Family Systems

Family systems therapy is a therapeutic technique that thinks about the family as a single, emotional unit. Each action and family member affects the others. Family systems therapy focuses on families and couples in intimate relationships with a goal of nurturing change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health. A professional trained in this technique will work on understanding the relationships within a family, and create a family history that will be the foundation for how current behaviors are viewed. No individual can be understood in isolation from the others in the familial unit. Issues shared among family members, such as substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and schizophrenia are good candidates for a family systems approach. Think this approach might work for you? Reach out to one of TherapyDen’s family systems specialists today.

Meet the specialists

Through extensive graduate studies and post graduate training with the Family Therapy institute of Cincinnati, specifically studying the works of Murry Bowen and receiving weekly clinical supervised consults on case studies for over 6 years, I have examined structural family therapy and utilize the genogram often in practice with both families and individuals to help clients gain insight and understanding into function and dysfunction within families.

— Heather Tietjen-Mooney, Psychotherapist in Milford, OH

The family is an emotional system. One person’s emotional functioning can easily affect the emotional functioning of the other family members. We can be a part of a family without being part of the family problems. Utilizing Bowen Therapy/Family Systems, we can explore the family dynamics that continue across generations. Working with a single family member, can be as great as working with the entire family, as even change in one person’s effects various family members, altering the whole.

— Shay Phillips, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Houston, TX

I take a structural family systems approach to therapy, and what that means is this: The role we take in the family system and the structure of the family system impacts the way we function in our lives, particularly in relationships. Individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another, but rather as a part of their family, as the family is an emotional unit. Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system. The way we are perceived by our family members in the family system is the mirror in which we see ourselves. I believe the mirror in which we see ourselves (our self esteem) is the foundation for how we are in the world, which impacts how we approach relationships and all aspects of our lives.

— Kathy Hardie-Williams, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Tigard, OR

Understanding family patterns can help us understand how we got to where we are today. Along with attachment theory, I use family systems to help clients build a picture of their past so they understand who they are in their relationships today, and can make choices about how they want to grow in relation to themselves and others.

— Brandie Sellers, Licensed Professional Counselor Intern in Allen, TX

My Masters degree was based in Family of Origin theory now called Family Systems. This work deepened my connection to the pain I felt in my own family and helped my healing. I am a strong proponent of individuation (Bowenian Therapy) which strengthens our own self in relation to our family. The Bowenian approach builds our internal ability to self-sooth, self-confront and have more fulfilling relationships.

— Julene Weaver, Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA

Family systems therapy is a way of looking at the entire family as an emotional unit since family members are interconnected with one another. I often get told by clients that I ask more "relationship questions" than other counselors. For instance, I am often exploring "What would your partner/parent/child say to you about how you are responding to a situation?" As we do not live in isolation, we cannot heal in isolation and exploring our relationships allows for meaningful connections in life.

— Marcy Humphrey, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Boise, ID

We exist within the framework of many systems on many levels. We increase our self understanding by exploring the systems that have influenced us and that impact our lives on a daily basis. This work allows us to see, sometimes for the first time, the ways that we have been taught to be human. We may realize that we no longer wish to carry on the traits handed to us by certain systems. We may choose to embrace or let go of parts of ourselves that we may have previously not known to explore.

— Sarah Bower Ho, MA, Counselor in Portland, OR

My training as a marriage and family therapy means that I think of the world in systems amd my approach is rooted in systems theories. I have worked with couples, families, and groups using the theoretical approaches of Yalom, The Gottmans, Sue Johnson, and others.

— Genevieve Saenz, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in Austin, TX

John Dunne wrote that no man is an island. And while I bristle that women aren't mentioned the quote, I firmly believe it's true about our mental health. We create systems with the people we interact with...their behavior influences ours...which influences theirs. Together, we can make changes in the system, reduce conflict, and increase happiness.

