"It was a stunning understanding that, apparently, people are doing what they are doing, as
a reaction to the actions
of other people..."

System strategic counseling

This counseling method is focused on problem-solving. The major representatives of strategic systems consulting such as M. Bowen, J. Haley, K. Madanes, S. Minukhin, M. S. Palazzolli and others relied on systems theory in their work, they were developing the experience of Gregory Bateson and Palo Alto`s group and Milton Erickson.

1) Systems theory derives from cybernetic theory (see N. Wiener, Cybernetics, Wiley, New York, 1948).
“According to this theory, for the first time it became possible to consider human beings not as a separately from each other, but as a group where everyone reacts
in such a way as to sustain homeostasis, and therefore the behavior has a reason connected with the present. It was stated that the stability of the family system
is maintained by self-correcting processes, and when trying to change anything, these processes are being activated. The idea that the family, or any other group,
is a system supported by a feedback process has brought another dimension
to explaining human behavior. It was a stunning understanding that, apparently, people are doing what they are doing, as a reaction to the actions of other
people... ”.
The main advantage of systems theory, according to J. Haley, is that it gives opportunity to predict certain events.

2) Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) an outstanding anthropologist, biologist, cyberneticist. Organized the famous Palo Alto Research Project since 1952 till 1962. Contributors to the project were Gregory Bateson, John Wickland, Jay Haley, as well as Don Jackson and William Fry. Over 10 years of its work, this group has published more than 70 articles and books, with special attention paid
to schizophrenia, hypnosis and psychological counseling. The main object
of research in this project was the communication paradox.
In 1956, the Palo Alto group published the double bind concept, it was not a theory of psychological counseling, but became an integral part of it. The double bind concept contained the idea of ​​levels of communication, "it also incorporated
the possibility of conflict between these levels, causing a paradox or a connection when none of the possible reactions is suitable." The concept of communication levels made the counselor pay attention to every movement, every gesture, every intonation of the client. The counselors had to take into account that the message can be anything, even silence and immobility, that the message can be multi-level, i.e. metaphorical and contain a contradiction.2

3) Milton Erickson - the pioneer of systemic and strategic councelling - developed a specific approach and diverse intervention strategies, depending on what kind of problem he was dealing with. Erickson believed that all problems are both unique and universal and can be solved in many ways. In his opinion, clients tend to perceive their problems as a trap, from which there is only one way out and that is unknown to them, but in fact they have a wide range of alternatives.
He energetically interfered to neutralize symptoms and to encourage the client to behave in a new, more adaptive way. Unlike most counselors, who believed that the client was responsible for the success of the counseling, Erickson believed that he was fully responsible for the outcome of the counseling.
His practice is characterized by two approaches that had a significant impact
on other strategic counselors:
1) the use of indirect methods of influence (paradoxical interventions);

2) acceptance of everything that the client offers.

The theoretical justification of the strategic approach

The essence of the strategic approach is the development of a strategy for solving problems, because the changes in the system are more important than understanding of the causes of disruptions.

The most important thing in counseling is to change rules, habits, decisions, etc. Strategic counselors believe that even small changes can provide problem resolution. Strategic intervention is quite intense and brief. The counselor attacks the link in the system responsible for the formation of a symptom using a circular model of causality.

Strategic counselors study the etiology of the problem on a smaller scale than psychoanalysts: they investigate the factors that ensure its stability, which is supported by the existing interaction in the system, and therefore seek to identify and change "problem-supportive behavior". It can be described in different ways depending on how many people the counselor considers participating in behaviors that support the problem. Most important for the maintenance of the problem are the triad sequences described by Murray Bowen (1966), Gerald Zach (1971), Salvador Minukhin (1974), J. Haley (1976), and Lynn Hoffman (1981).

M. Selvini-Palazzoli has formulated four principles of consulting the systems:

1. Generating hypotheses. Counselors should think carefully before each session, put forward a number of hypotheses for forthcoming interventions.

2. Circularity. We are talking about relationships and interactions in the system, and not about the characteristics of individuals, so the system counselor asks about the nature of their relationship, and not about the feelings of every participant. Typically, each member of the system is asked to describe and comment on the relationship in the dyad, on the assumption that a third party can provide a more effective description. Moreover, such a description reveals the dynamics of the triad.

3. Neutrality. Application of this principle allows counselors to accept both the system as a whole and all its members as they are. Regardless of how the members of the advisory team feel, they create balanced support for all members of the system.

4. Positive connotation. Symptoms play the role of an adaptation mechanism, so they are described favorably. The counselor understands that strange, overtly symptomatic behavior of someone in the system and distorted communication represent an attempt to maintain coherence in the system. S. Minukhin called the symptom "quasi-glue" that holds the system together.

Strategic systems counselors prioritize four elements: 1) symptoms, 2) metaphors, 3) hierarchy, and 4) power.

