Basic Family Systems Theory and Microskills Used by the Helper

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The significance of a system lies in its organized structure of interconnected components, functioning harmoniously as a unified entity. Systems emerged during the 1950s and 1960s. Based on this concept, understanding how an individual’s family operates within their larger community, neighborhood, and social environment is crucial. Any alteration to one component of a system impacts the entire system.

Equilibrium or homeostasis, which is seen as positive (Poorman, 2003), is the state when everything is balanced. To work effectively in the family system, several skills are required. In my own context, I would employ three primary microskills to uphold this theory. Initially, it is essential to understand the concept of working in family systems by addressing a few fundamental aspects. The overall family system comprises smaller subsystems called marital (or couple), parental, and sibling subsystems.

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The concept of subsystems within a family is important as it demonstrates that a family is greater than the sum of its parts (, 2009). Each subsystem is defined by the individuals who make it up and their purpose or goal within the family as a whole. Boundaries play a role in this concept and exist at every level of the system and subsystems (, 2009). Depending on the specific family dynamics, boundaries can be either very open or have tight restrictions. These boundaries determine who and what is allowed into or out of both the family as a whole and the subsystems within it.

There have been various advancements in family systems theories, and numerous professionals in this field have contributed valuable insights. In this discussion, I will focus on a few of these theories and their relevance in a helper setting. Salvador Minuchin directs his attention towards analyzing the structure of relationships within the family system and its subsystems. I concur with the view that comprehending the overall composition of the family system, as well as each individual subsystem, is essential for understanding its organization. By doing so, one can effectively address and comprehend the challenges that impact both the family as a whole and its individual members.

According to Minuchin, there are two types of family structure: disengaged family and enmeshed family. It is crucial to identify the specific family type in order to effectively address the issues at hand and provide appropriate help. The boundaries and dynamics of the system and subsystems play a significant role in determining the approach a helper should take in their job. Disengaged families have rigid boundaries and minimal contact among family members, often operating in a neglectful and isolated manner. On the other hand, enmeshed families are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

When there is an overlap of boundaries and excessive involvement in each other’s subsystems, it is necessary to address these issues in order to understand the root problems within the family and its subsystems (Poorman, 2003). Even if one individual’s behavior needs to be addressed more than others, it is crucial to consider the family context and the development of such problems. Ignoring or denying the significance of each individual in the family system should be avoided.

Murray Bowen expanded on Minuchin’s ideas regarding structure. Bowen emphasized that involving a third party through triangulation could help resolve issues. According to Bowen, incorporating a triangular dynamic strengthens family structure (Poorman, 2003). As a helper, I would advocate for the use of Family Systems Theory because involving the entire family appears to be the most effective approach for facilitating change. If only one individual changes without addressing the environmental factors contributing to the problems, the outcome is likely to be limited.

As the helper, my role is to assist and facilitate the process of discovery and understanding. I work closely with the family, helping them comprehend and utilize their interactions. Moreover, I encourage them to reconsider their interpretations of problems and explore alternative approaches to achieve their goals. Instead of taking a superior or adversarial stance, I collaborate with the family and provide ongoing support. I neither preach nor hide as they stumble upon insights blindly. Effective communication is an essential skill that everyone should have.

Non-verbal communication is an often overlooked skill that is equally important. As a helper focusing on the family as a whole, it is crucial to be able to read and understand non-verbal cues and body language, as well as utilize them effectively. To be effective in this area, it is necessary to assist the entire family in comprehending non-verbal communication. It’s important to consider factors such as the surrounding environment, your positioning relative to the client(s), physical proximity, body posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and other elements that can be interpreted differently by your client.

Both a non-verbal skill and a listening skill, silence has the potential to enable alternative forms of communication that can reveal undisclosed information. In these specific situations, there are multiple ways to engage with families. One approach is to use an additional micro skill by asking about their situation. Although clients may not initially respond, posing questions can facilitate deeper exploration of underlying issues and foster advancement.

Questioning is an important skill to employ when the experience, thoughts, or emotions of a client or clients become unclear. In certain situations, delving deeper into the experience, thought, or feeling can be helpful. Additionally, aiding clients in hearing their own words can facilitate understanding and potentially lead to a shift in direction for better comprehension.

When engaging with clients or family members, it is vital to exercise caution in the types of inquiries posed and how they are articulated. It is advisable to steer clear of using judgmental or accusatory language as it can elicit negative emotions like anger, frustration, misunderstanding, and confusion. Additionally, it is essential to avoid employing double-barreled questions since they can generate confusion. Rather than solely posing yes or no queries, it is important to ask open-ended questions that foster discussion. Relying exclusively on questioning as your approach may impede progress and give the impression that you are controlling and uninterested in the matters at hand (Poorman, 2003). When initiating a conversation with family members, comprehending their personal interpretation of family holds utmost significance.

Identifying certain characteristics in the family concept, such as boundaries, power and intimacy, freedom of expression, organization and value systems, is important (Stratman, 2009). Additionally, it is necessary to address the underlying factors causing the problems. Lastly, utilizing the Preparing for Action! approach, there are several requirements to meet with the client(s), with the main focus being on setting realistic and attainable goals.

To effectively achieve your goals, it is important to document and devise an action plan. This entails operationalizing the goals and arranging a schedule with the client(s). It is essential to allocate time for brainstorming, developing a timeline, and creating a written plan. When working with families, the approach is distinct from working with individuals. For individuals, the focus lies solely on them. However, when working with families, the objective is to comprehend the functioning and composition of the family system. Even when working with individuals, employing the Family Systems Theory can be beneficial in identifying the root causes of issues and restoring them to the right path.


  1. Poorman, P. B. (2003). Microskills and Theoretical Foundations for Professional Helpers. Pearson Education Inc. Family Systems Theory-Basic Concepts, “Family Systems Theory. ” http://www. family. jrank. org (Accessed 9. 29. 09)
  2. Using Family Therapy, “Family Systems Theory. ” http://web. pdx. edu (Accessed 9. 28. 09) Stratman, T. (2009) Power Point, “Family Systems Theory. ” (Accessed 10. 1. 09)

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Basic Family Systems Theory and Microskills Used by the Helper. (2018, Jun 22). Retrieved from

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