Since the days of Freud, perhaps no movement has arrived on the therapy scene with the force and freshness of general systems theory. In the 1950s and 1960s, it announced an entirely new way of understanding how psyches are shaped, wounded, and healed, not merely within our skulls, but in the vast, humming spaces of our environment, in social interaction. The revolution picked up speed and became an international movement following the 1968 publication of a book titled General System Theory by German biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy.
The concepts of feedback, homeostasis, and a holistic view of a system captured the imagination of many psychotherapy pioneers, including Salvador Minuchin, Murray Bowen, Jay Haley, and Virginia Satir, and became firmly established in the training of every marriage and family therapist. Nevertheless, despite all the intellectual excitement, the hard truth is that, so far, the systems revolution hasn’t led to very effective ways of doing therapy.
Fortunately, a second revolution is quietly taking shape—a new wave of systems theory and therapy—that marries the wisdom of clinical intuition with the rigors of scientific inquiry. With more precision and accuracy, we can now begin to answer two key questions about relationships: what causes trouble between people and what helps them not merely survive together, but actually rekindle love and delight?
While most couples and family therapies over the past…