— LAKink Shrink, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in West Los Angeles, CA

I consider the role of each member of a family and look at how the entire system operates.

— Eleanor Wohlfeiler, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in Oakland, CA

Family systems recognizes that each individual participates in multiple relationships: immediate & extended family, work, school, friendships, and society. We can look at patterns of abuse, addiction, neglect, helplessness, power and authority, identity formation - and how to individuate from these traps to create a meaningful, productive, fulfilling life for yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

— Denita Benyshek, Counselor in Mercer Island, WA

Systems Theory is not necessarily about doing therapy with an entire family (who has time for that?). A look at your family system is like seeing the inner workings of a clock. We have much more information about how and why you are the cog shaped the way you are shaped, when we look at the functioning of the entire clock. What's magical is, by changing how you are shaped, or how you behave, you can't help but affect the shape (behavior) of all the cogs in your family, workplace or community!

— Kathryn Gates, Marriage & Family Therapist in Austin, TX

I believe that none of us exists in a vacuum. Therefore, none of our struggles exists on its own either. I enjoy helping others see how systems help create and reinforce patterns, as well as what we can do to change those dynamics. I have been trained in both Bowenian and structural family therapy and have used both extensively in my work.

— Carol Schwerha, Clinical Psychologist in Hinsdale, IL

I am a trained marriage and family therapist; This allows me to support individuals, couples, polycules, organizations, groups, and families on a larger level. I consider every part of a person and how that plays a role in who they are and how they move throughout the world in relation to others. When considering the systems of an individual, couple, polycule, or family, I assess their neighborhood, SES, family of origin, age, social oppression, gender, and more.

— Kathryn Ewers, Therapist in Germantown, Philadelphia, PA

My education is based in family systems and how we are all impacted, in some form or fashion, by the families from which we came, by our friends, our work environments, our communities, and our culture. Developing an understanding of these influences by taking a look at our past and present environments can offer possible clarity as to why we behave the way we do.

— Cindy Purifoy, Marriage & Family Therapist in Overland Park, KS

Did you know all kinds of healthy and unhealthy conditions can be passed down through generations? If you're experiencing anxiety and depression, for example, it may have more to do with your family of origin than something in your current life. I was trained in Bowen Family Systems, which emphasizes looking at the family as a whole to help understand the origins of disorders. In other words, no one is an island; we are all connected. This viewpoint can help you feel more empowered to make changes in your life and your relationships.

— Rachel Moore, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in San Diego, CA

Jennifer has been using a family systems with clients for the past 12 years. She became interested in the theory when she was obtaining her master's in marriage and family counseling. She enjoys helping families see how there are patterns that develop over the generations and even within the current family dynamic that can create stress or difficulties. It is extremely helpful in making changes to the family dynamics to recognize where the patterns developed and be empowered to make changes.

— Jennifer Magbanua, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Orlando, FL

We are all embedded in various systems--from our family of origin, to our current relationships, to schools, society and more. Understanding the weblike nature of our existence is crucial to addressing individual suffering and aspirations. Cybernetics, systems theory, offers an invaluable way of helping to change/heal.

— Eli Hastings, Marriage & Family Therapist in Seattle, WA

As a marriage and family therapist, I was trained to see symptoms not only in relation to the individual, but also within the context surrounding the individual. Our family, school, work, neighborhood, community, and even cultural attitudes all have an impact on the individual and my work takes into account all of these factors.

— Jacqueline "Jackie" Abeling, Marriage & Family Therapist in Maple Grove, MN

I view difficulties and challenges as something that gets developed between people rather then a problem being in or because of one individual.

— PeriAnne VanBelois, Counselor in Grand Rapids, MI

I am a systems therapist by training, which means that I believe that context really matters in our problems. Rather than looking only within you for the solution to your distress, we will look at the people and systems around you as well. Your relationships with others involve a give and take. Some parts are yours to fix, and some are outside your control.

— Gretta Duleba, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in Seattle, WA