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FTHY604 Research Informed Frameworks in Family and Systemic Therapy 1

Teaching organisation

150 hours of focused learning.

Unit rationale, description and aim

As a systemically informed professional working with families, students' knowledge of leading edge Family and Systemic Therapy research and the rich array of emerging case based research and evidenced-based models for highly complex and treatment resistant presentation, is fundamental to developing competencies as a family and systemic therapist. Students will become familiar with the research on change mechanisms, how to monitor and evaluate change process and the restraints to change. The exploration of restraints to systemic change will include the broader ethical-legal and social justice issues that are often at the core of treatment resistant clinical presentation. As an important aspect of developing their competencies in the delivery of Family and Systemic Therapy treatments, students need a detailed understanding of which needs occur so that these apparently highly complex relational systems can recover their capacity to be generative, to nurture and to care for their members. Building on understanding of research informed practice covered in FTHY604 Research informed frameworks of Family & Systemic Therapy 1, the aim of this unit is to broaden students' familiarity with and capacity to critique the research, conceptual structure and theoretical description of the leading evidence-based and research-informed family inclusive treatments. This unit also aims to re-activate the collaborative-learning relational system and in this context, students will become familiar with and explore the dilemmas and challenges of implementing research-informed Family and Systemic Therapy treatments, particularly those designed for the most complex relational problems and treatment resistant clinical presentation.

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 apply advanced knowledge of the research informed treatment frameworks for complex relational systems, emerging from the various schools of Family and Systemic Therapy (GA5, GA9)

LO2 - Reflect on and critically evaluate their performance in systemic group tasks and micro-skills practice associated with the research informed and evidence-based family therapy treatments (GA4, GA5, GA6)

LO3 - Apply core concepts and practices from current research on family and systemic therapy treatment and interventions to their current cases, and reflect on challenges and issues in the development of their competencies in Family and Systemic Therapy (GA1, GA2, GA3)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

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

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


Topics will include: 

  • Family and Systemic Therapy for physical abuse: principles and practices 
  • Family and Systemic Therapy and cascading crisis and emotional abuse 
  • Family and Systemic Therapy for sexual abuse: principles and practice 
  • Working systemically with couples: What is the difference between complex and straightforward cases? 
  • Solution focused couple’s treatment  
  • Emotion focused therapy (EFT) for couples 
  • Systemic conceptualisation of safety and danger within families and other relational systems 
  • Research supported sequences of intervention strategies for traumatised and traumatising families  

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 concepts, models and research students are learning. This learning-teaching principle provides the pedagogical meta-framework which is an analogue of effective family and systemic therapy. This unit involves 40 hours of group learning, using an intensive workshop structure and is delivered concurrently with Live Supervision and Reflecting Team Practice 2, as this provides active case examples and an opportunity for students to describe challenges and clinical issues, and to engage colleagues as an active resource. Each workshop is either two or three days in duration, with a total of 40 hours per semester. There are about 4-5 weeks between each workshop, and in these periods students are supported to continue the learning-conversations they began during the intensive.  In this relational learning context, students are introduced to case-based research and research-informed family and systemic therapy treatments and interventions with complex systems. The lecturers will deliver didactic presentations, including demonstrations and role plays, and students will learn to conduct a critical analysis, evaluation of the frameworks being presented and reflect on their process of learning. Students' contribution to the workshops includes case stories from their practice and/or from clients attending the live supervision session. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The three assessments used in this unit assist students to achieve the unit learning outcomes and develop the associated graduate attributes.

Task 1 and 2: Open Dialogues with researchers, Graded

The rationale for these Open Dialogue tasks is for students to bridge between their existing knowledge and the research informed and evidence based family and systemic treatments and interventions. There are many research informed interventions and treatment frameworks designed for complex and so-called treatment resistant families, and while this unit introduces students to most of the more rigorously researched frameworks, in these tasks students have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of two frameworks directly relevant to their work.  

