Traditional individual therapy tends to focus on problems in a linear manner, that is, 'event' A caused 'problem' B. The history of the problem is explored, in order to understand what has caused the problem and identify what is needed (deficit) in order for a person to move forward.
Family systems theory, in comparison, views problems in a more circular manner, using what is called a 'systemic perspective'. Both A and B are seen to exist in the context of a relationship, in which each influences the other (the dynamics of the relationship). Understanding problems requires the assessment of patterns of interactions, with an emphasis on what is happening, rather than why.
This approach emphasises the bi-directional nature of relationships, and moves away from blaming one person for the dynamic (with the exception of abusive relationships, where responsibility is clearly placed with the perpetrator).
Symptomatic behaviour is seen as arising out of the inter-related behaviour of all family members. Therefore, in order to gain a better understanding of a young person's situation, their behaviour is explored in the context of their family system, rather than in isolation. The focus is on the pattern of dynamics within a young person's family system, including the effect of the young person's behaviours ¹.
Family therapy approaches consider that there are many versions of a family's story. Each person in a family unit has their own perspective about issues that are causing conflict in a family and each perspective is seen by family therapists as being both legitimate and flawed ².
There is an attempt to transcend 'either/or' dichotomies, and instead to embrace the idea of 'both/and'. This means that where there are two different theories or ideas (or stories) about what has happened, there is no requirement to reject one, but instead to see both as two sides of the one coin.
One cannot exist without the other, and one gives meaning and contrast to the other. Of course, this assumes goodwill on the part of the people involved; lying and/or manipulative behaviour requires a different approach.
When talking to a young person about their family dynamics, it is important to keep in mind...
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