82 terms

Systems Theory

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The Cake Analogy
A common analogy to illustrate wholeness can be depicted by cake. While the individual ingredients (e.g., flour, sugar, milk, butter, baking soda, eggs) are the component parts, what is removed from the oven (e.g., the cake) is of a very different quality; it is more than each of its individual elements.

An insignificant member (e.g., a small amount of baking soda) has the potential to impact the whole by influencing whether the cake rises or is flat.
Entropy
The natural tendency of a system to move from order to disorder. Without attention, a marriage or family system will move toward disorganization or disrepair. Energy-new information or input-is the lifeblood of systems.

A family must be able and willing to incorporate energy into its system in order to thrive. Open and permeable boundaries make the flow of energy into a system more likely. Interchange with the environment is critical for the viability of a system.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
A family is much more than a collection of individuals who live together and are related to each other; it has a holistic quality. As a natural social system, it possesses its own characteristics, rules, roles, communication patterns and power structure. It represents an integration of parts such that individual members can be understood only within the context of the whole.
System
Essentially any set of objects, with their attributes, that relate to each other in a way that creates a new "super entity." The family is a social system. It is a boundary-maintained unit composed of interrelated and interdependent parts such that an alteration in one part affects all components of the system.

Family systems are typically composed of one or more subsystems (e.g., parental, spousal, sibling), smaller units that serve various functions within the family system.
Feedback
Refers to the response a family member makes to the behavior of another person, particularly when it deviates from existing patterns of interaction. It may be positive or deviation-amplifying in that it encourages more of the stimulus or input from the other, or negative in that it discourages change and is deviation-dampening.
Homeostasis
A balanced steady state of equilibrium.
Family Homeostasis
Tendency of families to resist change in order to maintain a steady state.
Equifinality
The ability of complex systems to reach a given final goal in a variety of different ways.
Positive and Negative Feedback
1. Positive feedback encourages further change, whereas negative feedback tries to restore the system to a previous, steady state.

2. There are continuous "feedback loops" as each member speaks to and affects the behaviors of the others.

3. When positive feedback is present and system alterations occur, morphogenesis (change) is the result.

4. If the family maintains the status quo through negative feedback, morphostasis (stability) is the outcome.

For a system to survive, it is best to have a balance between positive feedback loops-that allow innovation and change-and negative ones-that suppress alterations, as too much change could become chaotic or unstable for a system.
Family Cohesion
The degree of closeness or emotional bonding family members have for one another.
Disengagement
When family members are insufficiently involved in each other's lives and members hold a high degree of individuality and little sense of togetherness.
Enmeshment 1
Represented by extreme togetherness and high dependence, exists at the opposite end of the continuum. It can be characteristic of a closed family, and it often results in psychosomatic symptoms due to the lack of personal autonomy.
Family Flexibility
A family's adaptability to new and/or stressful situations.

Given the external and developmental changes that occur within individuals and families, some degree of flexibility is essential for healthy family functioning.
Rigid (families)
Those that are characterized by little or no ability to change their roles, rules, and relationship patterns.
Chaotic (families)
Such families evidence little or no constancy to the point that family members have a difficult time knowing what to expect.
Equilibrium
There is a tendency for any system to seek a balance between stability and change in the variety of its behaviors and rules. This natural inclination to maintain the status quo and resist change is usually referred to as homeostasis, which means that the system has equilibrium.

Families essentially have a range of limits within which they function. Just like the body maintains its temperature within a few degrees, so the family attempts to maintain itself by balancing inputs with outputs.
Enmeshment 2
The loss of autonomy due to a blurring of psychological boundaries.

People feel like their well-being is not complete unless they're meeting their partner's needs all the time. They worry that their relationship is not "close" if they're not their partner's shadow. "If we're not intertwined emotionally we're nothing." Both people feel like they need to constantly be involved in aspects of each other's lives, but then may resent the fact when they want some individual space.
Disengagement 2
Occurs when one is emotionally estranged from others to the extent that he or she has a total lack of affect toward them.
Mutuality
Found in open families in which everyone is accepted and loved, despite differences of opinion.
Pseudo-mutuality
A family gives the surface impression that it is open and understanding when, in fact, it is not.
Organizational Complexity
Family systems are composed of various smaller units or subsystems that together compose the larger family system.

-Individuals are subsystems
-Subsystems can be organized by gender
-Subsystems can be organized by generation (marital, parental, sibling)
Maintenance Tasks
An effort to maintain the physical environment of the family in a manner that promotes health and well-being of the family and its members. To accomplish this families establish priorities and make decisions about the use of resources. They may appear direct and straightforward, but the strategies developed contribute to the complexity of family organization.
Open System
The family is conceived of as an open system in that it must adapt to changes from both within and outside the family. An open system is an information processing system.
Stress
As an open system, strategies employed by the family will need to be readjusted periodically in response to new information. This information is often experienced as STRESS. In this context, stress is neither good nor bad. It simply tells the system whether established interactional patterns require alteration.
Adaptability
Stress and adaptability are related. At all times there exists a tension between morphostasis (stability) and morphogenesis (change).
Circular Causality versus Linear Causality
Humans tend to "punctuate" behavior sequences in order to make sense of interactions, assigning "cause and blame to individuals instead of focusing on the problematic pattern" between family members.

