Family Systems Theory


The family is a safe place where individuals live as a collective unit. Different families vary in various ways, but each family member needs the other since the family is the fundamental social unit that gives identity to an individual. The interactions within a family are very imperative in defining how family members live with, relate to and communicate with one another. It is through these interactions that most of the family needs are met. However, a slight change can affect how the family members relate to one another and at times, external intervention is required. Children interact with their parents in a different manner to which they interact amongst themselves. The same applies to the parents. There are different theories that explain how families should lead their lives as one, but this paper will just focus on the family systems theory by sampling one family to understand family interactions and what could affect these interactions.


This theory dictates that a “family is an emotional unit”. It uses systems thinking to delineate the dynamic interactions that prevail in the family. Sometimes there is a feeling of disconnect, but it is just that—a feeling. Family interactions affect each other’s feelings, thoughts and actions. Individuals seek to gain the family members’ approval, support and attention while members react to the needs, expectations and distress of one or more of their family members (Morgaine, 2001).


The family I interviewed lives in Jordanstown, seven miles North of Belfast city. The family consists of five members, and is headed by a man. The day I conducted the interview they were contemplating on the decision to make with regard to Joe, a father of two and a husband to one wife. Joe had been given a new assignment as an expatriate in Africa for three years. They were deliberating on two options and the agony on their faces could tell that they did not like either of it. They had to move to Africa, or allow Joe to go alone. This was the chance Joe had been waiting for—to gain a promotion. The family had spent almost an eternity here at Jordanstown, and moving away meant starting all over. They talked about how they had each other, but then they needed the placid environment they had grown used to. If Joe left, they would miss him terribly. He could not give up on this new managerial position because it was the only livelihood for the family. The youngest child Janice was 10 years. She locked herself up her room all day when not going to school. During the time that I was having the interview, she was not around; it must have been too much for her to handle. I asked them what they were doing about her, and at the moment, they only let her be. Ted was twenty and he spoke fondly of his father, who had supported him all the way up until now he was studying at the Jordanstown campus. Even though he felt sad, he knew it was right that his father takes up the assignment.

The mother was playing her usual motherly role, even though I could see the despair in her eyes. However, what I didn’t know is that her demeanour was just a charade and as a matter of fact, she had turned to alcohol for solace. This I learned later as she escorted me to gate. She had to be a good example to her children; the pillar they needed to know that all would be alright even with their father gone, or in their new home. The decision was only theirs to make. All what was happening was overwhelming her and she didn’t know where or whom to turn to for help. As I probed further, I learned that the youngest child had a very special bond with the father, and the minute she learned of what was to happen, she wept uncontrollably for days before going into a stage of withdrawal. This had even affected her eating, social and academic life because the mother had received phone calls from her teachers complaining about the drastic change of the child. Other than this huge challenge that seemed unsolvable, everything else had always been okay. They shared all their sorrows and joys, but this current situation was neither sorrowful nor joyful—they were in a dilemma.

Strengths of the family


The family setup I witnessed was one characterized by love, unity and caring for one another. In addition, it was obvious that they always made collective decisions in as far either one of their members was concerned. They talked about how they had always agreed on things, but could not understand why they could not agree now. They all knew their roles as members of the family; thus, respect and love for each was inevitable. It was this love of family that Janice felt helpless that she could do nothing about her father leaving.


The father had informed family members of what was to happen in the next one month. He had made the bold step of informing his family early in advance as a way to prepare them. It was obvious he had not expected such resistance given the circumstances in which they supported each other as a family, and deliberated on important issues. It had not been easy for him as well, but the issue was getting out of his control. He wanted his family to support on this; hence, the reason why he had been open to them so they could discuss as a family.

Weaknesses of the family


The family showed characteristics of sentimentality, which supersede the ability to see reason. The youngest child had experienced an emotional breakdown that manifested itself by shutting the family members from her life at the moment. She was overwhelmed by this unfolding event and the only way to handle it was by isolating herself to avoid more emotional dissonance. This is what Bowen points out as the negative effects of emotional interdependence (Bowen Center, 2013).


Despite justifiable reason that the Joe needed to execute his new mission in a new country, there was a lot of resistance from the family members as they did not want to accept this fact. The family had been used to being together at all times and now the fact their father was leaving made them tense. This tension affected their stability and they could not think straight.

Family needs

Joe was in need of support and approval from his family members. Despite the role played by Candy of a strong wife and mother, she needed an ear to listen to her ailing heart since she had bottled it all inside. Joe was too busy concerned with the children that he didn’t realize that Candy had started drinking again. Ted needed reassurance that he was supporting the right cause, while Janice needed it all—love, understanding, an ear, a punching bag—to enable her deal with the situation.


All the family members needed to undergo some counselling sessions to help them deal with the situation at hand. This is necessary so that they can arrive at a unanimous conclusion as has always been the case with them. Individual, group and family cognitive therapy could be used. Joe needs to understand that he needs to maximize on the time he has left with his family; they need his love and reassurance more than ever. Candy needs extra special treatment to help her deal with her recurrent alcohol drinking issue. The family need to have a chat with Joe’s boss so they could obtain some form of closure. They need a guarantee that the three years Joe would be away would not turn out to be a lifetime.


Bowen Center. (2013). Bowen Theory. Web.

Morgaine, C. (2001). Family Systems Theory. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. "Family Systems Theory." September 11, 2023.