Family Systems Therapy

Whether a person has a close relationship with the members of their family or not, the connections and functioning of the family influence development into adulthood. Family systems therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the functioning of the family unit and the impacts on individual members. 

A comprehensive insight into the daily operations of a family unit provides therapists at Mindful Living Group the opportunity to create a personalized therapy plan for each family. Depending on each family’s specific needs and dynamics, therapists and counselors may approach therapy sessions in a number of ways, such as structural, strategic, psychoeducational, or intergenerational methods. 

What Is Family Systems Therapy? 

Family systems therapy is the therapeutic approach derived from Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. Bowen’s theory focuses on the relationships between individuals in a family unit and how they function as a whole. This theory is structured around eight core concepts of how families work. 

  1. Triangles: Triangles refer to three-person relationships, the smallest, most stable relationship systems to exist. Triangles are the foundational blocks that create more extensive systems. Despite the increased stability, more often than not, two “sides” of the triangle are usually in harmony, while there is conflict on the third side. This harmony can shift between sides as tension among the three people shift. 
  2. Differentiation of Self: Differentiation of self is a prominent factor in the function or dysfunction of relationships within a family and with others outside of the family. This concept focuses on an individual’s development of their own sense of self. People with higher levels of differentiation are often better equipped to maintain their individuality and emotional connections with others. Lower levels frequently make a person more susceptible to emotional fusion with the family unit and lack healthy interpersonal boundaries. 
  3. Nuclear Family Emotional Systems: The nuclear family tends to experience problems within four main areas: partner/marital conflict, dysfunction with one partner, impairment of one or more children, and emotional distancing. According to Bowen’s theory, the nuclear family emotional system is concerned with how family members adjust roles and responsibilities to work through stress and anxiety. Personal anxieties may create conflict or an under- or over-performance of duties. 
  4. Family Projection Process: The predominant way parents channel their emotional problems onto the child is the family projection process. Projecting personal difficulties onto the child may lead to developmental concerns. Not only may this affect the child (or children), but it has the potential to create emotional conflicts with other members of the family.  
  5. Multigenerational Transmission Process: Individuals often choose partners who reflect their level of differentiation. Couples with lower levels of differentiation tend to have children whose levels are even lower, and so on. Patterns of behavior are generally passed down from generation to generation until someone chooses to break them.  
  6. Emotional Cut-Off: The process of cutting off emotional connections to reduce tension or avoid conflict is often used by one or more family members. The result is often increased anxiety and stress. Shutting out emotional bonds with one person or group may lead to amplified pressure on new relationships, ultimately creating conflict, and the cycle repeats. 
  7. Sibling Position: When there are multiple children in the family, each assumes their roles within the home. Positions are typically dependent on age, parental expectations, discipline, and attention. A significant influence on the responsibilities put on each child often stems from roles the parents played within their families of origin. 
  8. Societal Emotional Process: Bowen’s theory points out the parallels between the family unit and societal functioning. Cultural, political, and economic factors influence families and can be mirrored in society. Essentially, the same issues that disrupt the family have the potential to cause disruptions in society. 

Mindful Living Group and Family Systems Therapy

Therapists are able to employ techniques and methods from various forms of psychotherapy to create the most appropriate therapy plan for each family. Each family is unique and faces many challenges. Some families may struggle with a child who has a mental health condition, finances, generational trauma, patterns, or partner conflicts that seep into the overall functioning of the family unit. Let’s look at some of the techniques and approaches therapists and counselors may use. 

  • Couples Therapy: When there is conflict between intimate partners, the tension frequently affects the family. Children are susceptible to being used against the other parent, leading to various other issues. Couples therapy may help with learning conflict resolution and improved communication skills. 
  • Intergenerational Family Therapy: This approach focuses on the patterns and behaviors that have been passed down through generations. Additionally, it uncovers influences that contribute to particular behaviors. Families may learn new ways to interact with one another, recover from generational trauma, and resolve issues. 
  • Psychoeducation: Therapists are able to provide education and resources to patients. Learning more about mental health disorders that a family member (or several) has, may create an environment for better support. Many families may be codependent and enable unwanted behaviors without recognizing they are doing so. Education is critical in understanding and changing unwanted patterns and developing healthy relationships.
  • Structural Family Therapy: Each family is structured in its own way. Therapists and counselors help to identify the structure. Essentially, the goal is to make improvements where necessary and learn better communication. 
  • Strategic Family Therapy: As noted above, each family has its own challenges and problems to overcome. Strategic family therapy assists in identifying the specific issue(s) at hand and creating a solution that directly addresses it. 

In understanding more clearly what factors and influences provoke issues and dysfunction, families are provided an opportunity to work together to make changes where it’s most effective. 

What Family Systems Therapy Can Help With

Family systems therapy serves to benefit in a variety of ways. Studies and reports show family systems therapy is beneficial in both short and long-term problems and prevention. Therapists and counselors provide the family with needed support while simultaneously helping members learn to support each other in healthy and compassionate ways. Learning communication skills and actively practicing better communication is a key component found throughout the process. 

Families often find family systems therapy to help with overall functioning in the family unit. Individual members may receive the needed help that contributes to the whole family’s health. In 2020, the National Institute of Mental Health found approximately 21% (about one in five) of adults in the United States were living with some degree of a mental illness. This number only accounts for individuals over the age of 18. Mental health conditions are possible for children and adolescents, too. Family systems therapy is an invaluable service for families with one or more members living with any type of mental illness. Therapists are equipped to help the family find direction and resources and provide guidance for creating a healthy dynamic where members can support each other. 

Mental health is only one of many factors that can affect families. The loss of a loved one, a job, or pet, substance abuse, behavioral disorders, divorce, finances, parenting conflicts, and trauma are other common influences on the health of the family system. 

Getting Started

It is not uncommon for families to experience periods of conflict, challenges, or stress. If your family is facing life’s challenges, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Mindful Living Group shares the value of family and its influence on our daily lives. 

Get started today in uniting your family by contacting Mindful Living Group to schedule an appointment with any of the many compassionate and knowledgeable family therapists.