A wife might say that she nags because her husband withdraws, while the husband claims that he withdraws because his wife nags.

Each is suggesting that one event causes the next in unidirectional stimulus-response fashion or linear causality. Systems theory, however, recognizes the futility of trying to assign cause and effect, because many forces impact the relationship system simultaneously.
Identity Tasks
Families must facilitate the development of a sense of identity for both individual family members and the family as a whole.

Three interrelated identity tasks:
1. Constructing family themes
2. Socializing family members
3. Establishing a satisfactory congruence of images for the individuals within the family
Interdependence
Individuals and subsystems that comprise the whole systems are mutually dependent and mutually influenced by one another.
Circular Causality
Refers to mutual interactions of causes and consequences. The effect of an event or variable returns indirectly to influence the original event itself by way of one or more intermediate events or variables, (e.g., A impinges on B, which then affects A etc. in a circle of events which modify each other).
Boundaries
Boundaries are line of demarcation that distinguish a system from its environment and affect the flow of information and energy between the two.
Identified Patient
Often one person may manifest more symptoms, or is believed by the others to be the major cause of family problems and is, therefore, sent for counseling.
Hierarchy
Reflects its arrangement of layers according to delegation of power.
Overt and Covert
"Overt" is simply BLATANT and "out in the open" - where "covert" is HIDDEN and done discreetly or secretly.
Behavioral
(Dishes are cleaned after each use)
Communicational
(dad verbally reprimands if the dishes are not clean)
Double bind
A situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action. (A person is confronted with two commands that contradict each other)
Family Rules
The repetitive behavioral patterns, based on the redundancy principle, that regulate family functioning by offering guidelines for future family interactions.
Meta-rules
Rules about rules-that dictate how families might interpret, enforce, change, or create new rules
General Systems Theory
A biological model of living systems as whole entities that maintain themselves through continuous input and output from the environment. It was developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy.
Black Box Concept
The idea that because the mind is so complex it's better to study people's input and output (behavior, communication) than to speculate about what goes on in their minds.
Genogram
A schematic diagram of the family system, using squares to represent males, circles to indicate females, horizontal lines for marriages, and vertical lines to indicate children.
Cybernetics
The study of feedback mechanisms in self-regulating systems. Cybernetics is the first and perhaps the most influential model of how families operate. What the family shares with other cybernetic systems is a tendency to maintain stability by using information about its performance as feedback.
Feedback Loop
It is the core of cybernetics. The process by which a systems gets the information necessary to maintain a steady course. This feedback includes information about the system's performance relative to its external environment as well as the relationship among the system's parts.
Negative Feedback
Information that signals a system to correct a deviation and restore status quo.

A natural mechanism the body employs in an attempt to keep the body's conditions close to the body's set point. When the body senses a change away from its normal set point, the body engages mechanisms to help reverse or counteract these changes.
Positive Feedback
Information that confirms and reinforces the direction a system is taking. Self-amplifying cycle in which one change leads to even more significant changes in the same direction.
Structure
Refers to organization and roles within the family. The quality of that structure can lead to the development of either stability (healthy emotional functioning) or instability (dysfunction) within a family.
Morphogenesis
The process by which a system changes its structure to adapt to new contexts.
Assumptions
Systems theory recognizes that each person is a part of various systems such as family, school, church group, work group, couple, or dyad. Each system might be thought of as a unique community composed of specific individuals. Our membership in or attachment to any one (or many) of these community systems helps us to identify who we are. Any change or disruption in any component of the system, especially in families or couples, affects the individual. Occurrences such as death, divorce, job loss, relocation, addictive or seriously dysfunctional individuals, arguing and fighting between family members, abusive or irresponsible behaviors, and school crises have a powerful effect upon the individual member. Pursuant to such changes, the individual interacts to exert change on the system.
Teleology
The study of ends, purposes, and goals.

