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Family Systems

Intro to Family
Rebecca Levy, LMFT-A, Ph.D. Candidate
Aubry Koehler, LMFT, Ph.D.
Core concepts of family therapy
Review foundation of family therapy
How genograms can be utilized
Bowen Family Systems
Case conceptualization
Couple and family therapy core ideas
Reaction to psychoanalysis/individual therapy
General systems theory
Circular causality
What individual therapy looks like as
a family therapist
• Individual is viewed through the system in which
they function in (family, friends, culture, etc.)
• Cannot treat individual without understanding entire
General Systems Theory
Foundational concepts
Circular causality
First order vs. second order change
Boundaries (diffuse vs. rigid)
Isomorphic and Parallel processes
• Feedback loops
• Control and communication
• How one larger system controls and is controlled by
its individual parts
• Human brain
• Electronic computers
Circular Causality
• Opposed to linear causality: A leads to B
• A and B are both causes and effects of each other
• Overfunctioner/Underfunctioner
• Pursuer / Distancer
First order vs. second order change
• First order change: change to individual parts, but
system is not changed
• Behavioral-level
• Exp: Avoiding conflict by not discussing heated issues
• Second order change: change to the system, which in
turn changes individual parts
• Rules/paradigm-level
• Exp: Adopting ways to respectfully disagree
• System tendency towards maintaining equilibrium
(sameness, familiarity)
• Functional and dysfunctional
• A family of four with two parents and two children are
presenting to therapy. A parent previously went to rehab
for their alcohol substance abuse and comes back home.
After his return, the children of the family begin to act out
and get into trouble. Why is this happening?
• Rules of the system
• Rigid vs. diffuse
• Flow of information and individuals *out* AND flow of
info/individuals *in*
• Effects care relationship
Isomorphic & Parallel Processes
• Isomorphic: Inter-relational patterns occurring across
• Lack of direct communication between patient and resident
mirrors itself in communication between resident and
attending (or vice versa)
• Parallel: Individual unconsciously reflects intrapsychic
experience in one relationship into another
• Patient anger expressed towards resident, becomes resident
anger expressed towards attending
• Family Map
• Intervention
• Understand relationships and family roles
Genogram symbols
• Draw your family genogram on a sheet of paper
Bowen Family Systems Theory
Emotional interdependence
Balancing closeness vs. separateness
Management of anxiety
Emotional reactivity
• Emotions vs. Reasoning
Bowen Eight Concepts
• Differentiation of self vs. fusion
• Triangles
• Emotional cut-off
• Nuclear family emotional system
• Family projection process
• Multigenerational transmission process
• Sibling position
• Societal emotional process
Differentiation of Self
Emotions vs. reasoning
Self vs. others
People with lower differentiation levels may become
symptom bearers; more likely to be triangulated
• Strategy for managing anxiety
• Video
• Triangulation
Emotional cut-off
• Looks like the opposite of fusion but results from
the same root cause: high anxiety and low
differentiation in family system
• Can take the form of moving away or maintain
proximity but avoiding sensitive issues
Gallagher Genogram
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FifauOHce-k
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRAYA45aoGs
• https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J-rLRXv4sE –
What to do?
• Encourage direct communication between
individuals (if safe)
• Process questions
• Coping strategies for anxiety
• Anxiety/reactivity up, options down
• Modeling