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FTHY605 Research Informed Frameworks in 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 students as practicing couples, family and systemic therapists and as professionals in the field, and require an advanced level of knowledge and conceptual and theoretical understanding. To deliver effective attachment based Family and Systemic Therapy for complex families students 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 they will need to use to tailor treatment to the specific family presentation. 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. The aim of this unit is to build on FTHY604 and FTHY606 Research Informed Frameworks of Family & Systemic Therapy 1& 2 by providing students 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. 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 - Demonstrate advanced 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 - Design a case-based research project emerging of direct relevance to their 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 the 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 students are learning, concurrently with FTHY609 Advanced Live Supervision & Clinical Teamwork 1 and involves 40 hours of group learning, using an intensive workshop structure. 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 begun during the intensive workshops, focusing on the work they are doing in their case-based research projects. In this relational learning context, students 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 ruptures and rebuilds attachment bonds in couples and family systems. Students' 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. Students' 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 the process of learning. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The two assessment tasks used in this unit assist students to achieve the unit learning outcomes and develop the associated graduate attributes. 

Task 1: Literature Review (2000-2500 words), Graded

By conducting and writing a literature review, students demonstrate their advanced skills in locating, organising, analysing, synthesizing and evaluating information required to respond to their chosen question about the state of thinking and research relevant to their practice. Students demonstrate their 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 research and other relevant domains of knowledge. This assessment task further develops students as practitioner-researchers, and lays the foundation for their future contributions to the research base and their participation in research-to-practice research. The task also includes a 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 (2000-2500 words), Graded

The purpose of this assessment task is to develop the students' knowledge and confidence as practitioner-researchers by demonstrating their application of the case study research method, and the integration of clinically relevant research into their current work with a case. This task allows students to develop and demonstrate their capacity to select a clinically relevant question or theme from the literature review they are conducting for the unit FTHY610, and use that material to investigate one case that they are currently seeing or have just completed. This task develops students' competencies as practitioner-researchers, and lays the foundation for their future contributions and participation in research-to-practice research. The task also includes a self-reflection and reflection on their participation in collaborative-knowledge sharing and discussion of ethical dilemmas which emerge when working with complex relational systems, all of which are core to the 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 (2000-2500 words)

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


LO1, LO2

GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

2.      Case-based research paper (2000-2500 words)

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


LO2, LO3

GA2, GA3, GA4, GA6, GA8, GA10

Representative texts and references

Allen, J.G., Fonagy, P. & Bateman, A.W. (2008), Mentalizing in clinical practice, APPI

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

Combrinck-Graham, L., Ed., (2006). Children in family context: Perspectives on treatment, Guilford

Cozolino, L. (2016). Why therapy works, Norton.

Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain, Norton.

Cozolino, L. (2010). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Healing the social brain, Norton

Crittenden, P., Dallos, R., Landini, A., & Kozlowska, K. (2014). Attachment and family therapy, Mcgraw-Hill Education & Open University Press

Diamond, Guy S., Diamond, Gary M., & Levy, S. (2003). Attachment-based family therapy for depressed adolescents, Magination Press..

Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, J., & Target, M. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of self, Other Press. 

Johnson, S.M., & Whiffen, V.E., Eds. (2003). Attachment process in couples and family therapy, Guilford.

McHale, J., Waller, M. R., & Pearson, J. (2012). Coparenting interventions for fragile families: What do we know and where do we need to go next? Family Process, 51, 284-306.

Presti, D.E. (2016). Foundational concepts in neuroscience, Norton

Porges, S. (2011). Polyvagal theory: The neurophysiological foundation of emotion, attachment, communication and self-regulation, Norton.

Schore, A. (2012). The science of the art of psychotherapy, Norton.

Satel, S., & Lilienfled, S. (2013). Brainwashed: The seductive appeal of mindless neuroscience, Basic Books.

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

Seikkula, J. (2008). Inner and outer voices in the present moment of family and network therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 30, 478-491

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