Family Systems Therapy

Family Systems Therapy Techniques

This particular therapy delves into systems that draw from the concept of a family being an emotional unit. When we apply systems thinking and family systems therapy to all family units, we will be able to observe that familial behavior is inseparable from the way a family of origin functions.


Family Systems Therapy is also known as `Couple Therapy’, `Marriage Therapy’ and `Family Counseling’. This kind of a therapy is actually a part of psychotherapy which works with couples and families. An intimate relationship is the foundation to nurture development and change. The therapy views change from the perspective of various systems involving interaction between members of a family unit. It lays stress on relationships between family members as a crucial factor in the maintenance of psychological health.


What methods and techniques are covered by the Family Systems Therapy?

The ideas contributed by the Family Systems Therapy have been very influential in the study of psychotherapy. Over a decade ago, a study was conducted of over two thousand five hundred therapists in the United States of America and it revealed that ten of the highly influential therapists of all time were family therapists and the study also went on to illustrate that the family systems and marital model was the second most employed model in the world after usage of the cognitive behavioral therapy.


Family Systems Therapy utilizes a vast range of counseling techniques and they include

  • Strategic Therapy – This study will identify and re-order organization of a family system.
  • Structural Therapy – This study will look at various patterns of how family members interact with each other.
  • Systemic or Milan Therapy – This study will focus on the belief systems of a family unit.
  • Trans-Generational Therapy – This studies the trans-generational transmission of random patterns of behavior and beliefs.
  • Narrative Therapy – This restores the dominant narrative saturated with problems and emphasizes context while separating the problems from the members of the family.
  • The Genogram
  • Reality Therapy
  • Communication Theory
  • Systems Theory
  • Psycho-Education
  • Systemic Coaching
  • Psychotherapy
  • Relationship Education
  • Relationship Counseling


How are the sessions planned for Family Systems Therapy?

The number of family systems therapy sessions will depend on the actual situation in a family unit that requires this kind of behavioral therapy. The number of sessions that are suggested by therapists would vary between five and twenty.  The family therapists would generally meet various members of the concerned family and this will happen at the same time. It allows the therapists to study the differences between all the ways the members of this family perceive the mutual relations between them. The therapists will also be able to study the interaction patterns in that session. The patterns would represent habitual interaction at home despite the therapists being incorporated into that family system. The main focus is on these relationship patterns instead of analyzing impulses as a result of childhood trauma or as an impact of certain events in the life of each family member. The striking feature of the family systems therapy sessions is its analytical framework and its perspective rather than the actual number of members of a family who are present at those sessions.


Some members of a family go through the cause-effect analysis and attempt to shift the blame to one or more members in a unit. For several families, focus on causation is of very little clinical utility. In these sessions, a circular method of evaluating problems is utilized as opposed to linear routes. By using such methods, families are helped by locating behavioral patterns and understanding the cause of discord and what should be done to improve their situation.

A Table of Theoretical Models of Family Systems Therapy and the Techniques Employed


Model Theorists Description Techniques
Adlerian Family Therapy Alfred Adler This therapy is also referred to as the individual psychology model. It perceives a family member as a whole unit. Ideas will include compensation for inferiority complexes that may lead to striving for a fictional objective with private logic. Psychoanalysis, Reorientation and Re-education.
Attachment Theory John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth Individuals are influenced by their experiences in their lives in their initial three years. Psychoanalysis and Play Therapy.
Bowenian Family Systems Therapy Murray Bowen and Betty Carter This therapy is also known as `intergenerational family therapy’.  Family members are motivated to strike a balance between internal and external differentiation, causing an emotional cutoff. De-triangulation and Genograms.
Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy John Gottman and Albert Ellis Issues become the result of operant conditioning. This triggers negative behavior within the social exchanges in a family, leading to irrational beliefs. Therapeutic contracts, Systemic Desensitization, Modeling,  and Examination of Irrational Beliefs.
Collaborative Language Systems Therapy Harry Goolishian Individuals shape meanings about experiences within the context of social relationships on both personal and organizational levels. Dialogical Conversation and Reflection on teams.
Therapy Focused on Emotion Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg Families may develop rigid interaction patterns based on emotional experiences which hinder trust and engagement. Reflecting, Heightening and Validation.
Experiential Family therapy Carl Whitaker and David Keith This therapy model is based on the Gestalt Foundation. Growth and change comes about through existential encounters with therapists. Battling, Handling Constructive Anxiety and Redefining Symptoms.
Feminist Family Therapy Sandra Bem Complications arise from social disparity between genders in a family and they are identified as the underlying reasons for conflicts within a family unit. Demystifying and Emphasizing Personal Accountability.
Milan Systemic family Therapy Luigi Boscolo and Gianfranco Cecchina This model establishes therapeutic techniques based on Cybernetics Theory of Gregory Bateson. It disrupts systemic patterns of control and the emotional games played between family members by testing flawed family beliefs. Circular Questioning, Hypothesizing and Neutrality.
Narrative Therapy Michael White and David Epston People make use of stories to derive some sense of their experience. It also helps in establishing their identity based on the local knowledge. Externalizing Problems, Deconstruction and Mapping.
Object Relations Therapy Hazan & Shaver. Individuals select relationships that try to heal all insecure attachments from their childhood. De-triangulation, Co-therapy and Psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalytic Family Therapy Nathan Ackerman Strategies of Freudian psychoanalysis are applied to family system therapists so that they can gain insight into the psychopathologies of the family members that get interlocked. Psychoanalysis, Joining and Confrontation.
Therapy Focused on Solutions Kim Insoo Berg and Steve de Shazer. Constant change will lead to negative interpretation of the family members’ past and the kind of emotional language used. Future Focus and Goal Setting.
Strategic Therapy Jay Haley and Cloe Madanes Dysfunction symptoms are useful in the maintenance of homeostasis in the hierarchy of a family. Directives, Positioning and Paradoxical Injunctions.
Structural Family Therapy Salvador Minuchin and  Harry Aponte Family problems usually arise from boundaries that are maladaptive and from subsystems which are created within a family system. Joining, Hypothesizing, Family Mapping, and Reframing.

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