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Strategic systemic approach and hypnosis

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      • Sylvie Malaval has worked for more than twenty years in the field of family relations and parenting. Today she works as an NLP therapist adopting a deeply systemic approach.

      Domestic violence constitutes a major societal issue requiring in-depth understanding. This article explores the systemic dimension of this violence, reviewing their origin, their function and their participation in therapeutic intervention.

      Family violence a societal issue

      Family violence: a societal issue 

      Beyond the ideology carried by society, gleaning the message that family life represents happiness and harmony, the reality can be very different. Indeed, altercations and quarrels punctuate daily life, which can seem classic in a home where each personality asserts itself. However, these conflicts must be evaluated in order to discern the level which can range from healthy aggression to excessive violent behavior. This analysis invites us to consider these family interactions in the light of the systemic approach.

      Systemic illumination of the family and violence

      The systemic approach: some concepts

      The systemic and strategic approach is the result of the meeting of different researchers who, in the 1950s, came together around the idea that human behavior was in fact interactional.

      The systemic approach is therefore developed around a circular vision of communication, thus taking into account the interdependence of elements where one creates the other and vice versa. Thus, the attitude of A acts on B and in return B acts on A then the process of circularity but also of feedback loops is illustrated: each intervention will modify the mechanism and make it evolve either in a negative feedback (reductive ) or positive (amplifying) feedback.

      This phenomenon is very important in the subject that interests us here, allowing us to observe situations rather in the form of sequences for which it is difficult to find the punctuation as the interactions influence each other.

      With the notion of “ circular causality ”, a situation, a problem, an effect, a state, is no longer considered as the consequence of an event, a succession of events or a behavior but as the result of a whole strong interactions between processes.

      Also based on the principle of equifinality, the approach considers systems as distinct having multiple abstract representations which, at a given moment in their history, will potentially engage in dysfunctional behaviors. 

      It should be noted, however, that certain recurring patterns could be identified in abusive family interactional patterns. Indeed, Barudy speaks of 4 recurring items such as deficiencies in “maternal” care, disorders of the family hierarchy, disorders of opening/closing of the system as well as disorders of the paternal function.

      The family: complex and interdependent system

      Thus, the systemic approach proposes a real paradigm shift, by considering the family as a system where each behavior, communication, change implies a modification of the entire system. This concept was built, in particular, on the contributions of Von Bertalanffy who explains in his systems theory that a system is a set of interacting elements and that these interactions are themselves interacting.

      To be functional, the system is based on a set of rules, roles and tasks that are more or less implicit and explicit, and accepted by all members of the system. It is on this condition that everyone ensures its preservation. Without an explicit framework, then certain members could imagine and take on roles and tasks which would not in principle be within their remit, such as, for example, the function of protecting their parent or being in a constant search for a framework by shaking up their parent. this up to a potential conflict.

      In family therapy , this fundamental concept will be applied in terms of open system and closed system. Thus, when this system is open, it is considered to be interrelated with the social system. In dysfunctional family situations, we observe a disorder in the management of the boundaries of the system which is often done at odds with what is expected. Thus, the system may tend to be particularly open and chaotic or, conversely, to operate in a closed and rigid manner.

      Seron and Wittezaele (2009) will talk about two homeostatic tendencies expressed when the family system feels threatened in its survival: the closing of barriers to defend itself or the implementation of different behaviors to “neutralize the aggression (argumentation, victimization, irony , “boycott” of interviews ...)”.

      Thus within a system where each behavior influences the whole, family violence can be seen as a homeostatic response aimed at maintaining a perceived balance in the family system.

      The systemic approach appreciates the family system both in its structure and in its dynamics. 

      Family dynamics and their life cycles

      The family will therefore adapt to external but also internal elements since within this unit many changes will make it evolve, forcing it to modify itself according to the stages inherent in its life cycle. Thus, these moments of adaptation can take the form of intra-family events (births, adolescence, departure of children, etc.) or be linked to the environment (loss or change of job, moving).

