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Systemic Coaching & Systemic Therapy
Intelligent Problem Solving © Martyn Carruthers

Online Life Coaching, Counseling & Soulwork Therapy

If a therapist, consultant and coach were to teach you to ride a bike,
a therapist may ask you to approach the bike and ask how that feels;
a consultant might write instructions for you, and a coach might say,
ďIíll walk with you until you can do it on your own

What are Human Systems?

A human system refers to a group of people that live or work together,
such as a team, a family, an organization or a community.
Human systems accomplish what individuals, no matter
how resourceful, can accomplish on their own.

Systems coaching has been influenced by natural science, chaos theory, physics, systems theory, psychoanalysis, anthropology and evolutionary psychology. Our systems coaching examines systemic influences and reciprocal effects rather than linear influence or statistics.

Systems are subject to complex rules, which differ from linear rules of cause and effect. Systems psychology can work at many levels, and this page describes some practical aspects of systems thinking in the context of social constructivism.

Chaos Theory & Therapy . Executive Coaching

Social Constructivism

You describe and explain the world with words derived from your relationships, not from reality. Your words are cultural patterns, embedded within relationships. A constructivist view is that if you change your words, you change your relationships. If you create and disseminate new words within your culture, you affect everyday relationships. As with Heisenberg's Principle, diagnosis can change that that was diagnosed. Social constructivist ideas are integrated throughout our coaching.

As nobody is isolated from human systems, all coaching, counseling and therapy have systemic consequences. The consequences of individual change on a human system can be chaotic, unless those consequences are explored and fine-tuned.


Human systems are complex. Attempts to simplify human systems can lead to authoritarian systems (e.g. communist and totalitarian societies, military and cults).

Simple Systems Complex Systems
  • few similar elements
  • few links between elements
  • limited potential for behavior
  • stable, determined impact chains
  • behavior is easily measured
  • possible states can be predicted
  • complete control is possible
  • many different elements
  • strong links & dependencies
  • large repertoire of behavior
  • manifold, variable impact chains
  • behavior is difficult to measure
  • possible states are unpredictable
  • limited control is possible

Human systems cannot be completely analyzed, there is too much happening. Statistical analysis data may be useful, but in a system, every action can be both cause and effect. Circular interactions, feedback loops and fuzzy logic better define systemic behavior. Our systemic diagnosis provides systemic models for predicting individual, couple, family and team behavior.

Systemic Rules

Although systemic rules guide the behavior of the members of a system, some systemic rules are explicit and some cannot be discussed by members. Examples of systemic rules include:

  • Boundaries: Which boundaries are flexible and which are rigid?
  • Coalitions: Who can align with whom for what benefits?
  • Communication: What are the communication rules and meta-rules?
  • Culture: What is the identity of the system? (religion, status, ethnicity).
  • Entanglement: Is there differentiation or are members entangled each other.
  • Hierarchy: Who is in control? What lines of authority are used?
  • History: What traditions and history are still in active use?
  • Life Cycle: What is the developmental stage of the system?
  • Maturity: What are the emotional ages of the members?
  • Metaphors: What underlying symbolic interactions occur between members?
  • Power: Who makes important decisions for the system?
  • Roles: Who rescues? Who distracts? Who makes trouble?
  • Values: What are the overall systemic values? (Clare Graves)

Systemic Psychology & Therapy

Although a problem may not be a person, nor a system, a problem is a problem. Solutions include:

  • Dissociation: Helps members dissociate and discuss problems
  • Change history: Help members evaluate who they are and how they got here
  • Mapping: Help members explore benefits and consequences
  • Metaphors: Help members reframe their situations and solutions
  • Outcomes: Research both individual and system goals
  • Planning: Help members visualize steps to success

Systemic Phenomena

As all members are affected by changes to a system, individual change can be embedded in systemic coaching. Some presuppositions seem to be:

  • Systems exist in a cultural context
  • Systems go through a systemic life cycle
  • Systems organize themselves to maintain stability
  • Experiences in a system shape the system's development
  • Changes in part of a system affect all people in that system
  • Problems can be better understood within the context of a system
  • Systems can get stuck in repetitive patterns that restrict their choices
  • Conflicts between two people often involve a third person triangulation)
  • Symptoms are often functional and help a system maintain equilibrium

Changing Systems

You can try to be a neutral observer (good luck!) or you can join the system as a guest.

  1. Decide on which sub-system you want to focus
  2. Avoid taking sides - strive to be perceived as fair and objective
  3. Reframe problems so that members do not focus on one member
  4. Implement interventions through demonstration and provocation
  5. Consider individual behavior while observing interactive patterns
  6. Keep things moving and keep members (especially children) busy

Stages of Systemic Change

  1. Contact: Be accessible, knowledgeable, confident and kind
  2. Enroll: Build connections with system members without favoritism or bias
  3. Assess: Assess coalitions, hierarchies, communication behavior and the entanglements of each member
  4. Reorient: Present your interpretation of what is going on within the system
  5. Feedback: Listen to and incorporate the feedback from system members
  6. Realign: Change the way system members interact with each other

Types of Systemic Coaching & Systemic Therapy

  • Communication/Humanistic (Satir & Whitaker): Emphasizes relationships within systems. Observe communication styles and provide experiential interventions.
  • Intergenerational (Bowen): Emphasizes multi-generational family maps. Observers manage systemic tension by avoiding participation in dysfunctional family rituals.
  • Milan Model (Selvini-Palazolli): Perceptive and paradoxical teamwork - two team members interview while another team member covertly observes from a hidden location.
  • Multicultural approaches: Examines the societal influences of oppression and ethnic identity.
  • Narrative Therapy (White & Epston): Examines a systemís experience and personal meaning through the use of language and metaphor.
  • Psychoanalytic (Ackerman & Framo): Examines how influences from the past shape the present.
  • Soulwork (Carruthers): Describes healthy development and appropriate behavior in a hierarchy of relationships. This offers rapid solutions for emotional and relationship problems.
  • Strategic (Haley & Madanes): Examines inter-relational and communication styles to help families define problems, and then help them solve those problem.
  • Structural (Minuchin): Views a system as an organism undergoing transformation. Explores the underlying structure of systems.
  • Systemic Family Therapy (Hellinger): Shows how individual lives are determined by systems; and how conscience reacts to changes in relationship bonds and violations of family rules.

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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.

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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