Sunday, October 28, 2007

Blog 2 - A Theroretical Overview of Family Systems Theory within the Discipline of Social Psychology

Predominantly associated with the work of Murray Bowen, Family Systems Theory represents a hypothesis which views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions within this unit (Carr, 2006). Numerous individuals have contributed to this theory, inevitably furthering the theory to the extent to which it is currently known. Focusing on Family Systems Theory, this paper outlines the basis for this theory before outlining the major theorists associated with the development of the theory. This paper also examines the reason this theory is considered effective in explaining family connections. Finally, this paper summarises the relationship between Family Systems Theory and the discipline of Social Psychology, providing an overview of the predominant connections which can be made.

The last century has seen a transformation of marriage and family life, though the influence of family members has remained unchanged (Carr, 2006). Family members have been shown to profoundly affect each other’s thoughts, feeling and actions (Rosenblatt, 1994), in a number of ways. Few theorists have incorporated this view into their theoretical framework, however one predominant theory has integrated this view as a foundation for the family influence hypothesis to be based upon. This theory, Family Systems Theory, is now one of the oldest and most distinguished theories in relation to working with families in the psychological profession (Corey, 2001).

Family systems theory is a theory of human behaviour that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions within this unit (Carr, 2006). Originally termed family homeostasis by Jackson (Bump, 1991), the concept was furthered by Murray Bowen and later by Michael Kerr (Gladding, 2005). Both theorists suggested the connectedness and reactivity found among family members makes the functioning of family members interdependent (Corey, 2001) and founded the theory upon these principles.

Family Systems theory, or Bowen Theory as it is also known, is grounded on three main assumptions. Firstly, that the clients problematic behaviour may serve a function or purpose for the family; secondly, that the clients problematic behaviour is may be a function of the families inability to operate productively; and thirdly, the maladaptive behaviour may be a symptom of dysfunctional patterns handed down from generations (Corey, 2001). Encompassing these three assumptions as a basis, Family Systems Theory aims to explain an individual’s maladaptive behaviour through the terms of their family interactions.

A change in one person’s functioning can be predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others in the family system (Rothbaum, Rosen, Ujiie & Uchida, 2002). However when family members get anxious, anxiety can escalate and spread to numerous members of the family network (Carr, 2006). These patterns of maladaptive behaviour can be learnt through items such as observation and modelling, which through these patterns can be passed down from generation to generation. Family Systems Theory is based on the belief that individuals who do not examine and rectify patterns of negative behaviour passed down from previous generations, are likely to repeat these behaviours in their own families (Gladding, 2005).

Family systems theory emphasises a number of basic concepts through which family dynamics can be best understood and treated. These include differentiation, the family as an emotional system, family projection process, sibling position, societal regression, and triangular systems. As a central principle of family systems therapy is that that the client is connected to living systems and that change in one part of the unit echoes change through the other parts, the approach to treatment usually incorporates all members of the family (Corey, 2001). The ultimate goal of Family Systems Therapy is to eliminate triangular relationships which may involve the individual, and two other members of their family, and focus on singular relationships. Ultimately dual relationships should be reduced and relationships should be focused on individualisation, autonomy, and intimacy (Gladding, 2005).

Family systems theory is rapidly becoming one of the most popular and effective methods of problem solving (Prest & Protinsky, 1993). Unlike conventional psychological theory which focuses on the individual, Family Systems Theory encourages people to think of issues in terms of a multigenerational family or system, and essentially encourages people to move away from blaming others and towards individual responsibility (Gladding, 2005). The aforementioned synopsis of Family Systems Theory provides reasoning for the logic and effectiveness of the theory to provide an overview of family connections.

While based on the initial work of Bowen, numerous researchers have had an influence on the development as well as furthered and incorporated many new concepts in to family systems therapy (Corey 2001), (see figure 1). Furthermore each of these researchers have furthered the theory by incorporating new concepts and branching these off with the hope of providing further depth and knowledge to the theory.

Figure 1. Contributors to Family Systems Theory.

Researchers have found Family Systems Theory to be effective in a number of ways, and have found three key advantages to incorporating family orientated principles into the therapeutic setting. Firstly, through incorporating the use of family systems theory into therapy, it may broaden the therapist’s perception of the problem (Larson, 1984). This can provide the practitioner with a holistic view of the problem and how best it can be treated. Another strength of family systems theory is that it takes into account the congregation as a whole, as a living organism that is continually affected by every part that comprises the whole. (Prest et al, 1993). This provides a global view of the individual and their social constructs, and may offer a more detailed therapy session in light of this (Carr, 2006).

However academics have also outlined a number of disadvantages to incorporating family systems theory in to therapeutic settings. For a number of reasons it is not always possible to integrate the family into the treatment process (Gladding, 2005). However this theory can still be applied to situations such as this, as the individual is able to conceptualise the problem in family systems terms and help the individual change the system by changing his or her role in the system (Larson, 1995). Knudson-Martin (2002) suggested that the Family systems model ignores many of the positive aspects of togetherness and is not able to be used with individuals from collectivist cultures.

