Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

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

Subsystem in Family Systems Theory

  • J. Gregory BriggsEmail author
  • David M. Morgan
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_309

Name of Concept



Subsystems are essentially systems within systems. Because all systems are ordered hierarchically, it is inevitable that subsystems will develop within a larger system (von Bertalanffy 1968). An individual may be a part of multiple subsystems. Common subsystems include parents, siblings, and parent-child relationships. Subsystems are defined by boundaries which indicate that each subsystem is distinct from the larger system as well as from other subsystems, while still recognizing their interrelatedness (Becvar and Becvar 1999). Such boundaries not only define the membership of subsystems but also the rules of interaction between those members. For example, the rules that govern the exchanges between parents differ from the rules that govern exchanges between siblings or exchanges between parents and children.

Theoretical Context for Concept

An emphasis on the importance of subsystems emerged early in the development of family therapy as pioneers...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Family ScienceLipscomb UniversityNashvilleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

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