What is Systemic Therapy?

Kevin Hall, BSc, MSc, Systemic Therapist

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.
Virginia Satir
Systemic therapy is one of the most important schools of psychotherapy. It is recognised by the Austrian state as a method in which psychotherapists can receive the vocational training they require for registration with the Ministry of Health. It is also frequently referred to in Austria as systemic family therapy (“systemische Familientherapie”). The reason behind this is that “systemic therapy” is often used as an umbrella term for a variety of methods and models which have spawned a number of approaches to couples and family therapy.

An important premise of systemic therapy is that relationships (home and family, work, friends and acquaintances etc. as well as virtual relationships such as those found on the Internet or those which exist between authors and readers) provide an important context in which our behaviour and understanding of the world is embedded. From this perspective our relationships provide an important source of information about the emergence of problems and the behavioural and thinking patterns which perpetuate them. They are at the same time the place where we can get support and help and the means by which we can learn and develop skills and competencies.

A related facet of systemic thinking is that human beings and social systems create their own realities. There is in this sense no single reality but many realities all of which are the subjective product of the stories we tell and the ideas we have about ourselves, our world and other beings in this world. Our subjective realities determine how we think, feel and act. A major goal of systemic therapy is therefore to help clients to construct their reality in such a way that it is satisfactory for them and leads to improved quality of life.

The systems approach to psychotherapy, counselling and coaching is very flexible and means that it can be used in a wide variety of contexts (e.g. with individuals, couples, families, teams, in group therapy, in organisational development) and for diverse issues.

Next Steps