Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Circular Causality in Family Systems Theory

  • Lisa KelledyEmail author
  • Brandon Lyons
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_248

Name of Theory

Circular Causality


Circularity; Mutual causality; Pseudo-feedback; Reciprocal causality; Reciprocity; Recursive relationship


Circular causality is a concept that creates a shift in how we understand interactions. Traditionally, a linear continuum consisted of a definitive start and end point where family issues were thought to be rooted to a singular cause. The concept of circular causality helps to move away from the traditional way of viewing interactions to a more relational context focusing on the interactions between two events.

Circular causality focuses on the reciprocal relationship between two events. The perspective of reciprocal relationships stems from the foundations of cybernetics, which refers to the regulatory action where one part of the system impacts another. A reciprocal perspective moves away from the mechanical way of viewing systems (individualistic) toward a relational viewpoint with a focus on interactional patterns between...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bateson, G., & Donaldson, R. (1991). A sacred unity: Further steps to an ecology of mind (1st ed.). New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  2. Becvar, R., & Becvar, D. S. (1982). Systems theory and family therapy: A primer. Lanham: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  3. Sholevar, G. P., & Schwoeri, L. D. (2003). Textbook of family and couples therapy: Clinical applications (1st ed.). Arlington: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.Google Scholar
  4. Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics or control and communication in the animal and the machine. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northcentral UniversitySan DiegoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • David Kearns
    • 1
  • Bahareh Sahebi
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Family MedicineUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.The Family InstituteNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA