Systemic psychotherapy is a branch of psychotherapy focusing specifically on relationships. The quality of these relationships affects all aspects of our wellbeing, and especially our psychological and emotional health.
In systemic psychotherapy, the relationships we have – with families, friends, work colleagues and others – are viewed as systems of interaction. Some can be very helpful and sometimes they can be unhelpful.
Beyond our immediate relationships, the political, community, religious and cultural aspects of our lives are also seen as systems. All of these systems play a large part in shaping who we are and how we live our lives.
Who is systemic psychotherapy for?
Members of the College for Family, Couple and Systemic Therapy may work with work teams, families, couples or individuals of all ages, including young children.
For individuals, systemic therapy may help a person to understand and manage relationships. It may help them to recognise the effect these relationships have on their own wellbeing, and enable them to move on with their lives.
Couple therapy can help couples resolve difficulties and improve communication. It can also help them manage separation, divorce, and life cycle transitions.
Family therapy can help families when:
- they’re feeling overwhelmed, sad and angry
- they’re not sure what to do for the best
- they feel stuck in repeating patterns of hurtful or harmful behaviour.
When working with families, systemic therapists recognise that families come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Family’ may include nuclear families, extended families, adoptive families, foster families and other families of choice. And they recognise that there are different ideas about what makes a well-functioning family.
Depending on the issues and circumstances involved, the systemic psychotherapist may see a whole family together or they may see only some members of the family, couples or individuals. The therapist will aim to work in an open and collaborative fashion and will be guided by the client’s goals.
What will happen during the therapy?
Systemic psychotherapy is primarily a talking therapy but sometimes the therapist will use non-verbal activities, including play techniques with younger children.
The therapist may work in a number of ways. They often use maps such as family trees and genograms. They may focus on:
- unhelpful patterns of behavior
- the way people relate to each other
- emotional experiences that influence family life
- important past events that may leave a lasting effect on family life
- patterns of behavior, belief and relationships that may be passed from generation to generation.
For systemic therapists, our experiences and the contexts in which we live, can shape the way we think about ourselves, and others in the world. Sometimes these “narratives” can be unhelpful and hold us back from our full potentials. The psychotherapist can respectfully guide the client to challenge some of the assumptions that drive the way they live their lives.
The approach that the therapist takes will be determined by the client’s problems, and how both the client(s) and therapist would prefer to work. The therapist will also take into account research and clinical evidence when deciding on how to proceed. There is some good research evidence that family therapy and couple therapy are helpful in many circumstances – as a stand-alone therapy or as an addition to other psychotherapeutic approaches.
How long does the therapy last?
Systemic Psychotherapy may vary in length depending on the issue and how much time a client wants to give. Sometimes just one or two consultations may be helpful. In other circumstances the work may develop over a much longer period. It is best to ask your potential therapist more about the way they work.
Rory Worthington (chair)
College standards and policy documents
Each college holds standards for education, training and practice that are compatible with UKCP’s generic standards and with the individual college’s philosophy.
Training organisations in this college
Organisations that train and accredit their own graduates or whose trainings lead to UKCP accreditation.
Accrediting organisations in this college
Organisations that accredit those who may not have trained with UKCP.