Suppose you are presenting General Systems Theory and Cybernetics to a group of professional counselors who are unfamiliar with how these ideas are used in marital and family therapy. How would you...

Suppose you are presenting General Systems Theory and Cybernetics to a group of professional counselors who are unfamiliar with how these ideas are used in marital and family therapy. How would you define the basic concepts in such a way that you explain how the concepts are used in performing marital and family treatment.

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interesting question!

1) First, the basic definition of these concepts: General Systems Theory and Cybernetics (the science of communication) both view the family unit as a central processing system; much like a computer, the family is deemed to function best when forms of positive and useful feedback lead to homeostasis (internal stability).

2) Second, we state why these concepts are necessary in family therapy.

What happens when one part of a computer is not functioning at its optimum level? It can't help but affect the general performance of the entire machine. Proponents of general systems theory and cybernetics believe that the family is like a processing system and that all parts (various family members) need to be equipped with the necessary tools to support optimum performance as a whole (the family union). Scientists view these concepts as a means to promote a type of self-correcting mechanism within the family structure. They believe that this will, in turn, lead to equilibrium. Honest feedback fosters constructive dialogue, leads to healthier family dynamics, and promotes the self-actualization (realization of the full potential) of each family member. This leads to homeostasis.

3) Third, we can provide examples to illustrate how these concepts can be used in family and marital therapy.

The stage can be set within the first session:

a) Social stage: this is where every member of the family is gathered with the therapist, and everyone introduces themselves.

b) Problem stage: the problem is stated, with each family member allowed to speak briefly and honestly about their thoughts.

3) Interactional Stage: this stage allows the family members to interact with each other to solve the problem. This is a crucial stage for the therapist because such open interaction allows the therapist to observe the dynamics of the family and form his/her hypotheses.

4) Goal-setting stage: each family member is given homework. Everyone must come back for the next session with ideas on how they can individually contribute to the resolution of the family issue.

The above four stages during the first session illustrates the use of feedback from each unit (individual family member) to resolve tensions within the system (family). This feedback mechanism will be utilized during subsequent sessions. This is the heart of cybernetics.

What I have outlined for you will give your audience a zeitgeist (general idea) of your concepts; the above very simply illustrates the concept of cybernetics, where interaction between all family members changes the environment of the system. This interaction changes the status quo, and is therefore, termed as positive feedback. Some cybernetic models also take into account both current and historical dynamics within the family. Please refer to the sources below for further reading.

Bonus point: To keep your audience interested, present two important principles of cybernetics: equifinality and equipotentiality. Equifinality is how family members usually interact with each other. Equipotentiality is where family members can use the same type of interaction differently to bring about a more desired outcome.


Husband: You always spend your bonus on presents. You never think about investing for the future. That's so short-sighted.

Wife: Well, Christmas presents aren't cheap, you know. Besides, we need new curtains and the bathroom needs re-doing, you cheapskate.


Husband: I like that you are adding value to our home. It will make our home more attractive to buyers next year.

Wife: Oh,thanks! I think I will put some money aside each month towards remodeling out patio. That's going to look good when we sell.

I hope this helps. Thanks for the question.