The Greek word telos means "end" or "purpose." Teleology in a system has to do with its goal or purpose-as when one speaks of "the means to an end." Whenever something is done in order to bring about a valued result, teleology is at work. In psychology, teleology is the power to will or choose; the belief that individuals are guided not only be mechanical forces but that they also have inner-directed will and move toward goals of becoming more significant or more competent-to become self-actualized. Behavior is understood as goal-directed movement, though the person may not be fully aware of this motivation, i.e. it may be partly or wholly unconscious or conditioned.
Holism
Mind is an essential property of living systems. As Gregory Bateson said, "Mind is the essence of being alive." From the systems point of view, life is not a substance or force and mind is not an entity interacting with matter. Both life and mind are manifestations of the same set of systemic processes, a set of processes that represent the dynamics of self-organization. The human mind is a multi-leveled and integrated pattern of processes that represent the dynamics of human self-organization; this complex system is the nature of consciousness.
Reductionism
The analysis of complex things into simpler constituents, a theory that all complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components.

This may be seen as the opposite of holism. On the other hand, holism and reductionism can also be regarded as complementary viewpoints, in which case they both would be helpful to get a proper understanding of a given system. The reductionist process helps to determine the parts of a mechanism or structure, but the holistic view helps to determine its purpose and potential applications.
Centralization
Organisms are not machines; but they can to a certain extent become machines - though never completely. A thoroughly mechanized organism would be incapable of reacting to the incessantly changing conditions of the outside world. The transition from undifferentiated wholeness to higher functions, is made possible by specialization and 'division of labor'. This principle implies also, loss of potentialities in the components alone, and of regulatability in the whole, since a system is made up of entities that both need each other and at the same time, have independence of action. Hence the tragedy of the lobotomized patient whose distinctive individuality has been removed (the frontal lobes of the cortex) in order to make him relatable in society.
Regression
Psychosis is sometimes referred to as "regression to infantile forms of behavior." This is incorrect; the regression is essentially a disintegration of the personality, i.e. a decentralization of the hierarchy of mental functions. In the extreme, decentralization is the functional dysencephalization of the schizophrenic, i.e., where the cortex is either too aroused to function or totally shut off. In a milder form, such as neurotic complexes, it is a loosening of the hierarchic mental organization.
Symbolic Activity
Except for the immediate satisfaction of biological needs, Man lives in a world not of things but of symbols.
System variable
Any element in an acting system that can take on at least two different states.
Controlled (cybernetic) system
Maintains at least one system variable within some specified range, or if the variable goes outside the range, the system moves to bring the variable back into the range. This control is internal to the system.
System input
The movement of information or matter-energy from the environment into the system.
System output
The movement of information or matter-energy from the system to the environment.
System parameter
Any trait of a system that is relevant to an investigation, but that does not change during the duration of study.
Environmental parameter
Any trait of a system's environment that is relevant to an investigation, but that does not change during the duration of study.
Organizational development
Makes extensive use of general systems theory. Originally, organizational theory stressed the technical requirements of the work activities going on in the organizations. In the 1970s, the rise of systems theory forced scientists to view organizations as open systems that interacted with their environment. Although there is now a consensus on the importance of the environment, there is still much disagreement about which features of the environment are most important.
Organization-set model
Often called "resource-dependency theory" focuses on the resource needs and dependencies of an organization.
Organizational population model
Looks at the collection of organizations that make similar demands from the environment and it stresses the competition created by limited environmental resources.
Interorganizational field model
Looks at the relations of organizations to other organizations, usually within a localized geographic area.
Cross-sectional approach
Deals with the interaction between two systems
Developmental approach
Deals with the changes in a system over time.
holist approach
To examine the system as a complete functioning unit.
reductionist approach
Looks downward and examines the subsystems within the system.
functionalist approach
Looks upward from the system to examine the role it plays in the larger system.
Microsystem
The setting in which the person lives.
Mesosystem
serves as the communication channel, pathway, or interactive mechanism between components in the microsystem and the exosystem.
family diagrams
Graphically demonstrates to family members the importance of multigenerational influences
Macrosystem
Encompasses the total culture in which people live
Total culture
Refers to the behavior patterns, beliefs, mores, historical artifacts, legal constructs, and all other traits and pursuits that are endemic to a group of people and that are passed on from generation to generation.
Chronosystem
The patterning of environmental events and transactions over the life span as well as the social and historical circumstances that influence the individual and the family.
Integrated intergenerational family approach
To change a dysfunctional family member, the entire family unit had to become involved and undergo fundamental change, a core clinical component that typifies current Bowenian theory.
Evolutionary psychology
We do not know all the answers to how personality forms but we know that humans and their personalities are constantly evolving.
Developmental constructivism
Invokes "meaning-making in a life span developmental perspective, as a process of maturation that includes alternating periods of change and stability
Consultation
Involves a helping relationship in which counselors and therapists work with individuals or groups in a wide variety of settings to help them function more effectively.
Collaboration
Direct service between the professional and the client system is integral to successful outcomes
Collaborative consultation
The coming together and active involvement of counselors, parents, educators, and youths as equal participants and experts in resolving a specific problem.
Coordination
Entails activities such as integrating, harmonizing, attuning, reconciling, readjusting, balancing, accommodating, and assimilating the various components in a complex system