Murray Bowen, MD developed a theory of human behavior based on a view of the family as a multigenerational system governed by the same laws of nature that govern all of life. He considered individual life to be guided in large part by what he termed the "emotional system." His concept of "Differentiation of Self" described the capacity of an individual within a family to be responsible both for self and for the overall good of the group in the face of emotional pressure.

Knowledge of Bowen theory and its applications to family life, organizational functioning, and societal processes provides a unique approach to solving human problems based on the effort of the individual to manage self within the relationship system.

In the early 1950's, Bowen conducted research at the National Institute of Mental Health where he studied entire families on a psychiatric ward. He was able to observe how the family functions as a unit and how an individual may function as part of a larger emotional system without being aware of it. Bowen's book, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, is a collection of articles over two decades from 1956 to 1976. His theoretical perspective has been widely applied in a number of different fields including religion, business and organizational management, and mental health.