What Is Systemic Thinking?
Systemic theory proposes that all systems (and subsystems) are deeply interconnected and interdependent, and profoundly influencing each other simultaneously. So it is important to understand a person, their joy and their suffering, in the contexts in which they live and operate - especially the family system.
Science has found that the many ways in which the previous generations have adapted to trauma and distress can cascade into the lives of their children, grandchildren, and others close to them. At the same time, the explosion of research in neuroscience demonstrates that the human brain is extraordinarily flexible, and we all have the ability to change the way we feel and the way we behave, consequently we can change our family system, and our own experience of distress & trauma.
Within this framework, it makes sense that problems and suffering experienced by individuals can be usefully viewed within their social and family systems - both past and present.
In the last ten years, research has found that systemic & family interventions are cheaper, more successful, and more enduring than we ever imagined, but it requires that family therapists are committed to excellence, precision, and depth of training, which is informed by research and pracice.
What Is Systemic & Family Therapy?
Systemic & Family Therapy aims to assist families and complex human systems to mobilise their own strengths and relationships to make disturbing symptoms less problematic for suffering individuals.
The key difference between Systemic & Family Therapy and all the many variations of individual psychological interventions, is that while individual therapy gives one person the space to discuss and reflect during 'time out' of their human system, systemic therapy brings parts or all of the system into the therapy.
When the family comes to therapy, the therapist can observe the interpersonal dynamics in action, on a small scale, in the contained, safe environment of the therapy session.
Family & Systemic therapy seeks to help members of the family see each others' perspectives, heal rifts, and have those difficult and intimate conversations which they could not conduct at home without tension and conflict.
Evidence Base for Systemic & Family Therapy
Family Therapy is shown to be one of the key psychological interventions which consistently works. Research into the effectiveness of psychological interventions looks for three criteria:
- A measured reduction of the symptoms, the suffering, or else achieving the goal of the intervention;
- A relatively short term of therapy or intervention;
- Has sustained effectiveness over time.
In 2001, the US Surgeon General's department started publishing evaluations of the various intervention programs for adolescent and youth issues, including drug use, delinquency, violence in schools, severe mental illness, and juvenile crime. These lists are updated every few years, and the following trend has emerged:
9 out of every 10 treatments that work are family-based interventions.
19 out of every 20 preventative programs that work are family based or community connectedness programs.
Where does Family & Systemic Therapy work most effectively?
Research and meta-analyses of research consistently show that Family & Systemic Therapy are among the best interventions for:
- Child and adolescent behavioural issues, developmental and learning problems, early onset of mental illness, disordered eating, and eating disorders
- Addictions, and the impact of the addiction on other members of the family
- Anxiety, depression, social anxiety and social withdrawl
- Trauma, including multi-generational impacts of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and its impact on other members of the family, and ongoing relational trauma
- Grief, loss, & chronic or terminal illness
- Relationship issues eg. intimacy, couples difficulties, struggles between parents and children, destructive sibling rivalry, long-standing extended family feuds etc.
- Complex arrays of individual and family suffering, such as multiple diagnoses, or severe problems including physical, psychological, and relational distress
What happens in Systemic & Family Therapy?
Therapy may be with an individual, a couple, a family, a group of families, or in professional systems and other wider contexts. It is most often offered to couples or families but always with the larger and smaller systems in mind, and with an awareness that change at any level of the systems is likely to impact on the other systems.
* When a family member makes contact with the clinic, we will ask a few general questions over the phone, in order to most effectively place the family with a therapist who fits with their needs.
* The first session will typically include the person who made contact, and possibly other family members who are central to the issue at hand, and who are willing to come. Our consulting rooms are large and have lots of chairs, because sometimes the family groups do get quite big.
* A very important feature of family therapy is that a family member has space to talk about their experience, and others have an opportunity to listen, in a way that might not happen in their daily life. Often, simply being heard and understood by the people you are most connected with, is enough to mobilise the family and effect change.
* Frequently, family members use the opportunity to talk about very intimate and intensely emotional issues without escalation and conflict. This allows family members to see multiple perspectives, and to think about how such differences can all be included a loving family.
* At the end of each session, the client and the therapist will discuss who should come to the next session. Different combinations of family members often find themselves free to discuss different things.
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