Despite these disadvantages, family systems theory is still largely supported and found in practices at present. It is commonly found in a number of areas of psychotherapy including eating disorders, suicide and depression (Barlow & Durand, 2006). Comparing a number of therapeutical treatments Shapiro, Welker and Jacobson (1997) found that therapy encompassing Family Systems Theory principles was positively correlated with effective treatment. Furthermore, the study found that interventions focusing on the family systems model were associated with a higher treatment response than individuals who undertook other forms of treatment. Therefore family systems theory can be an important element to many areas of clinical practice.

In the discipline of Social Psychology, the family is often viewed as a social network. In Family Systems Theory the family is referred to as a unit in which the family interacts, is engaged in, and has been shown to influence individual members of the system (Gladding, 2005). There are a number of social psychological concepts which can also be applied to Family Systems Theory.

Possibly considered to be the most important in Family Systems terms is the overall social network of the family. The social network of the family is an important feature of a loving, accepting, and facilitating relationship (Rosenblatt, 1994). Therefore the availability of family may be linked to social psychology. This is not only limited to the physical presence of family members, but also emotional availably. In one study, infants were observed whilst engaging in free play (Volling, McElwain, Notaro & Herrera, 2002). The study found that infants who had emotionally available parents were more likely to engage in effortful play than infants whose parents were less emotionally available. In family systems terms this emotional unavailability may be rooted in an unconscious level of family life as well as potentially cause generational behaviour pattens which may disrupt healthy functioning (Carr, 2006). When this is disrupted negative emotions and personalities can be triggered, and ultimately passed down through numerous generations if intervention is not sought.

Suggesting that people come to like things because they see or encounter them repeatedly, propinquity or the mere exposure effect can also be applied to families (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). As people generally tend to like things that are familiar, the interactions and behaviour seen within the family may be the conduct and interaction that is best liked by an individual. Though as concluded in the saying ‘Familiarly breeds contempt’, this is not always a healthy construct. This may lead to negative symptoms such as anxiety, negative behaviour, as well as family and generational manifestations (Gladding, 2005).

Acceptance may be the most important aspect of any social relationship including that of being accepted within the family unit (Baumeister et al, 2008). In family systems terms, families which display a minimal chance of anxiety, social exclusion and rejection, are less likely to seek treatment in the Family Systems therapy setting (Schweitzer, Zwack, Nicolai, Weber, & Hirschenberger, 2007). Overall, a relationship which encompasses love, acceptance and the reciprocity of these interpersonal relations, are important aspects of both Family Systems Theory and the discipline of Social Psychology.

In conclusion, Family Systems Theory was conceptualized in order to explain an individual’s maladaptive behaviour through the terms of their family interactions. Despite numerous disadvantages, Family Systems Theory is still largely supported and found in practices at present. Research has shown that incorporating family systems into therapeutic practice is an important element which can enhance the recovery of the client. There are a number of ways in which Family Systems Theory can be connected to social psychology. Through the understanding of each of these items and integrating this knowledge into practice, Family Systems Theory may aid in the utility of this distinguished social interactions theory.


Barlow, D. H., & Durand, V. M. (2006). Essentials of Abnormal Psychology, 4th Edition. Wadsworth/ Thompson Learning, U.S.A, 256-279.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social Psychology & Human Nature. Thomson Learning Inc, Belmont USA, 224-249.

Bump, J. (1991). D. H. Lawrence and family systems theory. Renascence, 44 (1), 61- 80.

Carr, A. (2006). Family Therapy: Concepts, Process and Practice, 2nd Edition. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, United Kingdom, 3-580.

Corey, G. (2001). Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 6th Edition. Brooks/Cole Publishing, Stamford, 384-451.

Gladding, S. T. (2005). Counselling Theories: Essential Concepts and Applications. New Jersey Columbus, Ohio, Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall, 181-195.

Knudson-Martin, C. (2002). Expanding Bowen’s legacy to family therapy: A response to Horne and Kicks. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 28 (1), 115-118.

Larson, J. H. (1995). The use of family systems theory to explain and treat career decision problems in late adolescence: A review [electronic version]. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 23 (4), 328-337.

Prest, L.A., Protinsky, H. (1993). Family systems theory: A unifying framework for the codependence. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 21 (4), 352-360.

Rosenblatt, P. C. (1994). Metaphors of Family Systems Theory: Toward New Constructions. Guilford Press, New York, 1-175.

Rothbaum, F., Rosen, K., Ujiie, T., & Uchida, N. (2002). Family systems theory, attachment theory, and culture. Family Process, 41 (3), 328-350.

Shapiro, J. P., Welker, C. J., & Jacobson, B. J. (1997). A naturalistic study of psychotherapeutic methods and client in-therapy functioning in a child community setting [electronic version]. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 26 (4), 385-396.

