Why I Do This Work Called Bowen Theory

Why I Do This Work Called Bowen Theory

I learned about Bowen Theory in seminary and following it through the pastor with whom I served and several ministers who “practiced” the theory and participated in workshops called Leadership in Ministry (LIM). While in seminary, my professors often emphasized the importance of maintaining a self-care plan and participating in a continuing education group as key components to not burning out in ministry. Thus, after graduating, I was intentional in choosing what I would do for these and began participating in the LIM workshops and a local peer learning group in 2006.

In doing so, there are two aspects that I would like to emphasis:

  1. For me, participating in Leadership In Ministry has been more than being active in a continuing education group. It has been part of my self-care plan and spiritual practice both challenging me to grow and helping me take care of myself in the process. There has also been a comradeship that has developed with many of the participants; and as a result, this provides me with an intellectual, spiritual, and creative group of which I belong. While doing this work can be hard, there is a unique bond in knowing that there are others who also find that it truly makes a difference in one’s life, family, ministry/work, and communities.
  2. Beginning this work in/straight out of seminary made a difference. On the one hand, it is hard to say exactly how, because I began utilizing it from the beginning. On the other hand, I know that there are situations that would not have gone as well if I had not stayed connected, self-regulated, or self-define – or if I had not understood the dynamics of triangles when working with committees or how my birth order, family projection, multigenerational transmission, nuclear family emotional process affected my leadership style, or how societal emotional process affected the families in the congregation in which I served. I made plenty of mistakes as a young Associate Pastor, but utilizing what I learned through Leadership In Ministry helped me to be a far better leader than if I would have been otherwise.

While I no longer work in a congregational setting, I believe my seminary professors were correct about the importance of maintaining a self-care plan and participating in a continuing education group – not for just ministers – but for helping professionals in general. For me, this has been through my work in Bowen Theory and LIM. When we can work on our own family of origins and lead from a non-anxious presence we can begin to make a positive change in our lives, families, and people with whom we work – if not in this generation, then in the ones to come.

The Rev. Vanessa Ellison MSW, MDiv, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Richmond, Virginia. She currently works as a therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) University Counseling Services and at Richmond Therapy Center. She first learned about Bowen Theory while attending Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, learned how to apply it clinically while working on a master’s degree at VCU’s School of Social Work, and has attended workshops at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family in DC. She began participating in the LIM workshops in 2006 and joined the LIM Faculty in 2018.

Leadership in Ministry is part of the Center for Lifelong Learning’s Pastoral Excellence Program, with workshops in Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, Lynchburg VA, and Kansas City MO.


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