What is systemic therapy used for?

Systemic therapy focuses on assessing and intervening in the dysfunctional interactions that arise in the various systems that are part of the subjects’ lives. Thus, they deal with psychological problems in which at least two or three subjects are involved.

Systemic models understand that the problem does not only depend on a single individual, but that it arises in the relationships of the various members that make up a system. In order to intervene in systemic dysfunctions and crises, different strategies have been used, most aimed at dealing with the resistance that the system may present, because sometimes people go to therapy with no goal of change and only want to show that there is no solution.

In this article we will see what systemic therapy is and what it is used for and what strategies you use in your application.

What is Systemic Therapy?

Systemic therapy is a type of psychotherapeutic intervention that focuses on the study and treatment of social interactions. In other words, unlike other classes of therapies, here it is understood that the problem lies in social relations and in the mode of communication. Thus, the evaluation and appreciation of the individual will take into account the social groups that surround him and the way he interacts with them. Psychologists beginning with systemic therapy understand that it is not possible to intervene on people and their problems if the environment around them is not taken into account.

The object of study is the system, understood as a set of interacting subjects that possess properties independent of the consideration of separate subjects. In this way, the individual who goes to therapy for the presence of a problem receives the name of an identified patient, referring to the person who expresses the problem who is the carrier of the symptom, of the systemic dysfunction, but this n is not the cause of the problem, the object of the study and the intervention is the group and each element that composes it.

So each subject interacts and is part of different systems with which it is more or less related; for example, family, work, partner, school, group of friends… We see how these systems can be larger or smaller, from two to several people. Thus, this therapy attaches importance to evaluating how the subject experiences the interpersonal environment.

However, although, as we have said, the systems which compose the life of a subject are numerous; the main system and whose studies have been more numerous, given the close relationships between its members and the impact it has on each subject, is the family.

The therapist will take into account the elements, properties and interactions that constitute the system, enhancing: the suprasystem which is the environment in which the system develops, wraps itself; subsystem which is the name given to the various components of the system; closed system which are the interactions that do not exchange information with the external environment and open system, which on the contrary, if they interact with the external environment.

The importance of communicating

An important factor in systemic therapy is communication, understood not only as verbal expression but as any mode of expression. It is said that it is impossible not to communicate, and that even silence communicates. Thus, the mode of communication will be different and may accept, reject or disqualify a message, the latter being linked to the expression of the symptom.

It should be borne in mind that in communication there are two levels: the content aspects linked to the abstract part of the communication, the code, this is what is called the digital level, and the relational aspects which refer to the nonverbal and paraverbal part of communication. communication, called the analog level.

The relations that are established in communication can be of equality or of difference.. In the first case, the interaction will be symmetrical, the subjects are at the same hierarchical level an example would be the relationship. In the second case, the link is complementary, emphasizing the importance of the difference between the different members that make up the system; for example, in the family, the mother-child relationship would be of this type.

Given the relevance of communication in systems, One of the factors most studied by systemic therapy is communication in the family., since it has been shown to be the most influential in the development of pathology in subjects. Thus, different dysfunctional modes of communication have been identified as the double link, where an incongruity between digital and analog levels mentioned above is observed, being one of the dysfunctions related to schizophrenia.

Other types of communicative alteration are: symmetrical scaling (in this case we observe that the subjects who form the interaction respond by increasing the frequency or intensity of the communication to achieve equality in relationship) and rigid complementarity (the subjects establish a rigid complementary relationship, always keeping one of the individuals above the other).

The application and functions of systemic therapy

The role of the systemic therapist is to intervene in the moments of crisis that arise in the systems. The main objective of this intervention is to identify the strengths and resources of the subjects who make up the system to help them become aware of them and for the members themselves to solve the problem and know how to face future changes.

Another notable feature of this type of intervention is non-use of diagnostics, as it may involve blaming or stigmatizing the subject affected by the system. Thus, the link between the symptom and the system will be sought. Remember that the main system and where the symptom usually appears is the family.

Thus, treatment will focus on improving the relationships and interactions that are causing the problem and not so much on direct intervention or modification of the problematic behavior. It is important that the therapist does not approach one of the subjects of the system rather than another.; therefore, each limb should be kept at an equal distance.

Techniques used in systemic therapy

The system professional applies strategies in order to improve and bring about change in the relationship between the members of the system. The choice of techniques will depend on the type of dysfunctional interaction. He will work with at least two or three members of the system, also carrying out an individual intervention. Let’s see what the main techniques are.

1. Rewording

Reformulation it consists in modifying the conceptual frameworkthat is, the context in which the dysfunction takes place in order to be able to perceive or evaluate the situation in a different way.

2. Redefine

Redefinition, also called framing, aims to generate a different reading or interpretation of the facts in order to modify or call into question the organization and structure of the system.

3. Positive connotation

The purpose of the positive connotation is to make a positive interpretation of the symptom, give a positive meaning to the problem. The most common way to achieve this goal is to pose the problem as a sacrifice, that is, to refer to the subject identified with the symptom presenting the disorder to be sacrificed by the system.

4. Resistance to change

Resistance to change is the main objective identify the role played by the symptom in the patient’s life. It is sometimes observed that subjects go to therapy with no goal of change or improvement, only with the intention of proving that the problem is irreparable and demonstrating how nothing the therapist can do.

In this way, the therapist’s way of intervening will be directed to act contrary to expectations and ask the patient “why do you have to change?”, thus generating a context different from that usual in therapy and modifying the meaning of the situation.

5. Paradoxical intervention

This technique involves asking the patient to perform symptom. That is to say, you are encouraged to have the symptom but in a controlled way to decrease resistance. You can do this by: asking for a slow change, you are advised to make small changes to reduce the likelihood of risk or stiffness; prescription of non-change, the therapist affirms that change is not necessary and that it is better to remain as it is; prescription of the symptom in different situations, with the aim of breaking with its functionality and meaning.

6. Specification of tasks

Task prescription seeks to have the system follow specific guidelines in an attempt to achieve a change in the mode of action of components, strengthen the therapist’s relationship with the system or obtain more information.

7. Illusion of alternatives

The illusion of alternatives, also called hardship, consists of elevate the situation dichotomouslywhere there are only two possible alternatives to choose from and the subject must choose one of them.

8. Use of analogies

The use of analogies is another way to overcome resistance, in this case to pose a metaphorical situation through images or stories to process and deal with the problem indirectly.

9. Circular questioning

Circular questioning is based on relationship, comparison and distinction what makes the therapist different phenomena related to the dynamics of the system.

10. Carving technique

The sculpting technique is a strategy used in psychodrama that consists for each subject of the system in turn represents the gestures, actions, expressions of other members of the system so that they can express what they feel.

11. Greek Chorus Technique

The technique of the Greek chorus is linked to the dilemma of change, since it consists of contrasting positions for and against change given by the subjects that make up the system.

12. Letters

The purpose of the card technique is to write messages from one family member to anotherwith different purposes of congratulating, encouraging or saying goodbye.

13. Rituals

The strategy of the ritual is to symbolize, to represent, the process or the transition that the system goes through, with the aim of become aware of it and improve it.

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