"(family) systems therapy involves a special kind of involved attentiveness in which the therapist is an encouraging and resourceful co-explorer, with those who seek his help, of more creative and satisfying ways of living."

Why do people seek counselling or psychotherapy?

People make this move for as number of reasons. Not everyone thinks they need "therapy"; they may be facing some difficult decisions in their work or personal life and want to speak to someone who is trained to "listen without prejudice" as George Michael put it. Others may want a few sessions to take stock of where they are going, while some will have quite specific concerns or difficulties. Inevitably, since none of us is an island, others will be affecting or affected by the issues we face and how we handle ourselves. For this reason I believe that a systemic approach offers a breadth of understanding which is likely to be helpful in the majority of situations.

What is distinctive about the systemic approach?

As a Systemic Psychotherapist, my work is about understanding human distress in relation to the wider social context of relationships. We live in relationships in the outside world of family, friendships and work; and we are inhabited by relationships in our inside world of emotion, learned behaviours and handed-down stories (and genetics). From its inception "Family Therapy" was a challenge to psychiatric orthodoxy, seeking understanding through the lives of patients rather than via diagnostic labelling, which not only tended to define and delimit the individual's possibilities but ignored crucial relationships which held the potential both for harm and healing.

Whilst it is reasonable to expect your therapist to be properly trained and to hold "expertise", modern systemic therapists do not find it helpful to adopt the "expert position". Rather they are more likely to help you to explore your own meanings and resources. Some famous names in the field (John Shotter, Tom Andersen, Barnett Pearce) have had similar thoughts when referring to "participant research", "ethical explorations" and "withness" - in simple terms a systemic therapist is likely to be involved rather than distant, opening up rather closing down (defining an issue as being this or that), and interested in what is transacted between people as well as "internal" processes such as thoughts and feelings (which turn out to be very socially involved anyway). It is also impossible to ignore the impact of sociological, political and economic issues on the experience of individuals and families - how people's lives change when the factory closes down, or someone becomes ill; what should be expected of a woman or a man, a mother or a father, at a particular point in history; the devastation of violence and oppression against targetted groups in society.

The systems approach, while being best known as "family therapy", is not only about seeing whole families, but is effective with individuals, couples and groups, including work groups.

ethical and effective treatment

An ethical approach to therapy might be simply put as one that promotes responsible self-determination. It is for the therapist to provide a safe and encouraging setting in which you can freely express youself to the extent that you choose to. Any practical (meetings, fees, etc) or ethical questions (confidentiality, sharing of information, etc) should be openly discussed and decided on. I am registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy (College of Family, Couple and Systemic Therapy) and abide by their Code of Conduct.

Here are some examples of effective systemic practice, and what you can expect to see in my work (and all are associated with positive treatment outcomes):

Explores motivation and factors that may have led to self-defeating patterns
Generates hope
Identifies existing and “forgotten” client resources
Is aware of a wider social context of relationships including work settings
Works to involve or recruit others who can help
Manages emotional arousal
Explores alternative options
Pays attention to “real world” pressures and concerns
Creates new behavioural strategies and a means for practising these
Provides support and interest throughout the change process