Systems and Multicultural Approaches
Systems Theory is a theoretical model that views the nature of things in terms of being part of a system in which there are many necessary interrelated and interacting elements which allow the subject to function in a particular manner. This broad scope of theory is applied in terms of psychology in which human behavior and cognitive processes are viewed in terms of complex systems that are interconnected with environmental forces. This theory is applied both to individuals and to groups such as families:
General systems theory, formulated by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1934, 1968) became the basis for most family therapy. Bertalanffy was a biologist who tried to explain how organisms thrive or die based on their openness or closedness to their environments. He examined the interrelationships of parts to each other and to the entire system as a unit. Using Bertalanffy’s theory, social scientists asserted that all living systems, including families, function on a similar set of principles (Jones-Smith, 2012).
The object of systems theory is to uncover patterns within the interrelated thoughts and relationships of individuals. It is believed that patterns of behavior have become ingrained into the person or group which forms a homeostatic reaction in which the negative patterns are considered normal and the person or group is incapable of identifying what the problem is until systems approach is applied. This can be seen in the use of systems family therapy:
…the therapist takes the position that the family functions as a whole unit. … As part of a system, each family member influences all other members. For instance, Haley dealt with the issue of family communication in his strategic family theory. Minuchin asserted that to help families deal with problems, the therapist must unbalance the family—that is, disrupt the homeostasis that is maintaining the problem. Family therapy based on a system perspective redefines the individual as embedded within many different systems (Jones-Smith, 2012).
The application of systems theory to groups has opened the door to multicultural approaches to therapy. The multicultural approach is based on viewing therapy in terms of understanding worldviews and applying therapeutic methods based on cultural differences. The idea is that each culture contributes to a different way of thinking due to their inherent differences and experiences. This means that to some degree therapy is relativistic based on different needs of culture (Jones-Smith, 2012). To understand system theory and multicultural approaches one can view different cases that expresses these concepts clearly through application.
Juan is a 78-year-old male who is recently widowed. He has four children, all of whom live far from him. He is very lonely and wants a job, but has not worked for the last 10 years. He was trained as a landscape architect and helped to design the parks and recreational areas for five cities. He wants to work with a local community center, but was told that he is just not aware enough of local trends to be helpful. Recently, he has received multiple charges of solicitation and is concerned that he may be seen negatively because of his age when his charges come to trial.
Application: Systems theory utilizing psychoanalysis would provide Juan with a means of correcting his issues. Juan has developed patterns of living which are not healthy and individual therapy aimed at discovering which patterns are elements in Juan’s life are creating the thinking that he is too old to perform work or socializing would allow Juan to work to fix the problems which cause him to feel that solicitation is his only options for socializing.
David is a 22-year-old male who works for a local gym as a personal trainer. He recently ended a relationship with Jason, a man he met at work. Jason is threatening to “out” him if he does not stay in the relationship. Eric is worried that he will be forced to quit his job due to potential bias from his work colleagues. In addition, he has an outstanding warrant for possession with intent to distribute narcotics. He is worried about his possible treatment in jail if other inmates find out he is gay.
Application: Systems theory psychoanalysis and multicultural counseling. David has multiple issues that are both systemic of culture and cognitive issues. The patterns of behavior and bias towards sexuality are cultural in nature and need to be addressed through an analysis of David’s background and upbringing. There are other issues related to drugs and criminal behavior which may be cognitive issues related with environment and other systems.
Layla is a 51-year-old female who is Muslim. She has just been sentenced to 30 days in jail following theft charges. She is committed to her religion and is concerned about being targeted because of her religious beliefs. She also is concerned about her dietary restrictions and her ability to pray while incarcerated.
Application: Systems theory psychoanalysis and multicultural counseling. While much of Layla’s issue seem to be centered on cultural issues and this needs to be addressed: there are personal issues such as the criminal behavior that may need analysis.
Jasmine is a 32-year-old incarcerated female with a significant history of physical and mental trauma. She was physically and sexually abused by an older man while she was growing up. As a result, she has flash backs when touched by men. She has been labeled as noncompliant while incarcerated. She seems to do well when approached by female corrections officers or when males explain what they are doing and why.
Application: Systems theory psychoanalysis and multicultural counseling is needed in this situation because physical and sexual abuse is often impacted by culture and by gender identification and sexuality (Jones-Smith, 2012). Both forms of therapy are essential to helping Jasmine with here issues.
Systems therapy is focused on uncovering the nature of issues working with the assumption that cognitive and emotional functioning is the result of many elements working cohesively. The theory is almost inextricably linked with multicultural approaches due to the intrinsic relationship between nature and environment. Both systems and multicultural therapy provide a robust system for treatment that is focused on the complete person.
Jones-Smith, E. (2012). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: An integrative approach. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.