Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Tommie V. Boyd

Committee Member

Christopher F. Burnett

Committee Member

Pei-Fen Li


Peer counseling programs benefit peer-to-peer relationships in schools through students providing active support for one another. Literature shows that peer counseling programs are effective with adolescents, especially in school-based settings. Bowen family systems theory is a model that focuses on the importance of emotional and relationship systems. Differentiation of self, a key concept in Bowen systems theory, is described as the balance between emotional and intellectual functioning; the higher the level of differentiation, the less likely one is to experience emotional and social difficulties. This dissertation I explored the potential for training high school senior counselors from a Bowenian perspective.

A project called the Archimedean peer counseling program trained 32 high school senior peer counselors in Bowen family systems theory. This study used a mixed methods approach to understand the following research question: To what extent did participation in the Archimedean peer counseling program increase overall differentiation of self among high school senior counselors, as measured by pre- and posttest scores on the differentiation of self-inventory (DSI), an instrument used to measure fusion between emotional and intellectual functioning. In addition, scores for the DSI subscales (emotional reactivity, taking an I position, reactive distancing, and fusion with parents), and archival quantitative data were examined. Paired samples t-tests were conducted to assess mean differences in baseline and posttest DSI scores. A thematic analysis of qualitative data in the form of student reflection papers, journal entries, and personal communications with school administrators was also conducted. Results from this study help to illustrate the utility of Bowen family systems theory training in the context of an adolescent peer counseling program.