The impact of a theraputic group procedure on self-differentiation
University of Wisconsin--Stout
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Self-differentiation and healthy boundaries have been associated with the ability to maintain healthy stable relationships. According to Murray Bowen, a dominant force since the 1950s in developing a family systems therapy model, relational difficulties presented in therapy are often related to an individual's lack of differentiation and overly rigid or weak boundaries (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998). The question then arises, "If self-differentiation is desirable, how does an individual acquire it?" Bowen proposed that psychotherapy could produce moderate increases in a person's level of differentiation as well as by intentionally addressing personal intergenerational issues (Bowen, 1978; Kerr & Bowen, 1988). Others maintain that therapy as well as crises throughout our life in marriage, family life, friendships and careers are able to raise our levels of differentiation (Schnarch, 1997). This research will seek to discover whether a group procedure for individual development on healthy boundaries will positively impact the participants' levels of differentiation. Bowen's theory has always centered around togetherness and individuality with emotional health involving a balance of these two forces (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998). Unbalance in the direction of togetherness is called fusion or undifferentiation. Differentiation is both the ability to separate feeling from thinking in a balanced way and to react emotionally towards family and others in a balanced rather than extreme way. A differentiated person is able to take definite stands on issues because s/he is able to think things through, decide what s/he believes, and then act on those beliefs. This enables her to be close to others without being overly shaped by them (Nichols & Schwartz, 1998). Healthy boundaries, according to clinical Psychologists, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (1992), are often confused by our family of origin or other past relationships. They believe that healthy boundaries can be learned and acquired even later in life. Cloud and Townsend contend that healthy boundaries result in freedom, a knowing of what, who, why, and how we are responsible for what lies within our boundaries. This leads to free choices of how we feel, think, act, believe, and relate to others rather than feeling controlled, or out of control with them. This research utilized Cloud and Townsend's work to lead the group procedures on healthy boundaries. The Differentiation of Self Inventory (DSI) was given to the subjects prior to the nine week group and at the conclusion of the group. The pre and post inventory results were compared to see whether individuals' levels of differentiation were impacted by this group procedure. The research found this Boundaries group significantly and positively impacted the scores on the DSI of each individual who remained in the study. It may indicate that this cost and time effective group process is a beneficial way to supplement individual or family therapy and perhaps is a method of choice for an individual to work on improving their self-differentiation.