What is Family Systems Therapy?

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Family Systems Therapy is an approach to family counseling founded by Psychiatrist and Researcher Dr. Murray Bowen in the 1960s. It relies on Bowen’s Family Systems theory, which states that systems, like families, consist of parts affected by one another. This structure means that each family member affects the behaviors of others.

Family Systems Therapy aims to identify these interlocking systems that might result in negative relational patterns and address the causes so family members can relate better to one another.

Family System theory posits that every person can benefit from examining the patterns from their family of origin or the family they grew up with during their formative years. For some people, this could include their biological family, their adoptive family, or other key caregivers present in their early childhood.

While most commonly used in family counseling, counselors also can use Family Systems Therapy in individual or couples counseling.

Your therapist will ask questions about your family of origin and might even ask you to complete a genogram, which is a diagram of your family relationships going back as far as possible. The genogram ranges in detail but usually includes names of ancestors and family members, births, marriages, deaths, and sometimes mental illnesses if known. From there, your counselor might ask you to recall your relationships with your parents and siblings.

Family Systems Therapy helps you understand how your family relationships from childhood impact you today. By identifying emotions you experienced when you were younger regarding the way your family dealt with life, you may begin to get more clarity about the patterns you currently maintain while relating to your family, friends, significant other, or other loved ones. Your therapist then will help you establish more positive, adaptive ways of relating to others, which ultimately leads to growth and healing.

Therapists Who Specialize in Using Family Systems Therapy