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What Is Systemic Therapy?

By April 22, 2024May 8th, 2024No Comments

What is systemic therapy?

Systemic therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on how an individual’s personal relationships, behavior patterns, and life choices are interconnected with the issues they face in their life. The concept of systemic therapy springs from systems theory, which looks at how parts of a system affect one another to sustain the stability and equilibrium of the whole.

Types of Systemic Therapy

Therapists apply systemic theory in individual, family, and group settings. Each type takes a slightly different approach based on the systems theory model.

  • Individual psychotherapy: Incorporates the theories of Sigmund Freud with those of systems theory. It works to resolve unconscious motivations and patterns of behavior that affect an individual’s life, relationships, and circumstances.
  • Family therapyExamines how the family interacts as a cohesive unit and uncovers patterns that influence or impede the potential for change within the family system.
  • Group therapyLooks at how a cohesive social unit is formed and how its members interact to fulfill individual needs so the group can function successfully as a whole.

Techniques of Systemic Therapy

Below are some examples of techniques employed in systemic therapy.1

  • Circular questioning: Helps the therapist explore a problem from different angles to identify its core issue
  • Conceptualization: Helps a therapist put a client’s symptoms into a context that spans time and space, or applies to one or more family members; looks at how individual experiences fit into a larger pattern within the person, family, community, or culture
  • ReframingExplores the client’s self-perceptions and offers alternatives; often used with circular questioning, which helps clients identify patterns of behavior within social contexts

What Systemic Therapy Can Help With

Systemic therapy can help people of any age, including children. Depending on the issue, several sessions or years might be necessary to resolve problems. It’s particularly useful for those who are repressing or denying emotions for fear of appearing selfish or hurting others.

For many, systemic therapy provides insights into how patterns established early in life now limit the person’s options.

For example, someone uncomfortable asserting their needs and desires may suppress their feelings. As a result, they may fail to develop interpersonal skills that would help them maintain healthy relationships.

As another example, someone who never learned how to manage their anger may lash out at loved ones in increasingly destructive ways. Systemic therapy can help people address these problems and, in some cases, discover their origins.

Issues that systemic therapy can help with include:

  • Addictions and substance abuseHelps people identify factors contributing to their substance abuse and emphasizes the connection between addiction and other aspects of their lives
  • Anger management: Helps individuals learn how to express anger in more positive ways that foster their relationships and interpersonal communication
  • Mood disorders: Helps people with depression or bipolar disorder work through issues so they can address symptoms when they occur
  • Relationship difficultiesHelps people uncover the issues sabotaging their efforts and find more effective ways of interacting
  • Conduct disorderHelps people improve impulse control, develop appropriate social skills, and understand how family dynamics influence their actions
  • AnxietyHelps people identify the origins of their fears and provides strategies to overcome them
  • Eating disordersHelps people understand feelings of inadequacy and how they affect decision-making related to food and exercise
  • PTSDHelps people understand how memories of traumatic events affect their lives
  • SchizophreniaCan help clients work through symptoms

Benefits of Systemic Therapy

Systemic therapy helps people understand how their emotional lives affect interactions. Systemic therapy provides a safe space to talk about personal issues that are too painful or difficult to share with others. It can provide insights that other forms of counseling or therapy can fail to uncover.

Below are some benefits of systemic therapy:

  • Self-understanding: People gain understanding about themselves, thereby developing healthier relationships and reaching their potentials. People actively explore their patterns of thoughts, actions, and emotions.
  • Understanding of different perspectives: This awareness helps people recognize when they’re being influenced and when others are trying to exert power, as well as how these interactions affect their behavior.
  • Empowerment: This type of therapy empowers the individual to take charge of their life without giving up control to someone else or a professional.
  • Relationship skills: People learn how to communicate, handle conflict, and resolve problems. This can help them have more loving and fulfilling relationships.
  • Core beliefs: People discover negative or destructive core beliefs and behaviors, such as perfectionism or people-pleasing.
  • Identification of strengths/resources: People identify their strengths and resources, which can lead to increased self-confidence and self-worth.
  • Empathy: Systemic therapy can help clients develop greater empathy, which is essential for healthy relationships with parents, partners, and children.
  • Learning to work together with family: Systemic therapy encourages family members to work together for the benefit of one another.

Effectiveness of Systemic Therapy

Systemic family therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for children and adolescents.3 However, more studies are needed to determine the best type of therapy and how well it works.

Things to Consider

Systemic therapy can help identify how different relationships affect an individual. However, this type of therapy is not for everyone.

Below are things to consider before committing to systemic family counseling or therapy:

  • Is the therapist trained in working with families?
  • How much experience does the therapist have in dealing with the problems you want help with addressing?
  • Is the therapist well-versed in systemic therapy?
  • Does the therapist have your best interest at heart? Do you feel comfortable with them?
  • What are their credentials, board certifications, and affiliations?

Read the rest of the original article on VeryWellMind.

If you are suffering from anxiety, depression or other health issues, please see our information on treatment options including Manhattan Psychotherapy Treatment.



Barry J. Richman

Author Barry J. Richman

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Barry J. Richman MD Psychiatrist NY

Manhattan, NYC Psychiatrist
(212) 889-5463