Founder, Description, Philosophy

The systemic approach (also known as family systems therapy) is based on the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that individual behaviour is heavily influenced by the important relationships in our lives.  Systemic therapy is typically used with couples and families, but can also be used in group therapy with people who work or live closely together, as well as with individuals who are struggling with relationship issues.  This form of therapy was designed to help people work on issues in the context of their couple, family or group. The members work together to understand problems in the dynamics of the group, identify maladaptive patterns of behaviour between members, and views the group as a system rather than focusing on the individual. Therefore, the couple or family is viewed as the client and not  just the individuals themselves. The approach was developed in the early 1950’s by Dr. Murray Bowen however other prominent figures in the development of family therapy include Dr. Salvador Minuchin, Dr. Virginia Satir, and Dr. Carl Whitaker.

What type of problems is this approach used to treat and what populations can it serve?

This approach is versatile and can be used to treat a variety of problems including family conflict, couples and individual issues with concerns related to family of origin. It can help with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, personality disorders, addiction, eating disorders, disabilities, issues related to gender and gender identity, etc. The approach goes beyond focusing on an individual and works with all members of the family.

What does this approach look like in practice? What are some types of interventions?

Systemic therapy involves working with the individual, couple or family within a relational context.. With couples and families, everyone will be encouraged to attend sessions so that the dynamics can be observed by the therapist and all members are actively involved in working through the problems.  The therapist works with everyone in the couple or family to understand roles, patterns and concerns and will remain a neutral source of guidance throughout the therapy. Each member of the couple or family will have the opportunity to express their feelings and perspectives about an issue. Members will work both individually and together to help develop new ways of communicating with one another and exploring different styles of interactions.  When used with individuals, the therapist works to understand the client within the context of their important relationships and the focus is primarily on the individual as part of a larger system.