In this paper, I will be writing a review of the textbook called, “Systems Theory in Action: Applications to Individual, Couples, and Family Therapy” written by Shelly Smith-Acuna (2011). This will include the purpose behind Smith-Acuna’s writing of chapters three and four in the textbook and the principle of systemic thinking that the author emphasized. Additionally, I will write about insights on systemic thinking that emerged for me, areas that I comprehend well, and areas that challenged me. Lastly, I will write about how the ideas from the textbook can be used in practice as a human service professional.
In chapter three Smith-Acuna discuss causality. People have a natural instinct to need to know why things happen. This is a process that begins with cognitive development. Cause and effect thinking can have limitations therefore it is important to open up to multiple causalities. Additionally, there can be numerous paths to the same destination and equifinality means that the same outcome can be reached from different original conditions. However, there is not necessarily equal responsibility for all problems just because there is multiple causality. The author’s purpose to write this chapter was to emphasize the importance multiple causality due to the huge impact it has on successful therapy with replacing blame for responsibility (Smith-Acuna, 2011, pp. 33-47).
In chapter four Smith-Acuna discuss communication. People receive communication messages from each other by actions and inactions. There is a report function which is the face value meaning of communication and is considered the explicit message. There is also command function which includes nonverbal cues and is considered the implicit message. Between both of these functions of communication people must constantly and often unconsciously put together the report and command to translate the messages. Communication can be used for both problem solving and emotional connection. Attachment is a primary need for people and communication builds the attachment need. The author’s purpose to write this chapter was to emphasize the importance of communication because it is central to a productive systems therapy (Smith-Acuna, 2011, pp. 50-66).
One of the principles of systemic thinking that was emphasized by Smith-Acuna is using systems theory with psychology. This created a new model which looked at both multiple and circular causality. People would tend to look for single, linear explanations of behavior and this can cause a restricted focus. The new model was the opposite approach and went beyond the linear causality. This new movement creates an improved variety of intervention strategies because it focused on multiple and circular causality (Smith-Acuna, 2011, p. 47).
Another principle of systemic thinking that was emphasized by Smith-Acuna is changing communication patterns. Emotional expression has healing power and can restore relationships. People can become socialized to hide their feelings. This goes against being authentic with one’s true feelings, being genuine, and honest which can be healing. Without expressing feelings, that could create a person to have interpersonal problems. Relationships will naturally cause intense feelings such as conflict and joy. All feelings should be expressed because denying feelings can create problems (Smith-Acuna, 2011, pp. 58-59).
An insight about systemic thinking that emerged for me from the textbook reading is, that people are hardwired to understand and try to explain why things happen. The need to know why things happen is actually a natural response. From the beginning of cognitive development, a process of learning cause and effect starts and continues throughout life. This is a great insight to understand the biological development and natural desire to understand why things happen. Trying to understand why something happened can become overwhelming because some events occur that have no clear explanation of why. However, knowing that the natural response is to understand why can then be used to help refocus thinking and move past an event with no clear explanation (Smith-Acuna, 2011, pp. 33-34).
An area that I am confident that I comprehended in the textbook is, using communication skills to prevent misunderstandings. This is an approach that uses the speaker-listener technique. The goal is to maximize the likelihood that the message sent from the speaker will be the same message received by the partner. The speaker can do skill training to take responsibility for what they say. The messages should be clear, short, and understandable. Skills for the listener are being able to put down their own agenda so that they can understand and paraphrase the speaker’s message first. In a relationship both people must agree to take on the roles and follow the rules of the speaker and listener (Smith-Acuna, 2011, pp. 53-34).
An area that challenged my comprehension in the textbook is, a study that was done on family interactions who had a family member suffering from schizophrenia. A type of communication that they called a double bind was found in common with these families and it was thought to be so distressing that it caused psychotic symptoms. However, Smith-Acuna does go on to discuss that in this age of biologically based psychiatry it is odd to think that destructive communication could cause schizophrenia. But there is still some relevance to this because destructive communication can cause distress. Even though the new age psychiatry seems to disprove the double bind theory, I still can see a correlation possibility between destructive communication and psychotic symptoms and this is an area I would like more input around (Smith-Acuna, 2011, pp. 56-57).
Lastly, an idea from the textbook that will influence my practice as a human service professional is, that there are many paths to the same destination also known as equifinality. Moving away from linear cause and effect and understanding that the same outcome can come from several different conditions. Having an open system is important because it allows for an interaction with numerous variables. Using the principle of equifinality will allow me to see that problems can occur from a variety of starting points and several factors have also contributed to the problems (Smith-Acuna, 2011, p. 38).