Systemic psychology provides
ways to resolve a wide range
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
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).
- 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
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
taboo and cannot be discussed. Examples of
systemic rules include:
- Coalitions: Who can align with whom
for what benefits?
- Maturity: What are the emotional ages
of the members?
- Power: Who makes important decisions
for the system?
- History: What traditions and history
are still in active use?
- Roles: Who rescues? Who distracts? Who
- Life Cycle: What is the developmental
stage of the system?
- Values: What are the overall systemic
values? (Clare Graves)
- Hierarchy: Who is in control? What lines
of authority are used?
- Boundaries: Which boundaries are flexible
and which are rigid?
- Culture: What is the identity of the
system? (religion, status, ethnicity).
Our systemic coaching, counseling and therapy include:
- Outcomes: Research both individual and
- Planning: Help members explore steps to
- Mapping: Help members explore benefits
- Change history: Help members re-evaluate
how they got here
- Dissociation: Helps members dissociate
and discuss problems
- Metaphors: Help members reframe their
situations and solutions
- 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:
- Systems have life cycles
- Human systems exist in cultural contexts
- Experiences in systems shape the future systems
- Changes to parts of a system affect all
people in that system
- Problems can be better understood within the
context of a system
- Conflicts between two people often involve a
third person triangulation
- 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 ...
- Contact: We become accessible, knowledgeable,
confident - and kind
- Enroll: We build connections with system
members without favoritism or bias
- Assess: We assess coalitions,
hierarchies, and communication channels
- Reorient: We present our interpretation of
systemic dynamics to the members
- Feedback: We listen to and incorporate the
feedback from the members
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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Martyn Carruthers 2004-2017 All rights reserved.