Family Systems Theory
The Way we think when providing Marital/Pre-marital, Couples or Family Therapy
The family systems theory was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen over his forty year career. He was one of the first who suggested that people cannot be understood in isolation from one another, but instead, can only be understood as a part of their family; that the family itself is the basic emotional unit. Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system.
Unlike the other conventional psychological theories which focus only on the individual, Family Systems Theory encourages people to think of issues (e.g. conflict, difficult relationships, loneliness, etc.) in terms of a multigenerational family or a “system.” This approach encourages people to move away from blaming others and towards individual responsibility.
The family is an emotional unit and any change in the emotional functioning of one member of the family/emotional unit is predictably and automatically compensated for by changes in the emotional functioning of other members of that family/emotional unit.
In Family counseling, it is the family, not the individual that is the basic unit of emotional functioning. This principle has two important implications:
- The emotional functioning of every family member plays a part in the occurrence of medical, psychiatric or social illness in one family member and
- Treatment need not be directed at any one person.
Not having to direct treatment at any particular person brings a new flexibility to difficult situations – for example, ones where an individual has either refused therapy or went to therapy only under pressure from the family. Consequently, if one member of a family can change his/her emotional functioning, provided he/she is present and accounted for within the family, the whole family will improve its functioning in response to that one person’s ability to change. This description is offered to help you understand that “family therapy” does not necessarily mean counseling sessions with the whole family present. Rather, “family therapy’ is counseling based on a way of thinking that conceptualizes a reciprocity in functioning between family members. Therefore, family therapy is most often a relationship between a family therapist and one member of a family who wants to change his/her level of functioning in the family.
At Wisdom, we firmly believe that all responsible therapy must consider the entire context from which we all come from — our Family Systems.