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Thinking systemically? 

2014

Hi,
I heard someone say recently that it takes at least five years of full time work and thinking before a person really comes to think systemically. What do other people think? How will I know when I am finally ’thinking systemically’?
Joanna Campbell
...


Hi Joanna.

 Thinking systemically is a mindset and skill that certainly grows over time. Part of what makes this such a challenge in child and youth care is that there are so many related components and different systems we find ourselves in. For example family systems, peer systems, school systems, welfare systems, social systems, legal systems, political systems and more.

One key factor in knowing that we have started thinking systemically is that we find ourselves reacting less to challenges as they occur and begin asking the question: How does this moment (e.g. this decision, action, movement) relate to and impact others? Perhaps the most important aspect about systems thinking is the idea that nothing (e.g. people, decisions, actions) exists in isolation.

So, five years sounds great - but it is more likely a journey that starts on day one and continues until we are done.

James Freeman
Southern California, USA


I think that you will know by the types of questions you are asking about the clients that you are working with. Those questions would have to do with looking beyond what is presented to you on a day to day basis. They might be ones that have you look at the ecological aspects of the strengths and issues presented. It might have to do with using different frameworks such as trauma-informed perspective. Or it may be questions that look at systemic issues and the formation of social identity. Those are some indicators that come to mind for me.

Rick Kelly
...

Dear Joanna,

The English psychotherapist, David Smail, who died earlier this year wrote “Few honest and courageous people who have achieved anything of real value in life do not feel a fraud much of the time."

I agree with one strand of this thought which might be voiced as, " if we are not systematically trained to do our job, child and youth care - and the inference here is to be able to think and work systematically - we will in some way be frauds”. I am absolutely sure sincere child and youth care workers are honest and courageous people though I am equally certain their modesty seldom allows them to admit it. I also feel that healthy development for a CYC worker consists of a good training which exposes her to a wide and deep knowledge of other people’s learning in our field, together with the insights she gains through time from her personal and working experiences. My view is that a worker digests all these and converts them into a way of thinking and working which is unique and natural for her and she will exercise it genuinely given that respected and knowledgeable colleagues are there to reassure her that her way is humane and kind.

Now, about the use of the word ’systematic" in all this. I think systemic theory as well systematic procedures are valuable as - among other things - theoretical and organisational containers. Reflecting on my own experience I would say that I was not systematic in my thinking and working in the sense of being trained to think and to be organised and systematic in any conventional way. Paradoxically, I am almost sure that in my own way I was systematic. My store of personal resources were - because of the nature of the work and my way of working - piled up higgledy piggledy all around my mind's internal office but mostly I knew where they were and could find them in a conscious or unconscious way when I felt they were needed.

Yet all the time, along with the children and colleagues I was living and working with, I seemed always to be discovering new things. Ain’t that something ?

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe
...

I agree with James that thinking systemically starts one day and keeps going until ….. You know you are thinking systemically when you think about context and connection between individual and the whole e.g. individuals in the context of their family, in the context of neighbourhood / community etc. When you can see the forest as well as the trees.

Johnnie (in Ireland)
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