What is Systems Theory?
There are many different methods and theories of psychotherapy. Marriage and Family Therapists, Counselors, Clinical Psychologists, Clinical Social Workers, and Addiction Counselors are all trained to use theories to guide their therapy.
Some theories include:
Acceptance and Committment Therapy (ACT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Mindfulness Based Approaches
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy
Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)
Often times these theories overlap. Marriage and Family Therapists use Systems Theory to help contextualize the other theories they use in session. For example, I tend to use Narrative Therapy with my clients, but I situate Narrative Theory within Systems Theory.
(I will do a blog post about Narrative Theory at some point in the future, but for the purposes of this blog Narrative uses a discussion of an external problem, such as Anxiety, Depression, or Shame and explores how this external problem influences the client.)
As you can see, Systems Theory is an awareness of how people do not operate in isolation; we are constantly being influenced by other people, our education, local community, laws, the economy, cultural values, and societal opportunities. This is why I ask my clients about their Family of Origin in our first session and create a genogram, or a detailed family tree.
The arrows represent how one level of a system can influence another. Sometimes national or state laws have a direct influence on the well-being of an individual, or your school/work setting can have an influence on your friends. There is no limit to the number of levels in a system or the number of interactions these levels can have with each other.
So if a client comes in for their first session and talks about Anxiety, I will ask questions about their experience with Anxiety at the individual, family, friend, community, work, government, and cultural level in order to understand their experience in a systemic way.
(This is not my graphic; however I cannot find the correct citation. If you are the owner please contact me for citation purposes.)
As a Marriage and Family Therapist I keep these principles in mind when working with a client and conceptualizing my treatment plan. Almost every session includes discussions of boundaries between my client and family members, friends, their boss, social influence (such as media), and problems such as Anxiety, Depression, or Shame.
The use of therapy to maintain healthy relationships is especially important given the principle of entropy. Healthy relationships take work and tend to fall apart when we don't make them a priority. Even after your goals are met it is important to keep working to maintian the healthy relationships you worked so hard to create. This does not always include continued therapy; however your therapist can help you to create a plan to maintain your progress after you finish your sessions.
For more information on Systems Theory check out the links below:
The posts provided here are intended to provide psychoeducation, resources, and support for current clients, potential clients, or anyone seeking information about mental health. These posts are not a suitable replacement for mental health services including medication, therapy, counseling, or crisis managment. If you are seeking help for any mental health or relationship struggle, please contact a mental health professional you trust.