Systemic Family Coaching & Training
Systems 9: Solve Family Problems © Martyn Carruthers


A family provides a safe place to nurture children to maturity.

Contact us for help on making family rules, communicating rules, 
enforcing rules … and punishments.

You are a member of many overlapping relationship systems. You are at least a member of your family of origin, your friends, your culture and your country. Each system creates, communicates and enforces rules, some of which will contradict other rules. Conflicts are inevitable. We help people explore and change how their relationships are affected by often-unspoken rules.

If your parents never had children, chances are that you won’t either!

Virginia Satir introduced systemic family coaching (see her book New Peoplemaking). Satir showed how individuals respond to family dynamics. Her systems theory showed that a system is more than the sum of its parts, and that challenges faced by a family are not only the challenges of its members. Our family coaching examines rules, roles and tasks; and explores disruptions such as divorce, illness and death, as well as negative emotions and relationship conflicts.

In my family, emotional displays and abuse occurred often and impulsive 
behavior was normal … the consequences of my parents’ immaturity included 
addictions and mental illness. I repeated my parents behaviors with my own children.

Our training supports the progressive integration of theory with practice – we use demonstrations, case histories and practical exercises to encourage healthy change as well as learning.

Training Overview: Systemic Family Coaching

1. Expect complexity

Our systems coaching deals with complexity and can be adapted to all human relationship systems. These skills are useful in predicting and maintaining couple, family and team behavior, and organizational development. Our assessment differs from, and can be integrated with, individual assessment. We excel in helping people manage negative emotions and solve relationship problems.

2. Perceive a family as a hierarchy of interrelated subsystems

Most human systems have subsystems – families have parents, in-laws and children separated by often-unspoken rules about who does what with whom and to whom. Common coaching goals are to confirm roles and set boundaries between subsystems – between groups of family or team members.

3. Examine the influence of each member of a system

Human systems are often controlled by dysfunctional people. Families often succumb to covert control by a victim, and adapt to victim-like behavior with lies, denial, excuses and justifications. A victim can destabilize a family system (a parent may act like a child, or a child may act like a parent). Systems coaching can find the right place for dysfunctional people in the hearts and minds of healthier members.

4. Who protects the family?

As you probe into family dynamics, a family member may demand attention, to distract you and to protect the family’s status quo. See the family as a system rather than as isolated individuals … you might praise the family for being so closely-connected, and that member for being so protective.

5. Emphasize “these things cause each other”

Parental stress may result in parent-child entanglements, with coalitions against other family members (see Parental Alienation). Example: if a victim-identified Mom explodes with anger, Dad and Daughter may become closer. Individual coaching could resolve Mom’s identification, while systems coaching would encourage Mom and Dad to communicate to their children better about parenthood issues.

6. Focus on future solutions rather than on past conflicts

Many couples argue about how problems started. Instead, we focus on solutions. Although genetics and family stress play their parts; we focus on solutions. Perhaps offer couple counseling to improve parental communication – and that helps them manage arguments, nagging, etc.

7. Use negative feedback loops to promote stability and positive feedback loops to promote change

When an addicted family member stops drinking or using, family members may try to push him back into addiction to avoid destabilizing the system. Use negative feedback loops to help prevent this.

If an argument between children escalates into a parental fight, a child may try to calm the parents back into homeostasis. Positive feedback loops may make such explosions unnecessary.

8. Use integrated feedback loops to express wholeness

Emotional or verbal abuse can escalate from unwanted advice through criticism to insults. Abuse leads to more abuse. Use systems coaching to help people manage their emotions and improve their relationships. As their partnership improves, the parents better solve problems. Their affection can deepen and their children can carry a blueprint of happy partnership into their future relationships.

9. Family members can take responsibility for their own healing

People who grew up in refugee camps may want a happy family as much as people who were raised by loving parents. How people choose to perceive their original conditions is more important than those conditions. We coach people to own their emotions so that they can move on; rather than becoming chronic victims stuck in traumatic and abusive memories (often called PTSD).

10. First-order change helps families stabilize. Second-order change helps families actualize. Third-order change triggers second-order change.

Events such as marriage, birth of children, children starting school, children leaving home,etc. often coincide with emotional stress.

First-order change implies minor improvements to extend knowledge and skills.Second-order change implies major changes that require new knowledge and skills. 
Third-order change
 implies a system that can initiate, evaluate and 
adjust second-order changes.


We affirm the five freedoms described by family therapist Virginia Satir:

  1. The freedom to feel what one feels, rather than what one should feel.
  2. The freedom to think what one thinks, rather than what one should think.
  3. The freedom to perceive what is here and now, rather than what should be.
  4. The freedom to choose what one wants, rather than what one should want.
  5. The freedom to choose one’s self-actualization, rather than playing a rigid role.

Families work best when subsystem boundaries and interactions are clear, chains of authority are visible, rules are spoken yet flexible and stressors are confronted.

Members of healthy families can speak openly and affectionately to one another. They know who’s responsible for what. They can freely discuss what behavior is permitted and what isn’t, and they have flexible roles.

This training offers the essentials of systemic family coaching. We build on your skills to explore the roles of individual and couple counseling and relationship ecology, family roles, family rules and inter-generational enmeshment.

Contact us to solve emotional and relationship problems.