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Campus offering

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FTHY603 Practices and Processes of Family and Systemic Therapy 2

Teaching organisation

150 hours of focused learning.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Researchers in a number of domains of practice are increasingly identifying that disrupted attachment processes are heavily involved in complex internalizing and externalizing emotional-behavioural disorders in children, adolescents, adults and their families. A number of Family and Systemic attachment based treatments have demonstrated enduring and effective outcomes with complex individuals and apparently treatment-resistant family systems. The delivery of these evidenced-based and research informed attachment treatments are essential to you as a practicing couples, family and systemic therapist and as a professional in the field, and require an advanced level of knowledge and conceptual and theoretical understanding. To deliver effective attachment based FST for complex families you need to learn how to assess the family functioning and the nature of the disrupted attachment process and recognize which aspects of the models, processes and practice you will need to use to tailor treatment to the specific family presentation. This unit builds on FTHY604 and FTHY606 Research Informed Frameworks of Family & Systemic Therapy 1& 2 and provides you with advanced level conceptual, theoretical knowledge and research on attachment as a multigenerational, relational and systemic process, including the research findings from neuroscience which cast new light on the embedded and embodied functioning of relational systems. The unit includes attachment theory, the neurophysiological-relational process involved in the formation of emotional bonds and the activation of the defence cascade in families. A particular focus of this unit is the most recent research indicating the far reaching relational-systemic impact of the fear-defence cascade on interactions in families.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Communicate and demonstrate knowledge of research-informed systemic attachment based treatment frameworks and the associated practices, (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Critically analyse and evaluate the usefulness of attachment frameworks for clinical applications in therapy with couples and families, (GA2, GA3, GA4, GA8)

LO3 - Develop a case-based research project emerging of direct relevance to your practice, utilizing research-informed systemic attachment based treatment frameworks. (GA3, GA6, GA8, GA10)

Graduate attributes

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:

  • Attachment theory and systemic conceptualisation of attachment processes
  • Clinical uses of the Adult Attachment interview
  • Clinical uses of the Child Attachment interview
  • Attachment and mentalisation processes in the family system
  • The social relational brain: empathy, compassion and mentalisation
  • The emotional brain
  • The brain, the mind and how attachment bond are created and restored through interaction
  • The relational-systemic brain, and the defence cascade of fight, flight and freeze
  • The brain, the mind and how emotional and physical regulation allows threats to be appropriately managed
  • The relational-systemic brain and the double-bind

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is delivered in the context of a collaborative-learning and relational system, which is congruent with the systemic-relational concepts you are learning, and concurrently with FTHY609 Advanced Live Supervision & Clinical Teamwork 1 and involves 40 hours of group learning, using an intensive workshop structure. Each of workshop is either two or three days in duration, with a total of 40 hours per the semester. There are about 4-5 week between each workshop, and in these periods you are supported to continuing the learning-conversations begun during the intensive workshops, focusing on the work you are doing in your case-based research projects. In this relational learning context, you are introduced to the principles of Case-based research, attachment theory, the findings from neuroscience identifying the social-relational-systemic brain and the process which rupture and rebuild attachment bonds in couples and family systems. Your clinical experience will bring a richness to the discussion of the research on the distinction between ‘Mind and Brain’ and how it has changed the way we think about and use attachment theory and emotional self-regulation in couples and family systems. Your clinical knowledge and practice is an active contribution to the lecturer led didactic presentations, case illustrations, critical analyses and evaluation of the material presented, culminating in reflection on your process of learning. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment procedures used in this unit are consistent with University assessment requirements, meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes. The two assessments are graded tasks. Achievement of the unit objectives are determined by:

Task 1: Literature Review, (2,000 words), Graded

By conducting and writing a literature review, you demonstrate your advanced skills in locating, organising, analysing, synthesizing and evaluating information required to respond to your chosen question about the state of thinking and research relevant to your practice. You demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the limitations of the conceptual material and treatment frameworks emerging from the integration of neuroscience ‘Brain-mind’ distinction, attachment theory and family and systemic therapy (FST) research and other relevant domains of knowledge. This assessment task further develops you as a practitioner-researcher, and lays the foundation for your future contributions to the research base and your participation in research-to-practice research. The task also includes your brief self-reflection on practice, acknowledgement of collaborative-knowledge sharing and discussion of ethical dilemmas, all of which are core to the development of expertise as a family and systemic therapist.

Task 2: Case-based research paper (2000 words), Graded

The purpose of this assessment task is to develop your knowledge and confidence as a practitioner-researcher by demonstrating your application of Case Study Research Method, and the integration of clinically relevant research into your current work with a case. This task allows you to develop and demonstrate your capacity to select a clinically relevant question or theme from the literature review you are conducting for this unit FTHY610, and use that material to investigate one case that you are currently seeing or have just completed. This task develops your competencies as a practitioner-researcher, and lays the foundation for your future contributions and participation in research-to-practice research. The task also includes your self-reflection and reflection on your participation in collaborative-knowledge sharing and discussion of ethical dilemmas which emerge when working with complex relational systems, all of which are core to your development of expertise as a family and systemic therapist.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

1.   Literature Review

Select, organise, analyse and synthesise scholarly literature required to respond to your chosen question about the state of thinking and research as is relevant to your practice.


LO1, LO2

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

2.      Case-based research paper (2000 words)

Develop a research project, using the Case Study Research method, using a client system you are currently seeing or your recently completed work.



GA3, GA4, GA6, GA8, GA10

Representative texts and references

Allen, J.G., Fonagy, P. & Bateman, A.W., (2008), Mentalizing in Clinical Practice, Washington, APPI

Carr, A. (2012), Family Therapy: Concepts, Process and Practice, NY, Wiley-Blackwell

Carr, A. (1997). Family Therapy and Systemic Practice, Maryland University, Press of America

Combrinck-Graham, L., Ed., (2006), Children in Family Context: Perspectives on Treatment, NY, Guilford

Cozolino, L., (2016), Why Therapy Works, NY, Norton.

Cozolino, L., (2014), The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain, NY, Norton.

Cozolino, L., (2010), The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain, NY, Norton

Diamond, Guy S., Diamond, Gary M., Levy, S., (2013), Attachment-based Family Therapy for Depressed Adolescents, NY, Magination Press..

Johnson, S.M. & Whiffen, V.E., Eds. (2003), Attachment Process in Couples and Family Therapy, NY, Guilford.

Presti, D.E., (2016), Foundational Concepts in Neuroscience, NY, Norton

Fonagy, P., Gergely, G, Jurist, J, & Target, M. (2002) Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of Self, NY, Other Press. 

Porges, S., (2011), Polyvagal Theory: The Neurophysiological Foundation of Emotion, Attachment, Communication and Self-Regulation, NY, Norton.

Schore, A. (2012), The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy, NY, Norton.

Satel, S. & Lilienfled, S., (2013), Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, NY, Basic Books.

Schore, A., (2016), Affect regulation and the origins of the self. The neurobiology of Emotional development, NY, Routledge.

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