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What is a Systemic Approach?

Our Human Relationship System: 

Like a spider\’s web, all of life is interconnected.  Chaos theory and the famous ‘if a butterfly flaps its wing’ discoveries have proved this to us.  All of life is a system; incredibly complex systems upon systems, interwoven together.  

The Western world however tends to view the world through an Individual lense.  This view is attractive, as it allows us to see ourselves as individuals and separate to the systems of which we are a part, but it is also fundamentally flawed.  It is like thinking babies are produced on a production line, like a one off product or an object, when in fact we all enter the world through a family system, which belongs to a community system, a country system and the whole world system

We emerge in the world through a father, a mother and possibly siblings and our parents also belong to an extended network of other people going back generations. No human being is an island.

Internally we have our own thoughts, feelings and experiences, however, for survival we are socially hard wired with the ability to connect to other people’s feelings, emotions and energy etc. A baby is physically attached to its mother in the womb and although at birth they separate physically, for the first eighteen months of its life it’s totally dependent on its relationship with its mother or main caregiver(s) in order to be able to regulate its feelings and emotions etc and get all of its survival needs met. 

The formative experiences as a baby and child gives us a powerful sense of how we need to behave to feel a sense of safety and belonging to a system. They play an essential role in how we view our world (the systemic lense we see it through) and how we subsequently navigate and understand how to belong (or not) in other social systems too. 

As we grow up therefore; we navigate the world by unconsciously staying super aware of the social environment and these systems by constantly scanning to pick up cues, reading other people’s reactions and responses so we can also respond and react accordingly.

What does a Systemic ‘Approach’ Look Like?

Our predominantly LEFT brained (more consciously aware) world focuses on logic, rationale, data, evidence etc. However, it\’s our often unconscious RIGHT brain that picks up the more subtle emotions, feelings etc in the surrounding environment and the ‘web’ which connects our system and all the other ‘systems’ we are a part of.  This can be called the social field

Being more aware of the social field in Organisations means we can access ‘deeper drivers’ and underlying beliefs and loyalties which the unconscious parts of our brains are using to create our ‘actions and behaviours’. 

We have a tendency to rationalise these actions and behaviours as ‘necessary’ or ‘inevitable’, but they are in fact being motivated from past experiences and beliefs from the many ‘systems’ we’ve belonged to (of which we are not aware). 

Using the social field enables us to access its wisdom, we can then ‘loosen’ and release old outdated deeply ingrained patterns and allow space in the system for the new energy and resources to flow where they really need to.  

For instance, someone may discover that they still remain deeply attached to an old Manager who has left the organisation and therefore are struggling to connect to the new person in the role. Logically we tell ourselves that the person has gone, (as physically they have), however emotionally they may be finding it hard to let go. This could be for many reasons. They may have felt close to the Manager or felt seen and acknowledged by them in some way etc.

How Does The Systemic Approach Work?

It means that most people have to learn to practice accessing this often unconscious part of our self and we do this through what’s called the ‘felt sense’. Our felt sense tends to emerge through our sense of space, images, symbols, music, movement, metaphors, stories etc. Something which we often identify as creative or intuitive. It may feel strange at first, it\’s like using a part of our body we’ve never consciously used before. However, it\’s also a playful process that most people reconnect with very quickly and relatively easily..

A Systemic Approach uses a process that allows us to open up this new and exciting field to bring new insights and fresh energy to help resolve complex and confusing issues that we want to explore. 

It involves creating a separation between you and “the social field”,  so you can see the issue from multiple perspectives (like a 3D model), all at the same time. It clarifies much more quickly and efficiently the areas of stickiness and stuckness and enables you to safely and effectively see the whole picture so you can easily see the various pathways forward.  

The facilitator can support you in your own expertise of the ‘felt sense’ and intuitive understanding of the drivers, forces and dynamics at play.  This approach can give you huge insights and allow the Systemic Issues to come to resolution and fresh energy to emerge.

The development of online 3D software, such as ProReal  (https://www.proreal.world) allows people to easily practice either with a facilitator or on their own. Alternatively, one can work face to face, with people or objects, to create a human 3D model to access the social field too.

Why Would You Consider This Approach?

The systemic approach can be an excellent way forward when you’re facing an issue that either isn’t easy to fix, isn’t straight forward, or where there’s many issues at play and is complex.  It is also an approach which can ‘shift’ intransigent issues which seem ‘stuck’ or when you’ve tried other approaches and it still remains unresolved. 

Within the social field lies deeply held patterns that have been in place a long time (so are hard to change). These patterns can often be hard to see and change and like a stubborn knot, they may take some disentangling. 

Sometimes they are from previous generations and are linked to old unresolved, painful disruptive events that have either been forgotten or even hidden from view. 

For example, a death of a work colleague (which has not been grieved fully) or a round of redundancies that left the team with a sense of a void, or fearful of the future. These can leave subtle entanglements in the social field that, because the team or organisation has ‘moved on’ and it\’s now in the past, have been forgotten or faded from memory (but not fully resolved). 

What Does a Systemic Constellation Session Look Like?

A session always starts with a clear sense of what the issue is that needs exploring or resolving or a question that you want to explore.

The facilitator then helps identify what elements could be represented within the social field. 

You always start with a representative for you (as it is you who is bringing the issue). It could then include other elements such as other team members, departments, clients, policies, strategies, organisational vision, employees as a whole, the board, the shareholders, the stakeholders, the city, competitors etc. It could even include family members, past Directors etc.

It\’s important to start mapping small, with fewer elements as you’re looking for and noticing the subtle movements and shifts that happen as you bring each element into the picture. 

The whole process is completely controlled by you, not the facilitator.  This is fundamental to the process.  It is you who makes all the choices as to where to place the elements in the space and any movement is led only by you.

The facilitator holds the session and may offer their observations, however, their key role is to lead you through the session and hold a safe space for the deeper enquiry.  

What Happens Afterwards?

The process is a powerful one because not only are you working with your own inner system, you are also working subtly on the whole system. People are often surprised how the system often seems to move and change by itself through the process, often not needing any further action from you. This is why we call this a phenomenological approach. Our connection to the social field is backed up with the very latest neuroscience, however the process itself is experiential and  phenomenological and therefore remains somewhat of a mystery.

For that reason, depending on the issue and how deep it is, it can often be useful to allow the process to settle before you do anything else. You may want to take action after the session or even talk to others about the insights you have made, however you may also find that all you need to do is step back and let the process (and the Universe) do its ‘thing’.

June 2021

Final edit: Laila-Elisabeth Risdon

Image: Yuliya-pankevich 

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