Family Systems Theory

Family Systems Theory

Family systems theory also arose in the late 1950s (a time ripe for theoretical innovations in psychology) and staked its unique claim by proposing that psychopathology does not reside in the individual, but rather in a disturbed system of family relations. As with psychoanalysis, family systems theory actually refers to a collection of rather disparate formulations, but all systemic schools of thought share this fundamental underlying assumption that where there is a patient, there is a troubled family system. Salvador Minuchin exemplifies this approach with his innovative argument that he did not treat youth with anorexia, but rather anorexic families. In Minuchin’s conceptualization, called structural family theory, psychopathology arises as a function of poor boundaries among family members. In the families of those who came to him for treatment, he observed children who were parenting their parents (termed role reversal), parents who were coping with unacknowledged marital problems by focusing their attention on the child (termed detouring), and families in which certain family members had joined forces to scapegoat others (termed triangulation). Minuchin also believed that families, like any dynamic system, sought stability and so the system would resist change. This homeostasis, as he termed it, existed in part because the system worked: the fact that one family member was symptomatic served a function for the family. For example, one function might be to distract attention from problems that family members felt to be more threatening – such as a crumbling marriage – and therefore more difficult to face. Only by reinforcing appropriate boundaries and clearing the communication channels could psychopathology in the family be alleviated

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