Reading “systems” followed by “miracle” may indeed raise eyebrows. The essence of the idea is as follows: Applying systems thinking in the study of family relationships makes it possible to gain an enhanced level of emotional objectivity about the processes being observed. It also enhances emotional neutrality, meaning the ability to observe without taking sides and blaming the relationship processes on a particular family member. The next and very important step is taking action guided by emotional objectivity and neutrality. If one family member can do this, others will likely follow, resulting in a small increase in a family’s level of emotional maturity. This effort by one family member often triggers other family members to act more maturely. Over time, this can result in a significant gain in maturity level for a family, or what Bowen theory terms differentiation.

Back to raising eyebrows! One definition of a miracle is a highly improbable or extraordinary event or development that brings very welcome consequences. Observing changes as a clinician over many decades, it feels miraculous how much families can change for the better. These changes are guided by Bowen family systems theory.

People who make the effort can learn to observe the reciprocity in relationships. This means that each person is equally emotionally reactive to the other. One person does not cause the other to react, each plays equal parts. When this happens, a person can find the motivation to shift from cause and effect to systems thinking without feeling as though they are giving in. Typically, one makes the shift first and the other follows. As the process proceeds, the same person does not make the first move each time.

People motivated to apply Bowen theory rarely refer to it as a miracle, but discovering emotional objectivity, emotional neutrality, and reciprocity can indeed feel miraculous.