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by Dr. Becky Spelman on 06/06/2019

The rationale behind systemic therapy

Human beings do not exist in little bubbles of their own, but in the context of the many relationships they have with people in their families, friendship groups, groups at work, and so on. Therefore, systemic therapy maintains that the only way to truly understand the person, including the problems they may have, is in the context of these relationships—and the only way to address problems that the group may have is to explore how the individuals within it interact with one another. In this way, we gain insight into the behavioural patterns of both the individual and of the various groups, or systems, that they are in. Systemic therapy can help with a specific issue confronting one or more members of a group, or it can focus more generally on improving the group dynamic.

Systemic therapy has had a major impact on the development of cognate modalities, includingcouples therapy, aspects of psychiatry, and interventions tailored to the workplace, and it is useful for patients with a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, low self-image, relationship problems, and problems in the workplace.

How do we define a system?

According to this view of the world, a system is a group of individuals who interact with one another to form an identifiable whole. A system could be a nuclear family of parents and children, an extended family network, or a group of friends at school or at work. If something happens to change one individual in the system, there will be an impact on all the other members, as well as on the group as a whole. To take the example of the nuclear family, imagine if the mother has a prolonged period of illness that impacts on her role in the group. This will have a serious influence on her and on her behaviour, and it will also have a big impact on the other members of the group.

The Therapist explores interactions within the key groups, or systems, in the lives of the group members.Indeed, identifying behavioural patterns in the group that are contributing to problems can be therapeutic in and of itself. Therefore, the therapy is particularly suited to groups, such as families or other intensely involved units of individuals. The Therapist and their clients work together to explore the important relationships in their lives, and the patterns of behaviour and communication that have developed in them. Once problematic behaviours have been identified, the members of the group in question can learn new behaviours that are better for all concerned. The Therapist takes a practical, rather than an analytic, approach to the problems at hand; in other words, rather than probing to find the origins of the problems, or seeking to identify a particular member of the group to “blame” for others’ problems, they explore practical and positive changes that would make a difference to all concerned.

Systemic therapy requires not just willingness, but intense engagement on the part of the people attending therapy, including a willingness to deeply explore the many ways in which they communicate with each other. Working together, the Therapist and their patients or clients focus on issues of communication, and how to make it more effective and meaningful. In this way, they can achieve the goal of helping the group to work together more effectively, and thereby improve the well-being and psychological health of all of its members.

Who can I speak to further about Systemic therapy?

If you would like to talk to someone about systemic therapy, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 3887 1738 or by email at: info@privatetherapyclinic.com.


Adams, K. M., Hester, P. T., & Bradley, J. M. (2013). A historical perspective of systems theory. Industrial and Systems Engineering Research Conference. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288782223_A_historical_perspective_of_systems_theory

Stratton, P. (2011). The evidence base of systemic family and couples therapies. Association for Family Therapy & Systemic Practice. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org.uk/SpringboardWebApp/userfiles/aft/file/Training/EvidenceBaseofSystemicFamilyandCouplesTherapies(Jan2011).pdf



      UKCP Couples and Family Psychotherapist / UKCP

      Individuals, Families & Couples