Recalibrating Systems Theory as the Foundation of MFT

“I consider rugged individualism to be an exaggerated pretend posture of a person struggling against emotional fusion. The differentiated person is always aware of others and the relationship system around him.”
Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice

My workshop — Systems Theory: Strategies for Inner and Outer Systems Interventions — starts with a review of the basic assumptions and principles of “internal family systems”. Parts and Self function within the system of the person much like the way a family of children function and relate/are related to by the executive leadership within the family’s system. The goal is to increase the quality and equity of relationships. In the family system, it is the relationship between the children and the parental leadership of the family. In the Internal Family Systems model, the goal is about increasing the relationship between parts and the Self.

Family systems theory documents the sequences and connections in the family and between parental leadership, as well as the respect and responsibility of children in relationship with each other and the system as a whole. Internal family systems theory explores the connectivity through compassionate, courageous, calm, curious presence of the Core Self that invites and treats all parts as having value, respect, and positive energy. When welcomed by the Self, the part’s negative burdens and false beliefs are released and the systems begins to function in a healthier way. Likewise, when the external family system is invited into a safe, equitable, respectful, responsible space, healthiness will naturally emerge. This emergence will be represented in a demo described below.

At the MAMFT Annual Conference, this workshop will present this shift through an experiential and observational demo. Using a volunteer from the audience, the presenter will illustrate these principles and practices with a demo/model of sculpting a family system using Internal Family System and Structural Family orientation. This process will explore, identify, and integrate the internal system of the individual into the external system of the family. We will explore how the natural propensity toward resiliency and re-integration can help the system heal itself from within. We will identify ways to discover what is “right in the system” as an alternative to finding what is wrong in the system and trying to correct or fix it.

The workshop will then encourage reflections from the participants on what was stirred up in their inner system as they watched the process unfold. We will then answer questions regarding the process of the sculpting, therapeutic issues, and observations about the process.

Rev. Dr. Donald L. Paine, LCSW, LMFT, is a clinician working in West Stockbridge, MA, and Albany, NY. He has been in private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist for 20 years.

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