Schweitzer, J., Zwack, J., Nicolai, E., Weber, G., & Hirschenberger, N. (2007). Family systems psychiatry: Principles, good practice guidelines, clinical examples, and challenges. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77 (3), 377-385.

Volling, B. L., McElwain, N. L., Notaro, P. C., & Herrera, C. (2002). Parents’ emotional availability and infant emotional competence: Predictors of parent-infant attachment and emerging self-regulation. Journal of Family Psychology, 16 (4), 447-465.

Appendix A

Self-Evaluation of Blog

Written Expression
Final Word Count = 1497
Readability Analysis:
Flesch Reading Ease = 13.3
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 12.4

I have included an abstract to aid in the readability, and also included an introduction, body, conclusion, and reference list. I have also included a self evaluation and Blog postings list on my main Blog page. Citations used in the body of the essay are references appropriately in the reference list which is consistent with the APA style of formatting. I devised a concept map which I included in the body of the article (see Figure 1) which depicts the depth of the research I have conducted on a number of individuals involved in the development of Family Systems Theory. Results of my readability analysis indicate that the level of my academic writing style could be improved, however this grade analysis determines my writing style to be higher than that of my first Blog, indicating that I am able to apply what I have learnt over the semester.

Theory and Research
As my reference list will show I was able to effectively search and locate articles which supported the voice I displayed throughout my Blog topic of Family Systems Theory. I sourced a moderate number of books and journal articles which was peer reviewed and pertinent to my topic. Research cited in my Blog ranged in age from 1991 to 2008. While Bowen and Kerr the two main theorists associated with Family Systems Theory have written numerous books and documents, the University Library currently has no holding for these items and I was unable to locate them elsewhere. While I would have liked to reference directly from the source and felt this would have been an invaluable addition to my paper, unfortunately I was unable to utilise these resources.

Online Engagement
I believe my Blog is inviting for others through my use of visual information and friendly tone, and generally easy for others to follow and understand. In my Blog I have included a profile of myself summarising my interests, hobbies and goals for the future. I have also on numerous occasions viewed the profile of my fellow classmates in order to better understand their interests, as well as get a better idea of the issues which may be of interest. I have made a number of comments on other people’s Blog’s, including participating in a number of polls being conducted by other students and the unit convener. Links to my comments are included on my Blog page, however as I did not record the polls I participated in, I am unable to provide links to these. The total number of polls I participated in would be around a dozen. I have also received a number of comments to posting which I have made, links to which are posted on my Blog page.

Since its inception at the beginning of the semester my Blog has included discussion surrounding lecture topics, as well as adding useful sections in an attempt to enhance the learning of others and myself. Throughout weeks 8-15 I have tried my upmost to build upon not only the things I have learnt not only over the semester, but also the feedback I received from my first Blog. I believe that over weeks 8-15 I have displayed a higher level of engagement as well as an improvement in number of postings I have made.

Although not as often as I would have liked, I continued to post items on my Blog throughout the semester, and have tried my best to make weekly or fortnightly postings. As the marker of my first Blog suggested posting of a draft copy of my second Blog to demonstrate and enhance my learning, I have done this as well as post two draft concept maps for comments and critique. In many postings I asked for students thoughts and input on the matter of discussion, to which numerous students responded. I believe this demonstrates my ability to facilitate a discussion based on the knowledge of a number of individuals. While over the semester I have found the task of Blogging challenging and at times frustrating, I believe that I have risen to the occasion and conducted both myself and my Blog in a user friendly, engaging and thought provoking way which was to the best of my ability.

I have also placed a number of postings on the discussion board within UCspace. In times that I have been uncertain of a particular item I have asked for both explanation and thoughts from members of the unit. In regards to my second Blog, I encountered numerous technical difficulties, to which I enquired if anyone knew of ways to fix or overcome these. While I only received a small number of responses, I believe that utilising the discussion board on UC space displays my engagement with others not only in times of composure, but also in times of uncertainty.

1 comment:

James Neill said...

1.Overall, this is clearly an HD-level essay. It is well conceptualised, shows an indepth understanding of FST and conveys this is a highly readable and interesting manner. A critical perspective is adopted, acknowleding strengths and weaknesses. The essay is well referenced. The material connecting FST to social psychology perhaps needed some more thinking through.
Solid, clear abstract; well done.
3.Theory & Research
FST is very well explained using a wide range of sources.
The concept map wasn't readable, but looked valuable. (I found it on your old blog – excellent detail)
4.Written Expression
A highly readable, well expressed essay.
Ownership apostrophe needed, e.g., clients
5.Referencing & Citations
~15~ appropriate references were cited (above average).
Use italics for journal titles, journal volume #s, and book titles.
Do not include journal issue numbers.
Titles of articles should be in sentence-case.
6.Online Engagement
Honest, accurate self-assessment.
Indepth and genuine endeavour and engagement clearly evident.