Function of the Symptom in Family Systems Theory
The Function of the Symptom is a foundational concept of family therapy. The concept extends family systems theory, which posits that parts of the family system are interrelated, and change in one part of the system brings about changes in other parts of the system (Bowen 1974). The notion emerged when family therapists observed that the presenting problems of family members play an important role in maintaining family stability or homeostasis. Family theorists termed this pattern the Function of the Symptom.
Early family theorists believed that the client with the presenting problem in a family, formally known as the “identified patient,” diverted conflict in the family. Diverting conflict helped maintain homeostasis in families. Articulating this pattern, family theorists in the 1950s developed the concept the “Function of the Symptom” (Jackson 1957). The idea that families need their problems to preserve stability can be linked to several early...
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