This paper set out to describe the value of using family systems theory as a meta-theory in psychotherapy with people with persons with learning disabilities and their families at different stages of the family life cycle.
Family systems theory views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It posits that changes in one person’s functioning will be followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others, suggesting an ever present interdependence, although of course families may vary in their degree of interdependence.
The author suggests that given that people with learning disabilities may often have high involvement with their families throughout their lives, family systems theory might be especially relevant to their mental health treatment. She also suggests that as adults with learning disabilities may well live in family-like group settings that this systems theory may potentially be more widely applicable.
The author describes a number of case studies of people with learning disabilities or their families who had presented to psychotherapy with mental health or behavioural issues.
She suggests that although family systems theory is a well established school of psychotherapeutic treatment, its value in treating individuals with learning has not been explored in the literature.
She concludes that the case studies presented outline the de-pathologising effect of applying a family systems filter to presenting problems which enables a shift in the group dynamics rather than treating only the individual symptoms.
Psychotherapy with families impacted by intellectual disability, throughout the lifespan, Hill-Weld J, in Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities 5, 5, 26-33