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Family Systems Therapy

Family Systems Therapy is used to help couples and family members experiencing problems in their relationships.

The approach focuses on the interaction between family members and treats these relationships as an important influence on the psychological well-being of participants. Therapists take a detached, neutral stance in order to be as impartial as possible.


Family Systems Therapy began in the late 1940s during the treatment of schizophrenic patients. It was found that the behaviour of the patient’s family members influenced the condition of the patients themselves.

One of the doctors, Dr Murray Bowen began to see the family as one organism or system with distinct patterns, rules and functions that directly affected the condition of the patient. They were eventually treated with their families as part of the same program.


This technique is based on Systems Theory. Family issues and problems are attributed to the systematic relationships within the family group rather than in individual members.

The human family is seen to behave as a single emotional unit that can have a huge influence of behaviour. Therapists tend to shy away from a cause-and-effect approach and instead focus on the manner in which interaction can maintain and prolong certain problems.

How can Family Systems Therapy help?

The approach is used to help both families and individual family members. It is suitable for treating psychological problems such as Schizophrenia, addiction and eating disorders, and can encourage groups to come to terms with such issues. Divorce and other family crisis can also be addressed by the Family Systems approach.

Useful Resources for Family Systems Therapy

Association For Family Therapy And Systemic Practice In The UK

Bowen Centre For The Study Of The Family

The Institute Of Family Therapy