Systems-Centred Theory and Practice: The Contribution of Yvonne Agazarian

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Systems-centered therapy (SCT) brings an innovative approach to clinical practice. Developed by Yvonne Agazarian, SCT introduces a theory and set of methods that put systems ideas into practice. The collection of articles in this book illustrates the array of clinical applications in which SCT is now used. Each chapter introduces particular applications of SCT theory or methods with specific examples from practice that help the theory and methods come alive for the reader across a variety of clinical contexts. This book will be especially useful for therapists and clinical practitioners interested in sampling SCT, for those who learn best with clinical examples, and for anyone with a serious interest in learning the systems-centered approach.

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CHAPTER ONE: Five papers from the Friends Hospital training series: Fall 1992 to Fall 1995

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Yvonne Agazarian, Ed.D., CGP, DFAGPA, FAPA

These are the original papers from the “Friends Series”, a training that was held once a month on Saturdays at the Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The series began in the early 1990's and continued through the decade with two generations of trainers taking up leadership roles. These papers represent some of the earliest descriptions of SCT methods and theory. The theoretical thinking and techniques that emerged during that period continue to be the backbone of the Theory of Living Human Systems and its Systems-Centered practice today.

These five papers were the first introduction to Systems-centered Therapy and Training at Friends Hospital, between 1992 and 1995. The five papers are: I: Functional Subgrouping, II: How to Develop a Working Group, III: Defense Modification, IV: Subgrouping in the Phases of Group Development, V: Building Blocks of a Theory of Living Human Systems and its Systems-Centered Practice.

* * *

Asking “why are you saying that?”

 

YVONNE AGAZARIAN: BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Agazarian, Y. M. (1968). A theory of verbal behavior and information transfer. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.

Agazarian, Y. M. (1969). A theory of verbal behavior and information transfer. Classroom Interaction Newsletter, 4 (2), 22–33.

Agazarian, Y. M. (1969). The agency as a change agent. In Goldberg, M. H. (Ed.), Blindness research: The expanding frontiers . University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Agazarian, Y. M. (1972). A system for analyzing verbal behavior (SAVI) applied to staff training in Milieu treatment. Devereux Schools Forum, 1 (1), 1–32.

Agazarian, Y. M. (1972). Communication through the group process: An approach to humanization. The Devereux Papers, 1 (1). Philadelphia: The Devereux Forum Press.

Agazarian, Y. M. (1982). Role as a bridge construct in understanding the relationship between the individual and group. In Pines, M. &Rafaelson, L. (Eds.), The individual and the group, boundaries and interrelations, Vol. I, Theory. New York: Plenum Press.

 

CHAPTER TWO: The radical innovation of subgroups

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Kenneth Eisold, Ph.D.

It is virtually axiomatic in our culture that groups are composed of individuals. If we ask how large a group is or how best to characterize it, we are surely thinking about the specific members that, we assume, make the group what it is. Other cultures, less focused on individuals and their differences, may have other ways of thinking about this, but this is our way.

Yet this way of thinking inevitably gives rise to a series of conflicts and dilemmas for those entering groups. How much of themselves will they have to give up to become members? What compromises will they have to make? What identities or characteristics will they be forced to assume in order to fit in? What other members will be competing for leadership and recognition? Who else is likely to grab the limited attention available? Who is likely to dominate? And then there are those who always seem to oppose group decisions, or just go on talking endlessly. What members will be marginalized, neglected? What members will come out on top?

 

CHAPTER THREE: Two perspectives on a trauma in a training group: the systems-centered approach and the theory of incohesion

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Susan P. Gantt, Ph.D., ABPP, CGP, FAGPA, FAPA Earl Hopper, Ph.D., MInstGA, CGP

Along with Yvonne Agazarian, Susan Gantt and Earl Hopper were interested in the similarities and differences between their respective theoretical and clinical approaches. Susan Gantt was working from the point of view of Agazarian's theory of living humans systems (TLHS) and its systems-centered therapy and training (SCT) (Agazarian, 1997) and Earl Hopper from the point of view of group analysis and psychoanalysis. Therefore, Susan and Yvonne made a tentative plan with Earl for him to observe the more advanced of two SCT groups who were meeting concurrently as part of their three-day training event. Unfortunately, we all failed to confirm the plan, and Susan, the leader of the SCT group that was to be observed, did not inform the group that Earl would be observing it. Thus, the group was completely unprepared by Susan for Earl's arrival and his entry into the group's space, and hence quite unconsciously, unintentionally and regrettably, we precipitated a group trauma.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Role, goal and context: key issues for group therapists and group leaders

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Christer Sandahl, Ph.D.

Yvonne Agazarian has been a teacher and a friend ever since she explained the System for Analysing Verbal Interaction (SAVI) to me by scribbling on a table napkin at a dinner party twenty years ago. She has inspired and helped me to develop my skills as a group conductor and a leader of different groups. As a group analytic psychotherapist, it has been a challenge to integrate systems-centered training (SCT) into the work, partly due to difficulties that can arise in relation to the social context of theories such as group analysis or SCT. Some people get suspicious and feel that one is abandoning their preferred theoretical assumptions if one starts to integrate new ideas into one's thinking and actual practising of the profession. It is not a problem with the theories per se, because they do need to be developed, but it is a challenge with respect to one's personal need of belongingness. That is a price I believe you have to pay in order to maintain your freedom and not become corrupted by the theories in the sense that critical thinking is lost. During our careers, we encounter only a few persons who can be helpful in this tricky balancing act, and who become important for our own thinking and professional practice. Yvonne is definitely one of those people, and, in particular, she is one who will not let you sit and contemplate your ideas and preconceptions alone in peace and quiet.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: CT and psychodynamic group psychotherapy

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Walter N. Stone, M.D., CGP, DFAGPA

This paper explores the applications of Systems-Centered therapy (SCT) to Psychodynamic therapy (PD). Both theories are based on analytic principles, but achieve their results through differing interventions. Functional subgrouping is unique to SCT, and it is the major method for discriminating and integrating differences and developing a systems-centered group. Important commonalities include a focus on the here-and-now of the meeting, members’ immediate experience, and the emphasis on group dynamics that highlight members’ roles in representing and working for the group. Both systems appreciate that groups gradually develop and mature and members become more able to use the concepts, including the “jargon” of the system to advance the work of the group.

Examples from demonstration groups and from clinical experiences are used to illustrate the different types of interventions made by clinicians from the two theoretical perspectives. The paper ends with the author's reflections on the evolution and development of SCT therapy over more than thirty years of observation.

 

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