What Is Systemic Family Therapy?

May 30, 2021

At times, living as part of a family unit can be difficult. Although family members are often very close and possess an understanding of other members’ feelings and beliefs, it can be hard to coexist in harmony. 

Big personalities and familial rivalry often contribute to family issues, as do past traumas or negative experiences. Mental illness, particularly when left untreated, can also cause an individual to behave in ways that can be perceived unfavorably by others, even though said symptoms are outside of anyone’s control.

Addressing familial tensions can be quite awkward and embarrassing, but it is well worth the effort if staying close with your family is your goal.

Families that consistently experience conflict, tension, or other stressors may benefit greatly from speaking with outside counsel, such as a therapist or another type of mental health professional.

Therapists can work with families and employ psychological treatment techniques, such as systemic family therapy, to promote conflict resolution and growth. Nowadays, it is even possible to access resources and professional care options, like those at MyTherapist, with just a few clicks or taps!

Systemic Family Therapy Defined

Systemic family therapy, also known as family systems therapy, is a treatment method that uses the idea of systems thinking in order to analyze the family as an emotional unit. 

Systems thinking works to look at individual parts of the system as they relate to the whole system; in the case of families, this school of thought implies that behavior can be influenced by the family as a whole and its individual members (as well as exploring how these two levels are connected).

Systemic family therapy is based upon the family systems theory, which postulates that individual people are inseparable from their social networks. 

This theory was a way to make the treatment of family dynamic issues more scientific and non-subjective, both of which have stood in the path of proper psychiatric diagnoses in the past. 

After years of thorough research of family dynamics, this theory was finally placed into practice in order to address the interactions of larger relationship systems and the effect that these interactions have on behavior. 

The family systems theory provides an explanation for why changes in one family member’s behavior often changes the behavioral functioning of the entire family. Therapy that views concerns through this lens can often effectively target the root of the issue as well as those who were impacted by it.

Types Of Systemic Family Therapy

Of the many types of family therapy, a good number of them are based on the theoretical grounding of the family systems theory.

The forms of systemic family therapy fall under three main categories: structural, intergenerational, and strategic. The following bullet points serve as a general explanation of each type:

  • Structural Family Therapy. This type of therapy seeks to analyze family relationships, patterns, and behaviors that present themselves during therapy sessions to gain a better understanding of the family structure. Utilization of specific psychiatric activities, such as role playing, can help reveal and unpack the patterns of subsystems (sibling relationships, parental relationship, parent-child relationships, etc.) within the main family system. 
  • Intergenerational Family Therapy. This type understands that generational influences have an impact on family dynamics and works to explain issues as being rooted in previous generations. This method attempts to normalize familial disharmony by discussing problems other families have, discussing family members’ behaviors, and encouraging use of non-accusatory language. 
  • Strategic Family Therapy. This family therapy option works to understand familial functioning by looking for behavioral patterns during the time spent outside of therapy sessions. It suggests that change can be incurred quickly without the need for in-depth analysis of the sources of issues. Treatment techniques include redefining problems and using paradoxical intervention.

Final Thoughts

Family is extremely important to many of us, and a happy family makes for a happy life. Even if your family does not look like the “traditional” family unit, working to keep it not just functional, but supportive, can go a long way.

Remember, therapy and mental health services are not just for those in severe situations or in crisis. Nearly anyone and any family can benefit from exploring and honestly communicating about concerns and emotions.

Many of us are so used to stressful home lives that we forget that it does not have to be this way. Taking the first step can be challenging for sure, but it is one that leads to a path of self-improvement and positive change.

Marie Miguel Biography

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with MyTherapist.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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