These Open-Dialogue with the researcher tasks invite students to choose the writings of two researchers and while reading, to notice and record their inner conversation with the researcher. Students may have another perspective, different explanations, a critique, extrapolations and broader applications, or general observations to make about the researcher’s work. These tasks provide an authentic opportunity for students to express their thoughts. The tasks also deepen and consolidate students' existing and newly acquired knowledge by their exploration of research of direct personal and professional relevance. These Open Dialogues are a multi-layered reflection on, and description of, students' experience of reading original work and writing what they might say, in the course of a conversation with the researchers, from the perspective of a practitioner. 

Task 3: Description and reflection on the role of research in Family and Systemic Therapy practice and impact on the student's development of Family and Systemic Therapy competencies, Graded 

The rationale for this oral task is that the act of presenting and facilitating the seminar-like description and reflection on students' learning and development within a relational learning-community is an analogue for the multilayered task of conducting a session with a family. This presentation requires students to use conversational practices such as open-dialogue with themselves, and genuinely explore their dilemmas and challenges in learning to deliver the best possible family and systemic therapy. It is normal that in exploring personal dilemmas and challenges, differences in perspectives emerge, and the task is to hold and respect these differences while maintaining a safe relational context. Thus new understandings and experiences emerge, and build skills and confidence in a ‘collaborative-exchange’ as a means of growth and change for all participants. The task also directly contributes to the relational system, collaborative-learning, knowledge-exchange and group cohesion. Each group becomes familiar with its member’s unique interests and expertise, and they genuinely know and respect each other as professionals. This assessment task contributes to the overall quality of the relational-learning system. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

1. Book Open-Dialogue with researcher (1000-1500 words)   

 Students select one book which has professional relevance and is of personal interest, from the list of seminal research literature in the field discussed during the workshop, and write an Open Dialogue with the researcher. 


LO1, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA5, GA9

2. Book Open-Dialogue with researcher (1000-1500 words)   

Students select one book which has professional relevance and is of personal interest, from the list of seminal research literature in the field discussed during the workshop, and write an Open Dialogue with the researcher. 


LO1, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA5, GA9

3. Description and reflection on the role of research in Family and Systemic Therapy practice and impact on the student's development of Family and Systemic Therapy competencies.

This oral presentation requires students to use conversational practices such as open-dialogue with themselves, and explore their dilemmas and challenges in learning to deliver the best possible family and systemic therapy.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA9

Representative texts and references

Anderson, H., & Gerhart, D., Eds., (2007). Collaborative therapy: Relationships and conversations that make a difference, Routledge 

Carr, A. (2012). Family therapy: Concepts, process and practice, Wiley-Blackwell,  

Diamond, G.S., Diamond, G.M., & Levy, S.A. (2014). Attachment-based family therapy for depressed adolescents, APS Press.

Escudero, V., & Friedlander, M.L. (2017). Focused issues in family therapy. Therapeutic alliance with families: Empowering clients in challenging cases, Springer International Publishing.

Friedlander, M.L., Escudero, V., & Heatherington, L. (2006). Therapeutic alliance in couple and family therapy: An empirically informed guide to practice, American Psychological Association.

Gerhart, D. (2017). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theory and clinical case documentation, Cengage Learning.

Jewell, T., Blessitt, E., Stewart, C., Simic, M., & Eisler, I. (2016). Family therapy for child and adolescent eating disorders: A critical review, Family Process, 55, Special Issue: Empirically Supported Treatments in Couples and Family Therapy. 

McLeod, J. (2022). Doing research in counselling and psychotherapy (4th ed.). Sage

Henggler, S.W., Schoenwald, S.K., Rowlands, M.D., & Cunningham, P.B. (2002). Serious emotional disturbance in children and adolescents: Multisystemic therapy, Guilford.

Seikkula, J., & Olsen, M.E. (2003). The open dialogue approach to acute psychosis: Its poetics and micropolitics, Family Process, 42, 403–418

Seikkula, J., & Trimble, D. (2005). Healing elements of therapeutic conversation: Dialogue as an embodiment of love, Family Process, 44, 461–475

Sexton, T.L. (2011). Functional family therapy in clinical practice: An evidence-based treatment model for working with troubled adolescents, Routledge.

Shotter, J. (2015). Tom Andersen, Fleeting events, the bodily feelings they arouse in us, and the dialogical: Transitory understandings and action guiding anticipations, ANZJFT, 36, March, 72–87

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