[1] J.Haley. Leaving Home: The Therapy of Disturbed Young People, McGraw-Hill Co., New York, NY, 1980, pp.14-15.

[2] G. Bateson, D.D. Jackson, J. Haley, and J.H. Weakland, “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia,” Behavioral Science, 1: 251-264, 1956.

J. Haley, “Development of a Theory: A History of a Research Project,” C.E. Sluzky and D.C. Ransom (eds.), Double Bind, Grune & Stratton, New York, 1976.

“A Note on the Double Bind, 1962,” in Family Process, 2:154-161, 1963.

Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballantine, New York, 1972, Mind and Nature, Dutton, New York, 1979 (Gregory Bateson's main ideas).

The history of our acquaintance with a system strategic approach

"...This important event for us took place in October 2005. Eileen Bobrow came to Tomsk and conducted a three-day seminar on the System Strategic Approach..."
My wife, Julia Kuzina, and I have heard about this approach for the first time from our American teacher of psychology Richard Conner. On the spot I would like to express my deep gratitude to this specialist who laid all the foundations of our education in the field of psychological counseling. For a while we were mastering this approach under the guidance of Richard, and after that we wanted to refer to the primary sources. We entered “system strategic counseling” into the search bar and found two centers: in Milan and in Palo Alto. The Milan center was directed by MS Palazzoli and the Palo Alto center by Eileen Bobrow. Since we did not know Italian, and since Eileen had a clearly Russian surname, we decided to write to the USA centre. The Center for System Strategic Consulting in Palo Alto was based at the world-famous Mental Research Institute (MRI). We didn't get a response to our first letter, so we decided to call MRI. Surprisingly, the secretary answered us immediately and kindly agreed to provide us with Eileen Bobrow's personal email address. The second letter this time we personally wrote to Eileen, and it turned out that her ancestors emigrated from Russia, our country is a subject of her interest, and she is ready to come and conduct a training. This important event for us took place in October 2005. Eileen Bobrow came to Tomsk and conducted a three-day seminar on the System Strategic Approach. The video recordings of real cases seemed particularly interesting part on this seminar.
Then Eileen invited us to take part in an internship at MRI. Our internship took place in July and August 2006. During the internship, we watched sessions with supervision time and again. Included supervision is one of the features of the systemic strategic and short-term approaches. It means that supervision is carried out directly during the therapeutic session. The supervisor himself and a group of trainees observe the session from behind a one-way mirror (now cameras aimed at both the consultant and the client are already used for this). Of course, clients are aware of all
of this, and they also know that they are being advised by
an intern, so the price for a consultation is reduced. From time to time, the supervisor provides real-time recommendations to the therapist. Previously, this was done by telephone, but in modern conditions it is done through an earpiece in the consultant's ear.

Eileen Bobrow and her trainees

We were lucky to watch the psychotherapy sessions of such masters of strategic and short-term approaches as Richard Fish, Karin Schlanger, Eileen Bobrow, Reed Lesinger, James Kyme, Neil Schiff, etc. We visited the MRI-friendly Youth Contact Center in Portland, Oregon and, together with the psychologists of the center, participated in a training in system strategic counseling, which was conducted by Eileen. In addition, we met with psychology students at the University of San Francisco and gave them an NLP master class, as well as a class for MRI interns on strategies for success in life.

Youth Contact Center in Portland (Oregon)

left to right: Andrey and Julia Kuzin`s, Judith - the director of the Center

During the internship, we learned a lot, but the main thing is that we felt confident in our abilities,
we realized that we are mature consultants who can advise no worse than our foreign colleagues.
In 2007, we entered into a cooperation agreement with MRI and became full-fledged representatives
of MRI in Russia.
And in 2009 we went back to the USA. During our second trip, initially we went to Portland to the Youth Contact center for a three-day seminar by Eileen Bobrow, and conducted an NLP training for the psychologists of the center. Then for 5 days, together with Eileen Bobrow, we were teaching NLP and Ericksonian hypnosis to an international group of psychologists. We have been training psychologists from Austria, Spain, Greece, Vietnam and the USA. During this visit, we were also lucky to be trained at a seminar by Jerome Price, a well-known specialist in the United States for working with aggressive teenagers and their families.

But the main goal of our trip this time was participation in the international scientific and practical conference dedicated to the 50th anniversary of MRI.

Conference at MRI, Andrey and Julia Kuzin deliver their speeches

We delivered speeches in two sections "Individual Consulting" and "Organizational Consulting". During the conference, we were especially impressed by the speeches of Chloe Madanes, Michelle Weiner-Davies, Philip Zimbardo, Jeffrey Zaig.

Many years have passed, but we still constantly use a system strategic approach in counseling, teach it to our students and hope that our Association will give a new impetus to the development of this approach: new scientific research, articles, popularization of the approach among Russian psychologists.

Contact us:
Russia, Moscow
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