      It is when these periods of imbalance occur that there is a breakdown in homeostasis . The family system will ardently mobilize its energy in search of a reorganization and thus a new balance.

      Thus, the cycles of family life will result in the alternation between these different phases which will nourish and grow the system. The homeostasis phase allows a return to balance with new bases and the integration of a modified “status”.

      Carter and McGoldrick (1980) highlighted that the moment for change is characterized by elements such as discontinuity, disruption, chaos and crisis. This is a period of transition where a symptom may emerge.  

      Thus, the appearance of a symptom in one of the members of the family can provide a function: that of reflecting the deep discomfort experienced by the family system and its difficulty in getting through the course imposed by the life cycle. Abuse can then express a crisis in this life cycle. Here, the absence of a structuring framework generates a pervasive insecurity which itself complicates the ability to define each person's limits.

      In a home, tensions and conflicts are an integral part of daily life, but it is essential to distinguish between healthy aggression and excessive violent behavior. This analysis requires a systemic approach, considering aggression as an interrelational rather than individual component.

      aggression within the family

      Aggression within the family: necessity or open door to violence?

      Aggression, often perceived negatively, can actually play a functional role in the regulation of family relationships. This instinctual dimension must be understood in its social and family context, where it often expresses unresolved needs and tensions.

      Different perspectives will support a positive dimension of aggressive energy: Freud speaks of aggressiveness as a force that is part of a struggle of the ego essential to the conservation and affirmation of its being. In this continuity, in the 1950s, Perls located aggressiveness as a driving force, a “moving towards” which marks an action and positions the subject in a positive dynamic. Likewise, Delville (2007) returns to the postulate of the authors Perls, Hefferline and Goodman and cites: “aggressiveness has a positive function for the individual, that of defending his integrity, his existence, of asserting his difference, in the face of to a hostile or indifferent environment.

      Here the question of aggression is only located as an internal state of a person and not in an environment. However, it is in this context that this component must be placed. Indeed, it is in contact and interactions that aggressive energy is deployed. Jeammet (1999) places aggressiveness at the heart of the relationship by indicating that “Aggressiveness is necessary for any living relationship: it is the place of self/other tension, where our difference of point of view, of sensitivity, is expressed. of interest which will allow a search for compromise, after the confrontation"

      It is appropriate to take into account the instinctual dimension specific to each being or, as Bergeret , this famous “fundamental violence” which he describes as “violent, natural, innate, universal and primitive instinct in the service of self-preservation and which is "origin in the very first stages of the life of the little man where only the self/non-self distinction exists and where there is therefore no question of intentionality". Thus, during the different stages of his development, the child will experience his impulses, his aggressiveness through his relationships and thus mentally develop tolerated behaviors. It will thus integrate a hierarchy of levels of aggression and potential conflicts which will participate in its process of socialization and adjustment of the “right distance”. Already at the end of the 19th century, the Darwinian contribution introduced this social dimension to aggressiveness by indicating that it allows for the organization of individuals.

      Thus, it is within the family that the human being and therefore the child will experience the first limits and rules. The first altercations will allow him to internalize the authorized or unauthorized acts, thus defining the territory specific to each person. This is a real early learning experience in the individual's life since he or she will have to deal with these impulses and channel his or her impulsiveness. These frustrations will come to meet a framework which, depending on the response made by those around them, will allow them to internalize a relationship to the singularity of each person and to “living together”. Without this, family balance, and later relationships outside the home, are jeopardized and can result in a particularly rigid relationship with others. Thus, its socialization will only take place at the cost of this submission to collective and common rules.  

      Possible flaws in this transmission process will generate dysfunctions since the authority model will not be integrated by the individual. This could concern the denial of parental authority as well as, in a much broader vision, that of laws relating to human relationships.  

      Thus, these different insights clarify the notion of aggressiveness as an intrinsic component of the human being. Its understanding is necessarily established in an interactional framework, thus allowing the communication process to establish the necessary adjustments to functional social relationships.  

      Anger can therefore be a functional emotion but must not reach a certain degree otherwise it can lead to dysfunctional behavior. Some authors have provided a reading of the different scales and the behaviors associated with them in order to evaluate them, in particular through a classification.

      Classification of violence

      Family violence can take different forms: physical, psychological, sexual, etc. Neglect and financial violence must also be taken into account as violence that can be committed between family members.

      It seems complicated to dissociate the violence as they are so intertwined. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that physical or sexual violence does not have an impact on the psychological dimension of the subject or that psychological pressure at work, for example, will not impact the physiological dimension of the person, such as for example difficulty sleeping or eating disorders.

      Understanding the different forms of violence is relevant in order to refine the identification of possible dysfunctions. Perrone (2022) poses four presuppositions which allow the notion of violence to be included in a systemic dynamic as we look at it here. Thus, it brings the idea, in its first two hypotheses, that it is essential to see violence as an interactional phenomenon involving the responsibility of each person, to be differentiated from legal responsibility. This notion of responsibility is to be seen in terms of commitment and involvement in the relationship and joins the third hypothesis which indicates that “any adult individual with sufficient capacities for an independent life is the guarantor of his own security”. Through these first assumptions, Perrone therefore introduces the notion of actor subject into the relationship.

      The last presupposition advances that “any individual can be violent in different modalities or manifestations” introducing the notion of context in which violent behavior can manifest itself. 

      Perrone also talks about the aggressiveness scale: a concept which indicates that we are not all equipped in the same way in terms of our aggressive competence. When the individual is located in the highest spheres of this scale, then we speak of violence of which he will distinguish 3 types of models which succinctly correspond to “aggression violence”, “punishment violence” and finally, “violence reprisals” which Perrone also previously named “Punishment violence with latent symmetry” and which comes as a continuation of punishing violence unjustly suffered. Here, the person who suffers, unable to defend himself, resists. She has not lost all self-esteem. The person maintains a core of symmetry that feeds on hatred and resentment.  

       Thus, if we return to violence carried out in an intra-family context, these different models can be observed over the life cycle of the family and therefore depending on the age of the child. Indeed, if the posture of submission present in the “violence punishment” diagram can be observed when the child is young and passively supports the violence of his parent; this could then turn into retaliation or even aggression. Indeed, the child who has lived with a feeling of injustice may, as he grows up, see it evolve into anger or even a desire for revenge. Thus, the balance of power is likely to change. Not having been “equipped” to express themselves and regulate this type of situation through words, the child will then potentially experience verbal and/or behavioral aggression.  

      This aggressiveness can then be expressed towards his family, his peers but also against himself, thus responding to the family system of which he is a part. 

      The function of the symptom in the service of the system

      Dysfunctional behaviors within the family can have a social and metaphorical function, revealing underlying problems. Understanding these functions is crucial to directing therapeutic intervention toward lasting change.     

      Haley (1980) explained that "for the first time, it came to be thought that an individual's mental processes and internal anxiety were responses to the type of communication system in which he was immersed."

      Thus, it is observed that the individual behaves in correlation with the family mode of interactions – however maladaptive it may be. His behavior, which may seem abnormal and/or singular, is therefore in fact an appropriate response to his environment. This is why it will be appropriate to direct therapeutic support towards changing the organizational structure of the family context which, following systemic logics, implies changes in the system and therefore in the behavior of its members.  

      The individual can develop different attempts at regulation to protect and stabilize his family. Thus, violent behavior can reflect a desire to divert attention from the family conflict as well as to require that someone take care of it. This dysfunctional behavior can be seen as an attempt to change a distressing situation where any exit seems improbable.   

      “It is easier to say that an individual is the cause of a problem than to think of it in terms of one step in a repetitive cycle in which everyone participates” (Haley, 1980)

      Thus, Haley resituates the function of this dysfunctional behavior in “a real communication value” from which he deduced two main functions which he names:

      - “Social function” which places deviant behavior as an aid to maintaining the stability of the group, 

      - “Metaphorical function” which here resituates deviant behavior as the bearer of a message intended for loved ones but also potentially intended for people outside the system.

      The metaphorical function can be a valuable indication of what is happening, but it seems wise for the therapist to retain this meaning. On the one hand because a behavior can have several meanings and above all to maintain a therapeutic alliance avoiding any harmful resistance to leading to change. Indeed, certain correlations may not be very well received by the group which is potentially already in a dynamic of denial or dissimulation.

      The intervention of the third party, and thereby the manifestation of a developing symptom, will allow a necessary opening. The symptom therefore indeed has a function: that of creating a crisis situation. It is through this crisis situation that therapeutic intervention can potentially find its place.  

      Overcoming stigmas for creative repair

      The subject of domestic violence still remains a topical theme today and regularly returns to the forefront: proof of a desire to improve its treatment and an awareness of the inadequacies. Thus, although awareness of violence is growing at the societal level and field contacts are increasingly trained: supporting families with violent interactions remains a challenge.  

      Indeed, understanding the relational mechanisms that give rise to violence within the system seems to me to be an inevitable prerequisite for believing in a family's capacity for repair. In this way, we will understand the importance of increasing the training of support institutions and professionals. This knowledge would make it possible to overcome the still too present stigmatization of certain family “profiles”.  

      Of course, institutional violence must also be put into context: services under pressure from heavy administrative procedures and which would really need time to respite, thus opening up the discernment and distancing necessary for such support. These same supports which can resonate with professionals faced with this type of situation.   

      By naming, documenting and assimilating the mechanisms involved, the speaker will be able to offer non-stigmatizing support. He will then have the resources to open up to the uniqueness of this family by proposing a “humanizing network” focused on the skills of the family system. Bateson points out : whenever “these pathological aspects can be avoided, then the experience is likely to result in creativity”. It is by relying on the resources of families and by promoting their skills that creative solutions will emerge. It seems essential to me in this perspective to understand how the individual, through his singularity as well as that of his family history, is exposed to a vulnerability but also to a creativity that is specific to him.

      So-called violent transactional families often come into therapy through a forced approach. A constraint which ultimately was not requested by the family itself or at least by one of the members? If we change our angle of view, isn't the child who denounces violence, who endorses the symptom, in demand? When he introduces the law into the family system, is he not doing it to introduce change?  

      We can see here a form of creativity, of inventiveness, provoking innovation in chaos. Cyrulnik speaks to us of “springs” which in the chaos of life come to provide constructive responses.

      Thus, by changing our view of the individual, of the family; the systemic approach does not point out a problem as a negative point but as an entry point and an opportunity for change. Through this approach, it mobilizes the subjects making them actors and responsible for their history. It is by opening up to this collective and active responsibility that the stakeholders will return the power of action to the family.


      Barudy, J. (2007). The invisible pain of the child: An ecosystem approach to maltreatment . Toulouse: Erès.

      Delville, J. (2007). Aggression, violence and therapeutic relationship. Notebooks of Gestalt therapy , 21, 119-140.

      Haley, J. (1980). "Leaving Home: The Therapy of Disturbed Young People"

      Jeammet, N. (1999). Necessary hatred . Presses Universitaires de France.

      Perrone, R. (2022). Violence and sexual abuse in the family. Understanding the mechanisms to support victims and attackers, Paris: ESF Éditeur.

      Seron, C., Wittezaele, J. (2009). Help or control: Therapeutic intervention under constraint. From Boeck Superior.   

      Where to train in strategic systemic therapy?

      LACT offers several live certified web training courses with 50 international trainers

      Generalist systemic training

      DU relationship clinic with the University of Paris 8

      Clinical Master of Giorgio Nardone LACT/CTS

      A team of more than
      50 trainers in France
      and abroad

      of our students satisfied with
      their training year at LACT *

      International partnerships

      The quality certification was issued under
      the following category of actions: Training action

      A team of more than
      50 trainers in France
      and abroad

      of our students satisfied with
      their training year at LACT *

      International partnerships

      The quality certification was issued under
      the following category of actions: Training action


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