A concise, readable introduction to systems theory (and especially second-order cybernetics) with practical applications to family therapy.
Systems Theory and Family Therapy: A Primer, Fourth Edition, provides a thorough yet concise explication of systems theory (cybernetics), which is the primary paradigm for the practice of systemic individual, marital, and family therapy. This book provides an overview of the essential concepts of a systems theoretical perspective using families and family therapy in context as examples and illustrations of their application in professional practice. Readers are invited to see themselves as parts of the systems with which they are working, consistent with a second-order cybernetics perspective. This book concludes with more than one hundred examples of how the meta-perspective of systems theory can be used in work with families.
Raphael J. Becvar, retired endowed chair in marital and family therapy, was a licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and an approved supervisor with many years of experience in both academic and private practice contexts. He has authored and coauthored many books and articles in professional journals. His particular focus is on philosophical/metaperspectives on mental health and the practice of therapy and a widely recognized teacher of systems theory and family therapy.
Dorothy Stroh Becvar, professor emerita in the School of Social Work at St. Louis University, was a licensed marital and family therapist and a licensed clinical social worker. She published extensively and presented workshops and taught courses, both nationally and internationally, on a wide variety of topics. She was also president/CEO of the Haelan Centers(R), a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to promoting growth and wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. Dorothy died on August 31, 2021.
Lynne V. Reif, licensed professional counselor, began her career working with at-risk youth in the foster care system. In 2000 she became a middle school counselor and continued in that role until 2023, when she shifted her focus from counseling in schools to writing and training in the areas of systems theory, family therapy, and parent education. Lynne has extensive background in working with children and families and was part of the leadership team that created and ran the Empowering Young Women conferences hosted by the University of Missouri St. Louis for twenty years. In 2012 she traveled to Uganda to coteach a first of its kind course in school counseling to educators there and to work with girls in the schools. This experience significantly expanded her cultural awareness and understanding of the significance of context in the lives of children and families.
Foreword—Sally St. George and Dan Wulff
Preface—Raphael J. Becvar
Introduction: How to Use This Book
1 About Theories
2 Systems Theory/Cybernetics: A Paradigm Shift
First-Order and Second-Order Cybernetics
3 First-Order Cybernetics: Definitions of Concepts
Entropy and Negative Entropy
Homeostasis, Morphostasis, and Morphogenesis
Open and Closed Systems
Positive and Negative Feedback
Summary and Conclusion
4 Second-Order Cybernetics: Definition of Concepts
Epistemology of Participation
Openness and Closedness
Reality as a Multiverse
Wholeness and Self-Reference
5 Family Interpretive Systems/Stories
6 Family Development Through the Life Cycle
7 The Family as System
8 A Critique and Defense of the Systems Perspective
9 Patterns to Ponder
Patterns and Paradoxes to Ponder
10 Implications for Family Therapy
Stability and Change
Engaging the Family, Assessment, and Therapeutic Goals
11 In Conclusion
About the Authors
The thrilling and dizzying challenge of learning to think systemically—of learning to recognize and appreciate interactive processes and recursive patterns of relationship within couples, families, and therapeutic systems—requires a fundamental revisioning and reworking of long-held philosophical and psychological assumptions. In this streamlined yet comprehensive book, Drs. Ray and Dorothy Becvar, joined in this 4th edition by Dorothy’s daughter, Lynne Reif, provide a state-of-the-art launching pad and high-resolution map for the uninitiated, the curious, and the confused. Head inside, buckle up, and blast off! The authors will help you get oriented and find your way.
In reading this new edition, I can hear Ray and Dorothy’s voices and feel their loving warmth. The first edition was foundational for learning about family systems and the new edition continues to evoke their magical gift with language. Easy to read with many stories and examples, their book (with the addition of Lynne Reif) continues to provide a map and feast for students learning about family therapy and systems theory.
This book contains essential knowledge about systems theory with clear, concise, and understandable descriptions of concepts. It is an invaluable resource combining ideas and knowledge across family therapy to teach professionals how to pragmatically integrate complex systemic concepts in their clinical thinking and practice. I highly recommend this text.
Systems theory is the bedrock of all family therapists do. Yet, it is not uncommon for some to have only a superficial understanding. This book highlights the core tenets of systems theory and brings to life its implications for family therapists.
A solid, clear and accessible systems text is foundational to teaching marriage, couple and family students. The cybernetics, first and second order material is essential. This is a key text students would read that builds their foundation for learning and understanding concepts before learning specific models and theories applicable to clinical work.
Like any behavior, the discipline of systemic thinking cannot be maintained in isolation. Hence, I cannot imagine sustaining an authentically systemic practice without regular revisits to this primer, which continually redirects me to the countercultural, unsettling, and inspiring essence of systems theory.
There is no more concise and useful text available for learning systemic concepts than the Becvar text. It has been a required resource in my theory courses for over twenty years.
Companion website: https://textbooks.rowman.com/systems-theory4e