NCE – What is Family Therapy?

As new beliefs, thoughts and interactions emerge from within an individual, a ripple effect can be seen throughout the family.  “family therapists…believe that the dominant forces in our lvies are located externally in the family.  Therapy is based on this framework which is directed at changing the organization of the fmaily.” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 4).  On the one hand, the therapist’s therapeutic perspective can be seen to influence his approach.  On the other hand, there are a few commonalities in how they might conceptualize a case…

  1. Issues in family therapy can be observed to have a circular causality. Understanding the problem requires therapists to examine the “reciprocal actions that occur within interacting loops” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 5).
  2. The maintenance of family dynamics can reflect the concept of homeostasis.  How is it the family seeks to “maintain their customary organization and fucntion?” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 5).
  3. A provcess of differentiation is encouraged in which clients are encouraged to make choices that are “more rational and thought driven” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 5).  

Systems Theory & Family Therapy…

WHAT IS SYSTEMS THEORY?  “I believe there are certain principles in common in an emerging psychology of man or…[a] ‘third force’ [which]  I propse are symbolism and system….apart from satisfaction of his biologial needs, man lives in a universe of symbols…of language, thought, social entities…what have you…” (Von Bertalanaffy, 1968b, p. 12-13).  
WHAT ARE SYMBOLS?  “Symbols are representative, that is, the symbol stands in one way or the other for the thing symbolized.  Furthermore, symbols are transmitted by tradition, that is by learning processes of the individual, in contrast to innate instincts.  The third criterion I find necessary I call ‘freely created’.” (Von Bertalanaffy, 1986b, p. 15).
CONSEQUENCES OF MAN’S SYMBOLIC ACTIVITIES.…(1) history based on the tradition of symbols…(2) trial and error in conceptual symbols…(3) Future goal[s are] anticipated in…symbolic image[s]…(4) symbolic universes created by man gain…a life of their own…(5)…the system wins algorithmic properties…connected by preestablished rules….(6) symbolic entities govern men and human behavior” (Von Bertalanaffy, 1968b, p. 17-18).  

My Own Perspective???

QUESTION: “Utilizing Metcalf’s assessment, which theoretical framework should work best for you and why?” 

“Theories provide us with a lens to view the world” (Metcalf, 2011, p22). With this in mind, Metcalf’s assessment lists the following theories as reflective of my personality are: (1) Bowen System’s Theory and (2) Narrative Therapy.

Bowen System’s Theory

A primary goal of therapists utilizing this theory is to help the family understand the problems from a systemic rather than individualistic perspective (Metcalf, 2011). According to Bowen System’s Theory, the family is considered a system that has its own emotional, cognitive, and psychological patterns (Metcalf, 2011). Rules and commonly understood systems of meaning govern all interactions, which are viewed in terms of circular causality (Metcalf, 2011). The homeostatic processes families engage in to maintain the status quo, causes repetition of relationship patterns that “repeat across generations” (Metcalf, 2011, p24). This theory reflects my personal belief that the most profound familial legacy is psychological in nature.   Understanding oneself in this context has the potential to provide great perspective from the standpoint of personal growth.

Narrative Therapy

“Narrative therapy is based on the idea that a person’s life and relationships are shaped by ‘stories’ that a person engages in with others” (Metcalf, 2011, p313). As I understand it personally, these stories encompass more than shared experiences. These stories involve shared systems of meaning that define how we choose to give meaning to shared experiences. Issues including cultural background, systems of belief, and rules of affective expression can greatly influence these shared systems of meaning. Acting as an author of our shared experiences, can involve re-negotiating these systems of meaning to create more satisfying stories.   This theory reflects me as a curious and empathetic listener who enjoys quietly observing others (Metcalf, 2011).


Von Bertalanffy, L. (1968a).  General System Theory. (New York: George Braziller
Von Bertalanffy, L. (1968b). Organismic psychology and systems theory (p. 67). Worchester: Clark University Press.
Metcalf, L, (2011). Marriage and family therapy: A practice oriented approach. New York: Springer Publishing Company
Patterson, J., Williams, L, Edwards, T., Chamow, L. & Grauf-Grounds, C. (2009). Essential Skills in Family Therapy: From the First Interview to Termination. New York: Guilford Press.

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