What is a system?
A system describes any organism with interrelated, interdependent and interactive parts. One such example is our solar system with its planets being in constant relation to each other. Interdependent systems can also be found inside the human body. The cardiovascular system is made up of many different elements that interact with each other whilst affecting other systems within systems and so on.
What is Systemic Therapy?
The same principles of interdependence and connection are also present in social systems. Nobody lives a separate and isolated existence, on the contrary, we are constantly experiencing ourselves through our relationships, our environment, our experiences and through our personal stories to which we are constantly attributing meaning.
All areas of life that include a group of people can be considered a system. Such systems can be society as a whole, family, relationships, people in group therapy, students in a classroom or employees within a company. Systemic theory views people not as individual entities isolated in space, but as active beings within relational worlds. They can influence those worlds and be influenced by them in return.
Based on this deep understanding of relational networks and their interdependence, systemic therapy is an extremely effective and suitable approach for Couple’s Therapy as well as Family Therapy. Systems are, by nature, attracted to balance. If one element changes, the entire system changes to rebalance itself. Therefore, symptoms can often be viewed as ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’. The system produces them in response to something, because at the given point in time it serves a purpose. In therapy we seek to draw solutions from the system that are better than the symptoms so that the system will rebalance itself. When one element or part of a system is changed, due to interdependence, the entire system changes. This often brings forth the desired result, a decrease in symptoms or new positive experiences.
Individual therapy can also be approached with systemic thought, remaining true to this principle of interdependence and of balance. Symptoms are often understood as messengers from the self, and reactions to their context. We consider these as opportunities for beautiful transitions, despite the pain they sometimes bring rather than a condemnation or failure. Symptoms can invite us to discover a new meaning and to take new action, humans have the potential to be everything under certain circumstances: mentally healthy or mentally ill. In other words, systems have the ability to change, adapt and flourish.
What is the systemic therapist’s approach?
The systemically minded psychotherapist considers that their client is the only true expert of themselves. The client has the ability to change, to develop, to produce solutions and to actively shape the course of his or her life. Therefore, therapist and client co-create the course of therapy, set goals and work towards materialising the client’s request. The therapist offers relevant interventions that open up the way to new possibilities by assisting their client to create new constructive narratives and discover hidden strengths. Therapy involves using the clients resources of resilience and coping skills that have helped them survive the ‘problem’ and use them to create a solution. We explore relationships and connections by asking how a problem is created and how it is maintained instead of pursuing the why. Understanding the cause is usually not helpful enough to bring about change.
Systemic therapy will look to the past only to the extent that it relates to the understanding of the present moment. Past relationships and experiences can be a useful source of information when looking for themes and patterns in relationships and communication. Yet, we work under the assumption that the future is built on the present not the past. This will assist in charting a different course, one that leads the client to self-actualisation, fulfilment and well-being.