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Family Systems Therapy

What is Family Systems Therapy?

Systems therapy is a form of psychotherapy used mainly in family therapy that is based on the systems theory. The systems theory states that a system is a dynamic unit of distinct parts that interact with and influence each other.

When any part of a system is affected in some way, this affects how it interacts with other parts of the system and can compromise the system as a whole.

Think of all the different parts that make up a bicycle; each part has a job and connects to other parts to make the bicycle work.

Imagine if there was a large dent in one of the bicycle wheels. While the dent is only affecting one part of the bicycle, the wheel can no longer roll properly and the entire function of the bicycle is affected.

This is the core concept or basis of the systems theory. The theory can be applied to many different scientific fields including psychology.

Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen applied the systems theory to the family unit and the family systems theory and family systems therapies came to be.

How can Family Systems Therapy help?

Systemic family therapy is intended to help internal family systems by targeting problematic behaviors, improving overall family dynamics, and fortifying the family relationship.

During the treatment process, the individual behavior of each family member will be considered, as well as how their patterns of behavior affect others in the family system.

The family will also be examined as a unit, to make sure appropriate rules and boundaries are established and communication is clear and productive.

What sort of issues can Family Systems Therapy help with?

Systems therapy is an effective treatment for a wide range of issues including some of the following:

  • Conflict
  • Communication difficulties
  • Emotional cutoff or emotional distance
  • Reconciliation
  • Understanding and tolerating individual differences
  • Dealing with one or more family members having mental health conditions or mental or physical disabilities
  • Addictive behaviors or negative behavior patterns

Some Methods Used in Family Systems Therapy

Circular questioning:

Asking questions to get a sense of how family members view each other and how certain interactions lead to certain problems.


Enacting how family members communicate or react to certain situations instead of describing it.

Solution-focused interventions:

Focusing on the future and how to actively solve the problem at hand.


changing the way you look at a problem.

Positive Connotation:

Rephrasing or describing a problem in a more constructive rather than negative way.