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Systemic Psychology for Relationship Issues
Solving Relationship Problems © Martyn Carruthers

Online Life Coaching, Counseling & Soulwork Therapy

Systemic psychology provides ways to resolve a wide range of emotional
and relationship issues, including obsessions, compulsions and self-sabotage.

What are Human Systems?

People in human systems can accomplish goals that individuals, no matter how motivated or resourceful, cannot accomplish. People in systems can also empower, entangle and even immobilize their members.

Most human systems follow complex rules which differ from linear rules of cause and effect, and many rules are often not challenged nor even spoken. Systemic psychology can redefine cause and effect ... consider discussions that you may recall on the theme of, "Who started this?"

Chaos Theory in Coaching, Counseling & Therapy

Social Constructivism

Reminiscent of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in quantum physics, studying a system often changes the systems that were studied.

Words represent cultural patterns that are embedded within our relationships. A constructivist view is that if we change our words, we change our relationships. You can find constructivist concepts throughout systemic psychology.

Human Systems are Complex

Attempts to analyze human systems with statistics can become a study of mediocrity, if individual qualities and problems are smeared across populations.

Attempts to control or simplify human systems can lead to authoritarian systems (e.g. communist, totalitarian or military regimes, or religious and cult organizations).

Simple Systems Complex Systems
  • few similar elements
  • weak links between elements
  • limited potential for behavior
  • stable impact chains
  • behavior is easily measured
  • complete control is possible
  • many different elements
  • strong links & dependencies
  • large repertoire of behavior
  • variable impact chains
  • behavior is difficult to measure
  • limited control is possible

Human systems cannot be completely analyzed - and analysis changes that which is analyzed. Statistical analysis and cause-effect thinking may be useful, yet in human systems, actions can be both causes and effects.

Systemic behavior is better described by circular interactions, feedback loops and fuzzy logic. Our systemic diagnosis provides models for recognizing and predicting behavior and consequences in individuals, couples, families, teams and communities.

Systemic Rules

Most emotional problems reflect relationship issues. People rarely get emotionally ill alone - except following rejection or isolation. We identify relationships that cause or support dysfunction. For example, people who bring obsessions or compulsions into a marriage can predict that their children will likely exhibit some of their obsessive and compulsive behaviors, unless those patterns are changed.

We perceive obsessions and compulsions as both causes and effects of systemic dynamics. Such behavior may increase the likelihood of family dysfunction and child abuse.

Although systemic rules can guide behavior, some systemic rules are explicit and some rules are taboo and cannot be discussed. Examples of systemic rules include:

  1. Coalitions: Who can align with whom for what benefits?
  2. Maturity: What are the emotional ages of the members?
  3. Power: Who makes important decisions for the system?
  4. History: What traditions and history are still in active use?
  5. Roles: Who rescues? Who distracts? Who makes trouble?
  6. Life Cycle: What is the developmental stage of the system?
  7. Values: What are the overall systemic values? (Clare Graves)
  8. Hierarchy: Who is in control? What lines of authority are used?
  9. Boundaries: Which boundaries are flexible and which are rigid?
  10. Culture: What is the identity of the system? (religion, status, ethnicity).

Systemic Interventions

Our systemic coaching, counseling and therapy include:

  1. Outcomes: Research both individual and system goals
  2. Planning: Help members explore steps to desired goals
  3. Mapping: Help members explore benefits and consequences
  4. Change history: Help members re-evaluate how they got here
  5. Dissociation: Helps members dissociate and discuss problems
  6. Metaphors: Help members reframe their situations and solutions
  7. Resolve Conflict: Explore and resolve simple and complex conflicts

Phenomena of Human Systems

As all members of a system are affected by changes to the system, we tend to embed our individual work within a systemic framework. Some general rules are:

  1. Systems have life cycles
  2. Human systems exist in cultural contexts
  3. Experiences in systems shape the future systems
  4. Changes to parts of a system affect all people in that system
  5. Problems can be better understood within the context of a system
  6. Conflicts between two people often involve a third person triangulation
  7. Systems can get stuck in repetitive patterns that restrict freedom and options

Stages of Systemic Change

While some people claim to be neutral observers, observing a human system can change behavior within that system. We ask for permission to join a system as a guest when if we are to help modify or change a human system ...

  1. Contact: We become accessible, knowledgeable, confident - and kind
  2. Enroll: We build connections with system members without favoritism or bias
  3. Assess: We assess coalitions, hierarchies, and communication channels
  4. Reorient: We present our interpretation of systemic dynamics to the members
  5. Feedback: We listen to and incorporate the feedback from the members
  6. Realign: We change the way system members interact with each other

Comparison of Systemic Psychologies

  • Communication/Humanistic (Satir & Whitaker): Emphasize relationships within systems. Observe communication styles and provide experiential interventions.
  • Intergenerational (Bowen): Emphasize multi-generational family maps. Manage systemic tension by avoiding participation in dysfunctional family rituals.
  • Milan Model (Selvini-Palazolli): Perceptive and paradoxical teamwork - a team member interviews while another team member covertly observes from a hidden location.
  • Multicultural approaches: Examine the societal influences of oppression and ethnic identity.
  • Narrative Therapy (White & Epston): Examine a systemís experience and personal meaning through the use of language and metaphor.
  • Psychoanalytic (Ackerman & Framo): Examine how influences from the past shape the present.
  • Soulwork (Carruthers): Explore development and behavior in a hierarchy of relationships with a diagnostic format that evaluates behavior in terms of relationship roles and responsibilities.
  • Strategic (Haley & Madanes): Examines inter-relational and communication styles to help families define problems, and then help them solve those problems.
  • Structural (Minuchin): Views systems as organisms undergoing transformation. Explore the underlying structure of those systems.
  • Systemic Family Therapy (Hellinger): explore how individual lives are shaped by family systems and how conscience reacts to changes in relationship behavior.

Online Systemic Coaching, Counseling & Therapy

I thought you were just another therapist - but you were not just. Not even. Not only.

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2004-2018
All rights reserved.

If you like our work, please link to us. If you know someone who might benefit,
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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email