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Couples Therapy: A Holistic Approach Informed by Systemic Family Therapy Theories

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Maintaining a healthy and fulfilling relationship requires effort, commitment, and effective communication. However, even the strongest couples encounter challenges along the way. In such times, couples therapy can provide invaluable support, offering a safe space for partners to explore their issues and find constructive solutions. Informed by various systemic family therapy theories, couples therapy embraces a holistic approach that addresses not only the individuals but also the larger system in which they function. In this article, we will delve into some key theories that inform couples therapy, including structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, Bowen family systems theory, attachment theory, polyvagal theory, and solutions-focused brief therapy.

Structural Family Therapy

Structural family therapy, pioneered by Salvador Minuchin, focuses on the dynamics within a family system. This approach recognises that a couple's struggles are often intertwined with the larger family context. Therapists using this theory examine the family's structure, boundaries, and hierarchies to understand how they impact the couple's relationship. By identifying and addressing unhelpful patterns, couples can reorganise their family structure to promote useful communication, flexibility, and emotional connections.

Strategic Family Therapy

Strategic family therapy, associated with Jay Haley and Cloé Madanes, emphasises problem-solving and intervention strategies. This approach seeks to shift couples' interactions by introducing specific tasks or assignments to challenge dysfunctional patterns. Therapists employing strategic therapy theories may assign tasks designed to disrupt negative cycles and encourage alternative behaviours that help to achieve the the couple's goals. By focusing on present issues and developing practical solutions, couples can break free from repetitive patterns and develop more constructive ways of relating.

Bowen Family Systems Theory

Bowen family systems theory, developed by Murray Bowen, examines the interplay between individuals and their family systems. This theory emphasises the importance of understanding the multi-generational context in which couples operate. By exploring family patterns, emotional triangles, and differentiation of self, couples gain insight into how their own behaviours and beliefs are influenced by their family history. This approach encourages couples to develop a stronger sense of self and autonomy, fostering healthier relationships with their partners and families.

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory, initially formulated by John Bowlby and further expanded by Mary Ainsworth, focuses on the bond between individuals. It posits that early attachment experiences impact an individual's adult relationships. Couples therapists drawing from attachment theory explore the attachment styles of each partner, recognising how these styles may manifest in their interactions. By fostering secure attachment and addressing any attachment-related wounds, couples can cultivate greater intimacy, trust, and emotional safety.

Polyvagal Theory

Polyvagal theory, introduced by Stephen Porges, emphasises the role of the autonomic nervous system in regulating social engagement and emotional responses. Understanding the polyvagal theory can help couples recognise and manage their physiological and emotional reactions during conflicts. Therapists may employ grounding techniques, mindfulness exercises, and co-regulation strategies to promote emotional safety, connection, and a sense of calm, thus reducing conflict escalation.

Solutions-Focused Brief Therapy

Solutions-focused brief therapy, developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, focuses on clients' strengths and resources rather than dwelling on problems. Therapists employing this approach guide couples to envision their preferred future and identify small, actionable steps towards achieving it. By emphasising solutions rather than dwelling on past grievances, couples can cultivate a more positive outlook and develop practical strategies for change.

Couples therapy informed by systemic family therapy theories offers a comprehensive and nuanced approach to relationship issues. By considering the larger system in which couples operate, therapists can help partners understand how their family dynamics, attachment styles, and nervous system responses influence their relationship.

Here at AkindaCo, we see couples and utilise our integrative model, drawing from the above approaches in order to work towards the your vision of change in your relationship. Our couples therapists have experience in working with couples from the LGBTQIA+ community, neurodivergent individuals or couples, or non-monogomous or polyamorous relationships. We have both male and female couples therapists available.

To book in for Couples Therapy, contact or on 08 7081 5886.


Carr, A. (2019). Couple therapy, family therapy and systemic interventions for adult‐focused problems: the current evidence base. Journal of Family Therapy, 41(4), 492–536.

He, Y., Fisher, A. R., Swanson, S. E., & Lebow, J. L. (2022). Integrative Systemic Therapy: Integrating Individual, Couple, and Family Therapy. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 43(1), 9–21.

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