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Systemic means much more – in the community and for other professions

Nick Child Despite the stormy weather, this is a

call for family therapy in the UK to unclip and spread its wings. T e call is based on: (1) a confi rmation of our systemic principles, now mature and ethical; and (2) applauding what we have done so far, with compelling reasons for taking our systemic show out on less frequented roads. A new case is made for family therapy in the community, and an old one for systemic practice in other helping professions. I suggest some practical steps. My thanks to those who helped with this fi nal version and who are already taking these issues forward. My aim is to inspire wide support for these causes.

Systemic means Family therapists fl ourish the word

‘systemic’ proudly and oſt en. Family therapy constitutes a very rich range of systemic means to do the job. But the term itself has many meanings. Defi ning systemic clarifi es these and shows how special, and thoroughly ethical, being systemic can be. Since we use it a lot in public, the defi nition should be in ordinary English that non-family therapists can understand, as well as one that family therapists broadly approve of. But, any defi nition calls for wing-spreading action.

The meaning of systemic My starting defi nition of our use of

systemic is simple, and purposely embraces a wide range of systems and methods. Systemic means: Working to bring out, share and respect the oſt en interconnecting views and stories of everyone involved while integrating a way forward (Child, 2010, p. 18). Oſt en, we include others only in our thinking. ‘Views and stories’ is short for all kinds of mat ers of intention – beliefs, values, experiences, loyalties, infl uences, thoughts, feelings, hopes, desires, aims, etc. Some key words have several meanings. I suggest an annotation to keep things


clearer. So, for my defi nition and meaning, I will write, systemicNC

. Here are some examples of ordinary

good systemic practice anywhere: how your communications engage those most reluctant to use their appointments; how we use genograms; how we relate to other involved agencies; how we use and are used by our team and managers. T ese ordinary systemic practices (systemicORD

) may be easily applied in

other professions, and this use of these practices in those other professions is another variation AFT uses for the term, systemic practiceAFT

that our not presuming may be even more useful. How we do this is part of what we know how to do! T is is in contrast with the early masters

of family therapy who did presume more that they knew best. T e therapist still worked with care but intervened more through authority, persuasion and direction of the family system. Since these approaches did break new ground by involving everyone, they also get called systemic (systemicDIR

defi nition builds on systemicDIR (Child, 2010, p. 19).

Work with even more basic systems – from offi ce staff to managers and referrers, from constitutions to computers – I would call systems work. Systemic methods in collaborative

(post)modern family therapy (systemicCOL

include more subtle, therapeutic and special ways we work within therapy sessions and supervision to develop the same ends. T e aim is to include and bring in others and bring out views, actually or imaginatively, as we integrate a way forward. Collaboration entails several functions. We oſt en especially mean refl ective methods: systemicREF My brief mot o for systemicCOL

. is ‘Don’t

presume’, or, to make it more positive, ‘T e power of not presuming’. T at is, in systemicCOL

therapy now, we systematically

don’t presume to know what other people believe, feel, think, want, or might come up with given the chance and the skill and expertise. And we don’t presume we know best where to draw the line around who all those involved might be. T is is not to say the therapist never knows best or bet er than the client – why else would clients come but for some of our skill, expertise and authority? T e therapist does know a lot that may be useful. But, we don’t know what our client knows. We do not presume or impose our knowing because we believe

Is this systemicCOL

Systemic means ethical that we now value

always a good thing? Family therapists tend to use the word so oſt en that it seems to imply all that is good about us and our practice, with an implied judgement of other therapies. So, could someone be systemic (like we are) as well as negative or bad (like we assume we are not)? Well, since ethics is all about what mat ers to others, this defi nition quickly shows that a systemicCOL

principle can equate

to positively ethical. Remember it is the Context February 2012


). My systemicNC but

emphasises our newer systemicCOL collaborative ways. Other refl ective psychotherapies may

presume and interpret (e.g. causation) more than family therapy does. T ey may talk as much as we do with individual clients about other signifi cant people. But they would not involve others as much as we do to be real or imagined participants in a forward-looking process. So systemicNC

is one defi nition that

suits us. It has the advantage of being understood by those outside our fi eld. T e diff erence between directive and collaborative meanings of systemic is ethically important. But aspects of the work are still directive, and family therapy remains highly directional. Both of these subordinated aspects also contribute to making it ethical.

Systemic means much more – in the community and for other professions

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