Research by Victoria Harrison - Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family Research by Victoria Harrison - Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family
Victoria Harrison

Victoria Harrison, MA, LMFT, LCSW

Founding Director, Psychotherapist, Teacher, & Faculty at Bowen Center for the Study of the Family

Health and Reproduction

Victoria Harrison has pursued research projects using Bowen theory to better understand symptoms that impact health and reproduction since 1980.  The history of health problems in her own family and the opportunity to work with families experiencing infertility related to various diagnoses fueled what has become a life’s work.  One goal of research, of course, is to provide knowledge that is useful in improving health and in dealing with factors that affect reproduction.  Another goal of research is a broader understanding of the ways in which health and reproduction are part of human evolution, responsive to factors and forces that operate in all other forms of life.

A timeline of this research is available in a presentation that she made on “Bowen Theory, Reproduction & Evolution” at Bowen Theory Then and Now, a conference held by Western Pennsylvania Family Center in 2003. (Family Systems Forum, Vol. V, Number 3, page 5) Publications include:

Far more human activity is governed by man’s emotional system than he has been willing to admit… Emotional functioning includes the automatic forces that govern protoplasmic life. It includes the force that biology defines as instinct, reproduction, the activity controlled by automatic nervous system, subjective feeling states, and the forces that govern relationship systems. — Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 305
“Stress Reactivity and Family Relationships in the Development and
Treatment of Endometriosis.” April 2005.  Fertility and Sterility. Vol. 83
No. 4. 857-864.
“Emotional Cutoff and Reproduction.” 2003. Chapter 10 in
Emotional Cutoff and Bowen Theory, edited by Peter Titleman.
Haworth Press: New York.
“A Better Chance: The Impact of Family Systems on Health and
Reproduction.” 2002 in Family Systems Forum
Family Emotional Process, Reactivity and the Regulation of Ovulation.”
Winter, 1998. Family Systems. Bowen Center for the Study of the Family.
“Patterns of Ovulation, Reactivity and Family Emotional Process.” 1997.
Annals of NY Academy of the Sciences, vol. 807, The Integrative Neurobiology
of Affiliiation. 522-524.
A Wider Lens: Bowen Theory and a Systems View of Symptoms” in CAPA Quarterly,
to be published in February, 2013. Australia.
Reprints for publications and articles based upon this research are available.

Her current research direction focuses on Differentiation of Self & The Regulation of Anxiety in the Family.  Bowen theory proposes that all symptoms are the product of how the family system is functioning, of reactivity stirred in the effort to adapt to challenges that increase anxiety and disturb relationships between family members.  Two factors are particularly powerful in driving symptoms: the level of differentiation of self and the degree of anxiety in the family.

This ongoing study investigates physiological reactivity and anxious reactions in families at higher and lower levels of differentiation of self in order to better understand human adaptation as well as symptom development and what people can do to improve health and functioning in the family.

The research employs three F1000 Biofeedback/Neurofeedback units modified by Frank Deits, the engineer who designed this instrument, to obtain simultaneous measures of physiological reactions for mother and father and children.  The protocol is the same for each family: Two family members talk to each other, about self and the other, for 3 minutes while the third family member listens.

This protocol allows observations about the patterns of physiological reactions in nuclear family triangles in families that are selected

  1. to compare higher and lower levels of differentiation of self and
  2. to investigate different mechanisms for managing relationship intensity & anxiety, ie. conflict, distance, reciprocity, symptoms in spouse, & projection onto the next generation and
  3. to track the changes that occur throughout the family when one family member is working on differentiation of self.

The first family to participate in this study has been the subject of several presentations that identify levels and patterns of anxiety corresponding to symptoms present and to patterns of behavior that are described in the facts of family functioning.

pdf_icon Presentation of this Research (Physiological Reactivity in the Family: Triangles, Anxiety & Differentiation of Self)

DVD’s are available at Bowen Center for the Study of the Family for

  • “Physiological Reactivity, Anxiety, and Differentiation of Self in Nuclear Family Triangles” presented at the 2009 Annual Symposium
  • “Variation in Physiological Reactivity in Parental Triangle” presented at Triangles and the Regulation of Social Systems, Spring 2009
  • ”Contributions of Nuclear Family Triangles to Variation in Physiological Reactivity” presented at The Impact of Relationships on Individual Variation, the Spring Meeting 2010

Several steps have been accomplished in the last year:  

  1. A bioengineer rebuilt the F1000 units in order to more easily access the data from physiological measures via USB ports.
  2. Frank Deits modified the F1000 units to synchronize measures and provide research software.
  3. A volunteer family was located to represent higher levels of differentiation of self.
  4. A video consultant, Scott Coneby, began to work on capturing facial expressions during the research protocol, exporting graphs and visual data from the F1000, and editing diverse information to examine for patterns of reactivity.
  5. Mercy Hyde donated a 4th F1000 instrument to the project.
  6. Clinical interview videotapes have been made with the physiology and EEG on screen for research and teaching purposes.
  7. Raoul LeBlanc and David Mason collaborate on Excell formatting for systems analysis of physiology.

The budget for this research is available upon request. Financial contributions in 2009 and 2010 have made it possible to accomplish progress to date & will be necessary for further progress.  Thank you to all those who have contributed to this work!