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Criticism of Riesman

Case Study in Systems Theory

The Pruett case External link  study provides a concrete, real-world example of how Systems Theory is applied to understand how interrelated factors contribute to unhealthy actions. In this case, the client was engaging in risky behaviors (drug abuse and unprotected sex) and not attending school. She had not had contact with her father for five years, and some of her only memories of him involved him abusing drugs and arguing with her mother at home. 

In the Family Systems Theory, individuals must not be evaluated in isolation, but in the context of the family, as the family operates as a unit. One of the core concepts of this theory is the triangle, whose most common form is a parent-parent-child relationship — aka “two helping one”). Clearly, the client was missing one of the corners of the triangle and thus one of the pillars of healthy emotional development. 

Another concept is the family projection process, wherein the client suffers from the emotional dysfunction of the family unit. In this case, the client witnessed her father abusing drugs to self-medicate, so she imitated that behavior, thinking it might help her. 

The full complexities of this case go beyond the scope of this post, but it serves as an example of how a social worker must understand interrelated systems (e.g., school-family-individual) in order to assist the client.