3.2 Systemic therapy

1. Overview

Systemic Therapy refers to a specialised branch of psychotherapy that considers interpersonal relationships and the systemic interrelationships within a group (including, e.g. a couple or family) in the diagnosis and therapy of psychological problems and interpersonal conflicts. Its foundation is the so-called systemic metatheory developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, which describes a universally valid model that can be applied to diverse systems with common laws and general assumptions. In this context a system is a unit made up of a number of elements – which together constitute more than the sum of the individual parts. The elements have relationships with each other and also with other systems. This gives rise to interactions that are different and greater than linear causal effects between two single entities.

Every system has its own internal order, which maintains itself and all of its participants in a sort of equilibrium. If this balance is disturbed, whether in a family, e.g. through children maturing to become adolescents or young adults and moving out of the parental home, or within a couple’s relationship, e.g. through one member of the couple losing their job, the system becomes out of balance and its position becomes threatened. As a buffer against this threat, at least one person develops symptoms e.g. behavioural disorders, psychological disturbance or illness.

Systemic counselling and therapy offer a broad spectrum of helpful theories and methods.

Many of these have a sound scientific basis and their effects have been proven. Many of these have been well tested and proven scientifically and their effectiveness acknowledged. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to describe the various forms of intervention and therapeutic methods in detail; it can only provide a rough theoretical overview.

Systemic therapeutic methods (e.g. work of  the American therapist Virginia Satir) gave rise to the method of family sculpture (family therapy) or family reconstruction, which makes it possible to identify biographical patterns and behaviours and to change them if necessary. The purpose of this intervention is to disturb the interaction patterns within the system (made up of family members and/or other significant persons) and as a consequence to alter the undesired symptoms.

2. Philosophy / View of Humanity

The focus of systemic therapy und counselling is the “person in their environment” within the context of a holistic bio-psychosocial concept of health, disturbance and social problems. The general aim is the inclusion of the excluded (isolated), at risk, ill (displaying symptoms) and disabled persons.

The most important moment is the point of orientation on the resources.

In a psychotherapeutic perspective this describes the therapeutic objective of making the client/s conscious of their own resources (sources of strength and wellbeing) and restoring access to them for their own use. Resources are material and immaterial goods and values that make individuals, but also teams, working groups and complex systems capable of action.

In contrast to the orientation on deficits (mistakes, faults, etc), the orientation on resources (the person or system’s sources of strength and energy, the capacity to find solutions, images and the way to solutions etc.) focuses on the identification, establishment of access to and activation of resources and the reinforcement of existing strengths in order to assume responsibility for one’s own actions and also to achieve goals or visions.

Within the context of solution-oriented forms of therapy and counselling, this means doing more of what works well and less of what works badly.

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European Commission and the German Federal Ministry of Family, Seniors, Women and Youth.

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