What is Family Systems Therapy?

Family Systems Therapy is often referred to as couple and family therapy, although the ideologies and insights it presents are equally relevant to individual counseling clients. Some principal goals of this branch of therapy are to develop appropriate boundaries and to promote self-actualization and awareness. This profound work frequently leads to enhanced realizations, oftentimes allowing clients to see the role that each family member has played, or currently plays, in their own family dynamic. These types of insights and interpersonal views can empower individuals to correct their own self-perceptions and patterns, with or without the participation of other family members. Development of a “core self,” healthy communications, interactions and dynamics, a decrease in dysfunctional violations, (such as co-dependent behaviors or enabling misconduct,) are just a few of the goals which are best served by this kind of work.

Who should attend?

Although not required, this branch of psychotherapy favors the opportunity to work with as many immediate family members as possible including both partners who are in a couple relationship, and when possible, their children. When it is relevant to the nature of the work, extended family members may also be invited to attend.

The purpose of working with the entire group is to build or rebuild intimate relationships, to foster healing and resolution, and to nurture healthy changes within the family. Family Systems therapists tend to view problems in terms of the “systems” the family members have in place; systems that affect or determine the interactions between family members. This perspective recognizes the importance that childhood events and family dynamics have on current relationships, and on an individual’s self-esteem. Another way of looking at this is this: people are not isolated during their upbringing and as a result, their family relationships patterns can play an important factor in each person’s psychological health, and can dramatically influence the nature of their extended relationships.

Family therapists understand that, regardless of the origin of the problem currently faced and regardless of whether the clients consider it an “individual issue” or the “family’s issue”, involving families in solutions is often beneficial. This involvement of families is commonly accomplished by their direct participation in the therapy session. Thus, the skills of the family therapist include the ability to influence conversations in a way that catalyzes the strengths, wisdom, and support of the broader system.

What makes a “family”?

In the field’s early years, many clinicians defined the family in a narrow, traditional manner which usually included parents and children from the same gene pool. As the field has evolved, the concept of the family has become more commonly defined in terms of strongly supportive, long-term roles and relationships between people who may or may not be related by blood or marriage. In today’s society, families have come to mean many variations on a theme—gay, lesbian and transgendered families, adoptive families, blended families, divorced/co-parenting families, and “chosen families.” “Systems” are found in all of these kinds of unions. This approach to therapy is relevant and effective for a full range of psychological and emotional challenges, from alleviating severe obstacles and obstructions, to creating interpersonal intimacy; there is no category of relationship or psychological problem that has not been addressed with this approach.

Tools in my Toolbox

I am a Family Systems therapist, but this modality will not exclusively define our work together. I am also trained in and use Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Somatic Release Therapy, and Ericsonian, Transpersonal and Brief psychotherapy modalities, as well as several other advanced treatment tools. In my opinion, the best therapy tools are the ones that work. I have several tools in my toolbox . . . and I know how to use them.