Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

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

Negative Explanation in Family Systems Theory

  • Carissa D’AnielloEmail author
  • Stephen T. Fife
  • Maria Pelczar
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_291




Family systems theory and cybernetics are theories that can be used to explain how problems form and are maintained in human systems. Negative explanation is an aspect of cybernetic theory that emphasizes restraints. According to negative explanation, events take a particular course because they are constrained* from taking other courses (Breunlin 1999; White 1986). Alternatively, positive explanation seeks to determine the causes of particular events. Rather than focusing on “Why?”, negative explanation involves describing the constraints under which systems operate. Negative explanation allows therapists to better explain and understand family interactions by examining the constraints under which the family system operates (White 1986).

Theoretical Context for Concept

Negative explanation is a concept generally associated with cybernetic theory. Cybernetics, a subset of systems theory, is the study of self-regulating systems, which aims to understand...

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  1. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company.Google Scholar
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  3. Keeney, B. (1981). Bateson’s epistemology. Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies, 1(1), 45–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. White, M. (1986). Negative explanation, restraint, and double description: A template for family therapy. Family Process, 25, 169–184.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carissa D’Aniello
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stephen T. Fife
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maria Pelczar
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Nevada Las VegasLas VegasUSA
  2. 2.Texas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Eli Karam
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA