When I first started working with people, I was focused on connecting with children and families and helping them get back on their feet and navigate systems of care which were often quite damaged. Later when I went to social work graduate school and learned about individual, family, community and government systems, so much echoed in my mind, with the realities that I had been working in earlier on, and I knew I was in the right place for furthering my education. Even though over time I’ve progressively shifted, and focused in on working with individuals and couples, my understanding and belief in the importance of a systems perspective never waned, and has actually amplified over time.
Everyone and everything can be looked at and understood on the level of the individual component, or can be looked at as part of the system or systems which the individual is embedded within.
Focusing in, is helpful. Panning out is also essential.
Most of the people who I’ve worked with came into treatment already with, or very early on in treatment developed, an awareness of the different levels of operation – inside of themselves and other individuals, within families, communities and in other systems. Being able to switch or flow between perspectives as we do our work of deepening understanding of a person’s experience, is a way of working which is illuminating and helpful.
When people are able to move between levels and perspectives, while also staying rooted in their own personal foundation, they tend to be able to cope with complexity and adversity, and to grow in satisfying ways.
Early life experiences, familial, cultural, educational and societal experiences come together in creating a space in which each person’s identity begins to coalesce. We do the best we can to get on the road to knowing ourselves in ways that hold us together, while at the same time being open to growth and change… but sometimes we get stuck. Achieving a balance between rootedness and flexibility can be a challenge.
Through a process of growth – with time and practice, our sense of self can develop and become more clear and reliable. Therapy can help a person on this road, by creating a consistent collaborative space for deep reflection and questioning; and substantive elaboration, exploration and feedback.