Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Clinical: Approaches · Group therapy · Techniques · Types of problem · Areas of specialism · Taxonomies · Therapeutic issues · Modes of delivery · Model translation project · Personal experiences ·

Family systems therapy (aka "couple and family therapy") is an approach to family therapy aims at helping people solve family problems. In this approach family therapists use family systems theory to consider a family as a dynamic system of interacting members. As such, family problems are seen to arise as an emergent property of systemic interactions, rather than blaming individual members. See also systemic coaching. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are the most specifically trained in this type of psychotherapy


In the mid-1950s through the work of anthropologist Gregory Bateson and colleagues – Jay Haley, Donald D. Jackson, John Weakland, William Fry, and later, Virginia Satir, Paul Watzlawick and others – at Palo Alto in the United States, who introduced ideas from cybernetics and general systems theory into social psychology and psychotherapy, focusing in particular on the role of communication (see Bateson Project). This approach eschewed the traditional focus on individual psychology and historical factors – that involve so-called linear causation and content – and emphasized instead feedback and homeostatic mechanisms and “rules” in here-and-now interactions – so-called circular causation and process – that were thought to maintain or exacerbate problems, whatever the original cause(s).[1][2] (See also systems psychology and systemic therapy.) This group was also influenced significantly by the work of US psychiatrist, hypnotherapist, and brief therapist, Milton H. Erickson - especially his innovative use of strategies for change, such as paradoxical directives (see also Reverse psychology). The members of the Bateson Project (like the founders of a number of other schools of family therapy, including Carl Whitaker, Murray Bowen, and Ivan Böszörményi-Nagy) had a particular interest in the possible psychosocial causes and treatment of schizophrenia, especially in terms of the putative "meaning" and "function" of signs and symptoms within the family system. The research of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts Lyman Wynne and Theodore Lidz on communication deviance and roles (e.g., pseudo-mutuality, pseudo-hostility, schism and skew) in families of schizophrenics also became influential with systems-communications-oriented theorists and therapists.[3][4] A related theme, applying to dysfunction and psychopathology more generally, was that of the "identified patient" or "presenting problem" as a manifestation of or surrogate for the family's, or even society's, problems. (See also double bind; family nexus.)

In 1971 Mara Selvini Palazzoli (1916-1999), an Italian psychiatrist with Gianfranco Cecchin, Luigi Boscolo and Giuliana Prata, developed the systemic and constructivist approach to family therapy which became known as the Milan systems approach. Worked with families of schizophrenic and anorexic children. With her colleagues, she developed a therapeutic model that is based on Gregory Bateson's cybernetics theory.

Particular approaches

Out of this theoretical backgound a number of distinct but related approaches developed. These included:


A family therapist usually meets several members of the family at the same time ("conjoint family therapy" is used in the approach of Virginia Satir.) This has the advantage of making differences between the ways family members perceive mutual relations as well as interaction patterns in the session apparent both for the therapist and the family. These patterns frequently mirror habitual interaction patterns at home, even though the therapist is now incorporated into the family system. Therapy interventions usually focus on relationship patterns rather than on analyzing subconscious impulses or early childhood traumas of individuals as a Freudian therapist would do.

Family therapy is really a way of thinking, an epistemology rather than about how many people seat in the room with the therapist. Family therapists are relational therapists, they are interested in what goes between people rather in people.

Depending on circumstances, a therapist may point out to the family interaction patterns that the family might have not noticed; or suggest different ways of responding to other family members. These changes in the way of responding may then trigger repercussions in the whole system, leading to a more satisfactory system state.


Some key developers of family therapy are:

See also


  1. Guttman, H.A. (1991). Systems Theory, Cybernetics, and Epistemology. In A. S. Gurman & D. P. Kniskern (Eds.), Handbook of Family Therapy. Vol. 2. NY: Brunner/Mazel
  2. Becvar, D.S., & Becvar, R.J. (2008). Family therapy: A systemic integration. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named sholevar
  4. Barker, P. (2007). Basic family therapy; 5th edition. Wiley-Blackwell.

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).