When somebody in a family begins to have a problem – e.g. an eating disorder, unexplained illness or difficulty leaving home – it is very easy for everyone else involved to pin the blame on this one person. They are the ones who “should pull themselves together,” or “stop upsetting your mother / father”. Somewhere along the line we assume that the person in difficulty is solely responsible for what is happening and that ‘fixing’ their behaviour will solve the problem.
A systemic, relational approach to psychotherapy and counselling involves an understanding of psychological distress in the context of social relationships as opposed to solely in the mind of the individual. As such, when a person displays some form of distress, the therapist will be interested in exploring the nature of their relationships with the people who are close to them – e.g. their family, friends and colleagues – as well as their own thoughts and feelings. Often, what appears to be a problem for one person turns out to be a symptom of an issue affecting a number of people.
I have touched on the dynamics of mother / daughter relationships in a previous post (17th July 2013) and how at the point when a young adult is ready to leave home there has to be both a desire to leave from the ‘child’ and a willingness to let go from the parent. When a child becomes an adult, the balance of power, authority and responsibility within a family needs to change to accommodate this; generally, this involves a parent relinquishing some control. If this fails to happen for some reason (and a parent’s own experience of attaining adulthood will often be an influence) a family might get stuck between a need for change and a naturally occurring systemic bias towards staying the same. It is at such a point that symptoms of distress begin to emerge.
Working with a therapist in a systemic and relational way can often allow us to step away from seeing ourselves or someone else as solely responsible for a situation or the person who needs ‘fixing’. As adults, we all have responsibility for our own behaviour and how we respond to others. However, understanding a problem in terms of ourselves and others as members of a system that might work against accommodating necessary change can allow us to see more clearly our own part in the difficulty and adjust our responses accordingly.
If you were to arrive at my door and present me with a difficulty that you wish to overcome, I will often use a systemic approach to examine what is going on and explore new possibilities. For example, if talking together reveals that you are taking on more responsibility for people or situations in your life than might be workable, comfortable or beneficial to all concerned, you will then be in a position to think about relinquishing some of that responsibility and what the consequences might be.
Unpicking who is responsible for what is a common theme in therapy. At the extremes, we might blame the other completely or see ourselves as the one who is entirely at fault. A systemic approach can help us take a more balanced view of what is going on and allow us to ‘fix’ (change) patterns of relating rather than individuals who appear to be acting out for no good reason.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to therapy interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more details and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove
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