Leone Centre Glossary

Family Systems Theory in Family Therapy

Family Systems Theory

Family Systems Theory is a psychological framework that views the family as an interconnected and interdependent system. Each member’s behaviour and interactions are seen as influencing the entire family unit. This theory, widely utilised in family therapy, helps therapists understand the complex dynamics at play within a family and address them holistically.

Family dynamics

Family Systems Theory emphasises the importance of relationships and interactions among family members. It posits that issues within a family cannot be understood in isolation but rather as part of the larger system. For instance, a child’s behavioural issues might be a reflection of underlying family tensions or patterns.

Communication patterns

One of the core aspects of Family Systems Theory is the examination of communication within the family. Clear and productive communication is important for resolving conflicts and developing understanding among family members. The theory helps identify dysfunctional communication patterns and guides families towards more productive ways of interacting.

Behavioural influence

Family Systems Theory suggests that the behaviour of one family member can significantly impact the behaviours and emotions of others. For example, a parent’s stress can affect a child’s emotional well-being, which in turn can influence the overall family environment. Understanding these influences is key to addressing issues in therapy.

About the theory

Family Systems Theory was developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen in the mid-20th century. It is based on the idea that families operate as systems, with each member playing a specific role that affects the whole. Key concepts include interdependence, boundaries, and subsystems, all of which help in understanding family interactions.

Therapeutic benefits

Using Family Systems Theory in therapy offers numerous benefits. It promotes a deeper understanding of family dynamics, which can lead to healthier interactions and stronger relationships. By addressing the family as a whole, therapists can help members support each other’s growth and well-being.

Practical application

In practice, Family Systems Theory is applied through various therapeutic approaches that focus on the family unit. Therapists may work with the entire family or with specific subsystems within the family, such as parent-child dyads. The goal is to create a more harmonious and supportive family environment.


What is Family Systems Theory?
Family Systems Theory is a psychological framework that views the family as an interconnected system where each member’s behaviour affects the others.
How does Family Systems Theory benefit therapy?
It helps therapists understand and address the underlying dynamics and patterns within a family, promoting healthier interactions and resolutions.
Can Family Systems Theory be applied to all family types?
Yes, it is adaptable to various family structures, including nuclear, extended, and blended families.


  1. Psychology Today – Family Systems Therapy
  2. Verywell Mind – Family Systems Theory
  3. Mental Help – Family Systems Therapy
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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision