Victoria Harrison, MA, LMFT

The Impact of Reactivity in Family Relationships on Health and Reproduction, Family Systems in Regulation of Physiological Reactivity and Anxiety & Observations of Change Project: Year Four

The Impact of Reactivity in Family Relationships on Health and Reproduction (1980 – Present)

The focus of Victoria Harrison’s research since 1980 has been on using Bowen theory to study the impact of reactivity in the family system on health and reproduction, both in producing symptoms and in providing stability for functioning.

This broad direction includes investigating the research literature from many fields that study emotional systems and the regulation of reproduction by reactivity to the natural environment and to relationships along human phylogenetic history. This includes research from reproductive medicine, endocrinology, biology, neuroscience, population research, social psychology, and child development that looks at how relationships govern individual physiology, behavior, and relationship patterns. This also extends to research in neuroscience and biology on the evolution of the human capacity for differentiation of self.

An initial study of ovulation patterns indicated that contact and emotional cutoff between family members is an important factor in stress reactions that impact ovulation. This study was published in “Patterns of Ovulation, Reactivity, and Family Emotional Process.” The Integrative Neurobiology of Affiliation. Annals of the NY Academy of the Sciences 807:522-524. 1997; and in “Family Emotional Process, Reactivity, and Patterns of Ovulation.” Family Systems 4(1):49-62. 1997.

A review of research on relationship systems, on brains and biology, and the regulation of reproduction in species along the phylogenetic lineage from single cell to humans provides a backdrop for understanding the family as an emotional system that regulates the biology and behavior of individuals to a degree that is modulated in part by levels of differentiation of self. A comparison of ovulation regulation is published in “Emotional Systems and the Regulation of Reproduction with Ovulation as an Illustration.” In The Family Emotional System: An Integrative Concept for Theory, Science, and Practice. Robert J. Noone and Daniel V. Papero, eds. Lanham: Lexington Books. 2015.

Family Systems in Regulation of Physiological Reactivity and Anxiety (1995 to present)

  • A broad review of research as a context for contributions of this study to the field of family research
  • Continued analysis of measures of physiological reactivity (EDR, EMG, and DST) for three triangles in one family of five to identify patterns associated with emotional fusion and more independent functioning
  • Comparison of physiological reactivity in families with fewer health and mental health symptoms

Initial publication based on this research includes: “Contribution of Nuclear Family Triangles to Variation in Physiological Reactivity.” Family Systems 9(2):145-153. 2013.

Observations of Change Project: Year Four (2013 – Present)

Twenty-five volunteers from the Bowen Center’s Postgraduate Program document physiological measures and salivary cortisol, along with facts about contact with family members, symptoms, and work on differentiation of self during each year. The data for each participant will initially be organized into separate individual case studies: 16 people with one year of data; 7 people with 2 years of data and 2 people with 3 years of data. A three-generation diagram and facts about the history of each family, along with documentation of nodal events that occur, allow examination of variation in changes in anxious physiology and in symptoms and functioning of each family in light of factors that Bowen theory identifies (estimated levels of differentiation of self, emotional cutoff, and degrees of chronic anxiety).

Observations of the changes that occur will be discussed in relation to literature from therapy outcome research, adverse childhood experience research, and the study of epigenetic factors.

The current stage of this project involves:

  • analysis of physiological and cortisol measures with Dr. Douglas Granger
  • review of literature
  • preparation for presentation at upcoming conferences
  • preparation for initial publication