This paper seeks to describe the value of utilizing family systems theory as a meta‐theory in psychotherapy with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, at different stages of the family life cycle.
Family systems theory prioritizes the reciprocal impact of the familial group and the individual. As people with intellectual and developmental disabilities often sustain high involvement with their families throughout their lives, family systems theory might be especially relevant to their mental health treatment. In addition, because people with intellectual and developmental disabilities often live in family‐like group settings and systems theory can be applied to family‐like groups, the theory is potentially even more widely applicable.
The case studies presented describe cases in which persons with intellectual disabilities or their families presented in psychotherapy with mental health or behavioral symptoms. The cases delineate the depathologizing effect of applying a family systems filter to the presenting problems, and the unique ways in which presenting problems may be more effectively addressed by shifting the group dynamics rather than treating only the individual symptoms.
Family systems theory is a well established school of psychotherapeutic treatment, but its value in treating individuals with intellectual disabilities is not well documented or explained. While there is literature on the challenges faced by families impacted by intellectual disability, there is little information, particularly in the USA, about the application of family systems theory to the dynamics of such families or about the benefit to the individual with intellectual disability of this approach to psychotherapy.
Hill‐Weld, J. (2011), "Psychotherapy with families impacted by intellectual disability, throughout the lifespan", Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 5 No. 5, pp. 26-33. https://doi.org/10.1108/20441281111180637
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