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Thinking Systemically

As a couple and family therapist, I have been trained to think systemically and look at situations and relationships through a systemic lens, and I aim to help my clients learn how to do the same. It was a powerful shift for me when I first was challenged to look at the world in this way. What does it mean to think systemically?

Everything is Interrelated

According to systems theory, a system is made up of multiple parts that are interrelated. Each part is connected in some way to all the other parts. You can think of any relationship or group as its own system, with the members being the parts that make up the system.

A Shift in One Part of the System will Shift the Entire System

In continuing from the last section, because every part of a system is interrelated, it follows that if one part of a system changes in some way, the rest of the system will also change in some way as a result. This is the hallmark of relationship therapy with couples and families – a shift in one part of a relationship will inevitably lead to a change in the overall relationship and how it works.

Consider the Context

Another important piece of thinking systemically is always considering how the context a system is in at any given time affects that system. Examples of important parts of context to consider include time, location, environment, and which parts of the system are present.

Linear vs. Circular Causality

Thinking systemically also means that rather than looking at situations as being linear (meaning that one event directly leads to another), you see things as being more circular (meaning that events often lead to patterns and cycles that repeat themselves over time). What is key about this shift in thinking is that it reduces the blaming of one person or event for causing issues in a system or relationship. Thinking more circularly acknowledges that relationships are complicated and complex, and that you can’t always point to one single thing as causing a problem.

We are all Part of Multiple Systems

We are all part of multiple different systems, which may include immediate family, extended family, friend groups, community, school, society, etc. Each of these systems that we are a part of impact us and our relationships. To think systemically means that you consider how each of the systems in a person’s life impact them, as well as acknowledge that you need to understand these impacts to understand the person as a whole.

How might thinking about your relationships in a more systemic way change how you see them and interact with others?

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