27 terms

Family Systems Theory

History of Family Systems Theory
is an extensions of general systems theory which emphasizes the interrelationships between objects and is used to explain a variety of complex, organized systems
System definitions
a set of two or more elements that interact in a stable manner over time despite (or in spite of) fluctuations in their environment

two or more elements that have a boundary and functional unity which are coordinated in such a way as to accomplish goals
Family System: Wages definition
A social system composed of interrelated and interdependent parts (i.e., members that seek to maintain functional unity and stability over time in the midst of change
Family Systems: book definition
Family systems are usually composed of one or more subsystems (e.g., parental, spousal, or sibling), smaller units that serve various functions within the family system. Similarly, family systems are part of larger supra-systems (e.g., church, community, state, etc.)
for a system to survive it is best to seek a balance between stability and change; allowing for developmental changes while simultaneously suppressing alterations as too much change could become chaotic or unstable for a system; hence, the goal of a system is to maintain stability over time in the midst of change. Consequently, being able to change becomes essential for maintaining stability
the natural tendency of a system to move from order to disorder; without new information or input a system will tend to move toward disorganization and greater instability. A family must be willing to incorporate new information into its system for optimal family functioning and in order to achieve its goals
the response a family member makes to the
behavior of another person, particularly when it deviates from existing or established patterns of interaction. It may be positive feedback or deviation-amplifying in that it encourages changes to the system (i.e., morphogenesis) or it may be negative feedback or deviation-dampening in that it discourages change and seeks to maintain the status quo (i.e., morphostasis).
lines of demarcation that distinguish a system from its environment and affect the flow of information between the two
Physical boundaries
room, house, fence
Psychological boundaries
personal feelings, values
Permeability of boundaries
the relative ease of difficulty outside persons or elements (e.g., media) experience in moving into or out of the system. Varies from closed, open, or random
Closed Boundaries
Systems that do not interact or otherwise limit interaction with the environment or other systems. Protective self contained systems are organized to preserve the status quo and resist change (i.e., homeostasis). These systems are often characterized by a high degree of conformity (i.e., group consensus) and a low degree of ambiguity (i.e., uncertainty as to intentions, meanings)
Open boundaries
systems that allow interaction with the environment or other systems including the open exchange of new information and thus are subject to change. Open boundaries allow for balance between group consensus and individual expression. Permeable enough to allow involvement with community but impermeable enough to maintain family unity. These systems are often characterized by a high degree of ambiguity (i.e., uncertainty re-intentions, differences, etc.)
Random boundaries
individuality takes precedence over group consensus; roles are flexible with great tolerance for ambiguity and personal expression (i.e., differences) but with minimal leadership to guide the family. Minimum conformity to the group with potential for high conflict over differences
recurring patterns of interaction (i.e., well-established guidelines) that define acceptable/appropriate versus unacceptable/inappropriate behavior in the family.
Rules govern behavior and regulate conformity to the family's standards by
1. Reflecting the values of the family
2. Defining the roles of individual family members
3. Helping family members deal with external inputs and pressures to change
Rules can be
explicit (i.e., overt) rules are clearly articulated and acknowledged by the family members (e.g., we do not open one another's mail)

implicit (i.e., covert) rules are not openly stated though they are generally understood by family members (e.g., we do not talk about a family member's drinking problem)
the sets of expectations (i.e., norms, rules) for behavior associated with a particular position in the family that are designed to fulfill family functions (e.g., provider, nurturer, etc.). One person in the family may have several roles, role relationships change across life stages, and roles can vary from one culture to another.
ex: family hero, the scapegoat, the lone star, the mascot
Family cohesion
the degree of closeness or emotional bonding family members have for one another. Two extremes are:
1. enmeshed
2. disengaged
members of a family have a heightened sense of belonging but often at the expense of independence and individuality; there is a strong emotional connectedness and the behavior of one member immediately affects others (reactivity)
members of the family may function independently but lack feelings of belonging and loyalty and the capacity for interdependence and for requesting support when needed. only a high level of stress activates the family's support system
Family Flexibility
a family's adaptability to new and/or stressful situations; due to developmental changes some degree of flexibility is essential for healthy family functioning. Two extremes are: rigid-families, chaotic-families
that are characterized by little or no ability to change their roles, rules, or relationship patterns
that are characterized by little or no constancy to the point that family members have a difficult time knowing what to expect
Basic assumptions of family systems theory
1. the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
2. the locus of pathology is not within the person but is a system dysfunction (e.g., family role play)
2. a change in one part of the system will bring about changes in other parts of the system (e.g., child's mobile)
3. a change in one part of the system will bring about changes in other parts of the system (e.g., child's mobile)
4. circular causality guides behavior
5. rules result from the redundancy principle and are critical in defining family dynamics
6. feedback loops guide behavior
7. pathological communication contributes to relationship problems
8. all family members take on roles
9. family types are based on the rigidity of family boundaries
Linear Causality
the idea the one event causes the next in a unidirectional stimulus-response fashion. for example, the wife's nagging causes her husband to drink. Linear causality suggest that problems are within the individual, if we know the cause (i.e., why) then removing the cause will cure the problem.
Circular causality
refers to mutual interaction of causes and consequences, a circle of events that influence each other. For example, the more responsible she becomes the less responsible he becomes and so on...circular causality suggest that the cause of any event or outcome may never truly be known and there may be mutual or multiple causes of problems