Thesis: Family System Therapy

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Family Systems Therapy: Strengths and Weaknesses

While most forms of therapy treat the individual in isolation, and focus upon the family only to the extent that the family impacts that individual's psyche, family systems therapy treats the family and its history as a dynamic, functioning unit, almost as an organism in and of itself, hence the label 'systems' therapy. The family is a system, just like a physical organism, that can and must be healed. The philosophy was founded by Murray Bowen and is also called Bowen theory or Bowen therapy. In family systems theory, by definition, the individual is seen as interdependent, rather than independent.

Interdependency is not seen as a negative or unnatural and total independence is not a feasible or even a desirable state: "emotional interdependence presumably evolved to promote the cohesiveness and cooperation families require to protect, shelter, and feed" one another (Bowen theory, 2009, Bowen Center). However, the potentially healing relationships of a family can become toxic and unproductive. One of the core concepts of family systems theory is the idea of triangular systems of tensions: "A triangle can contain much more tension without involving another person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of 'interlocking' triangles (Triangles, 2009, Bowen Center). However, spreading tension does not resolve tension. Triangles are stable, but unhappy -- the three people locked in tension must deal with their mutually shared issues.

Family systems theory does hold that there is a need for a differentiation of the self -- in fact, a lack of differentiation is one of the reasons many family members experience psychological instability (Differentiation of the self, 2009, Bowen theory). Marital conflict, dysfunction of one of the spouses, impairment of one of the children, and emotional distance are sources of conflict that can arise from a lack of self-differentiation, and are often interrelated. For example, a father might be an alcoholic because of his anxieties about being a provider for his family or perceived personal failures, which results in marital conflict, and the mother's compensation through over-involvement with her son. Tension escalation within the nuclear family system is reciprocal in such a formulation, although a feminist critic might state that such a systems analysis places equitable blame upon all family members, which is not necessarily 'fair' and does not really change negative social assumptions about gender roles in the nuclear family (Nuclear, 2009, Bowen theory).

Another critique of family systems therapy is that it accepts the nuclear family as a norm, and places too much emphasis on the family unit, as opposed to other social relationships, such as those… [END OF PREVIEW]

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