Soc.Sc. (Counselling) students since 2002. She is Fellow and Approved Supervisor of the Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association, and also Approved Supervisor of the Hong Kong Marriage and Family Therapy Association (HKAAMFT).

Mrs. Peggy Chan is a frequent speaker and trainer on Bowen theory to helping professionals, teachers, parents, church groups and non-governmental organizations. She has conducted many workshops on the systemic way of seeing relationships, and the applications of Bowen theory in clinical practice, work situations and family. She has developed a parenting programme based on Bowen theory to the local Chinese community, as well as to parents of substance abusers through partnering with a local non-governmental organization. Mrs. Chan is interested in working with parents to develop greater emotional maturity and subsequent better connection with children.

To enhance the learning of the students, presentations to the class may also involve senior learners of both the ISS Family Institute and the Bowen Network.


The ISS Family Institute was established in October, 2002 to enhance individual and family functioning through training, public education, research and counselling. Bowen Family Systems Theory (or Bowen theory) is the theoretical framework guiding these services.

  • To promote the use of Bowen theory in dealing with human relationships through training programmes, public education, research and counselling services.
  • To promote the application of Bowen theory in different settings.
  • To foster the understanding and application of Bowen theory in Asian culture and the local society.
  • To connect with scientists and social scientists in Asia (particularly Hong Kong, Mainland China and Taiwan) to share applications of systems thinking in our respective domains.

Bowen family system theory was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, the late American psychiatrist (1913-1990).

Bowen theory provides a new perspective to understanding human dilemma. Instead of seeing problems in a simple linear way as cause and effect, Bowen theory takes a broad view and sees human problems and relationships as the interplay and interaction of many players in the system. Individuals are not seen as independent or autonomous psychological entities, but as part of an emotional unit.

The family is conceptualized as an emotional unit, marked by the individual members’ emotional interdependence and impact on each other. The family is also viewed as an emotional system governed by life processes common to other living organisms. Positioning oneself in a thoughtful and rational way in the systems that one is in and undertaking actions / decisions based on sound and well-thought out principles in the interest of both oneself and the larger group is a major goal of Bowen theory.


Year 1 HK$25,000* (COF/One-off payment before August 31, 2020: HK$23,750)
Year 2 HK$25,000* (COF/One-off payment before August 31, 2021: HK$23,750)

Payments can be made annually by two installments (half of the annual fee), to be paid before September 15, and January 15 of each year.
*The amount includes an annual subscription of Family Systems Forum, a publication of the Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family, Houston, Texas, U.S.A.

Click HERE to apply Circle of Friends (COF) Membership.


Applicants should complete the application form and send it to ISS Family Institute together with an application fee of $100. Prospective applicants will be interviewed and assessed by the Programme Director as to their suitability to enroll in this programme.

Click here for application form in word format.
Click here for application form in PDF format.

Please send your application form to ISS Family Institute, 6F, Southorn Centre, 130 Hennessy Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong, together with a cheque of $100 for your application fee.

Student Feedback


– Doris Tai (戴惠嬋), M.Soc.Sc., student of PTP 2014-16 and PTP-Continuing Study 2020

– Janis You (余小明), Family therapist / Corporate Trainer / Columnist, student of PTP 2014-16 and PTP-Continuing Study 2020

The course of PTP helps me see my family’s emotional process on a deeper level and anchor my thinking process on a more rational level. I was more able to remain calm and able to focus on my goals at very stressful situations. The course has become like a guiding map through my decision making process.

– Berenice Lee (李恩意), M. Couselling, student of PTP 2014-16 and PTP-Continuing Study 2020

I feel pleased to share my learning experience in Professional Training Programme in Bowen Family Systems Theory and Therapy. From the programme, I am inspired by the learning that we can understand a problem much more thoroughly with a broad and systemic perspective. I also applied it to my daily living, such as work and family system. It helps me to become calmer and wiser when facing confrontation. I feel lucky to have such a learning opportunity. I hope I can keep learning the theory continuously.

– Winsa, MSW

Ms. Renee Chiu, PhD, RSW

I started my study of the Bowen Theory at the ISS Family Institute since 2015, and it has seemed to become a never-ending learning journey for myself. From basic course to advanced studies, I am very thankful for all the constructive feedback and invaluable support provided by the Director, Mrs. Peggy Chan. Through her clinical illustrations and supervisions, as well as the various opportunities in participating in different international conferences and symposia, I am enlightened with the wisdom of Dr. Murray Bowen towards the intricate emotional processes to be found in the heart of families.
I learned to make purposeful adjustments in myself and to lend a mature helping hand to others as a helping professional.

– Renee Chiu, PhD, RSW

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