Understanding and working with Stepfamilies

Module Sections:

Stepfamilies as Family Systems

Much of the literature on stepfamilies identifies systems theory as an informative lens for understanding and organizing work with complex stepfamily experiences. A systems lens acknowledges the mutual influences family members have on one another. The family members' ongoing interaction patterns represent more than the sum of the individual members that participate in those patterns. Additionally, systems theory describes the homeostatic quality of those family interaction patterns over time--family members tend to engage in behaviors that preserve established patterns.

Within the broad framework of systems theory, there is a more specific focus on the structure of the ongoing relationships within a stepfamily. The development, adaptations, and preservation of the family structure is demonstrated when the family members participate in the rules, roles, and hierarchies within the family system. The task of the stepfamily is comprised of establishing a new structure from the two previous family structural patterns. Assessments and interventions entail measuring the degree to which the family members are successful at their attempt to adapt previous patterns to create a new hybrid structure.

Even though power and hierarchy are very important aspects in all relationships, the focus of problems within a relationship is often on the causes rather than on the meaning of the issues and circumstances for the individual members. For this reason, we would like to introduce you to the Family FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) Model. This model provides a systemic tool to organize and prioritize therapeutic work that addresses family issues and facilitates the further development of the members' relationships with one another.

Audio Companion: Understanding Stepfamilies