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    A theoretical paper exploring the major models of Family Therapy theory and practice from an integrative perspective through analysis and critique.

    PSME 436 Principles of Family and Systems Theory introduces, in depth, the field of systemic and family therapy theory. Students will learn the tenets of the major schools of family therapy and apply these to families. This distance-taught paper is primarily theoretical, though some observation of family systems is required. Students will critically appraise the theories of family therapy and discover the evidence base for this field.

    PSME 436 provides an opportunity for those practising family therapy or for those who wish to use systemic ideas within their health or educational context to gain a qualification in the area. This paper leads to a Postgraduate Certificate when paired with another appropriate paper. This paper is a component of the Certificate qualification and meets many of the requirements that the Association of Family Therapy (UK) suggests for foundation- and intermediate-level training.

    This paper includes some skill-based sessions and an expectation of some fieldwork (eight hours).

    About this paper

    Paper title Principles of Family and Systems Theory
    Subject Psychological Medicine
    EFTS 0.25
    Points 30 points
    Teaching period Not offered in 2024, expected to be offered in 2025 (Distance learning)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $3,103.25
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    PSMX 436
    Limited to
    MHealSc, PGCertHealSc, PGDipHealSc
    (i) Students must be able to demonstrate a basic level of counselling/therapy skills. (ii) It is preferable that students have access to a setting that allows them to see systemic ideas in practice.

    Applicants need to have an appropriate health and/or counselling education qualification (extensive experience will be considered) and need to be working in a context within which the fieldwork component of the paper can be completed.

    Applicants are invited to commence phase one of online enrolment with the University ( As there is a clinical component to this paper, all registered applicants will be sent an Application for Acceptance form to complete and submit.

    Enrolments for this paper require departmental permission. View more information about departmental permission.


    Teaching staff

    Course Convenor and Lecturer: To be advised.
    Other senior family therapists representing a variety of models.

    Paper Structure

    Topics covered include:

    • Systems theory.
    • Schools of family therapy.
    • Evidence base.
    • Applications of systems theory to families.

    Learning Aims and Objectives of Paper:

    • To provide an in-depth understanding of the principles of systems theory.
    • To develop skills in the application of systems theory to families.
    • To introduce and critique the major schools of family therapy.
    • To develop knowledge of the evidence base for systems and family therapies.


    • Contact hours (63 hours): One 2-day block course and one 3-day block course spread over the semester.
    • Students are also required to have eight hours of participation in a family therapy team or equivalent (discussed and approved by course conveners).
    • Students will be required to participate in various (details to be confirmed) Zoom tutorial/discussion group sessions via the Zoom online video system.
    • Non-contact hours (237 hours): Class preparation, background reading, preparation of assignments and preparation for discussion group.
    Teaching Arrangements

    This paper will be block taught. Attendance at all block worshops is compulsory, and students are required to make travel arrangements around the dates and times.

    Students will be part of a discussion group throughout the semester so that they remain connected to the student group and tutors and are able to pace their learning. The discussion group will focus on current theoretical learning.


    Block course pre-readings information will be sent closer to the first block course.

    This paper emphasises an evidence base for family therapy, and students are expected to use research to inform their work.

    Graduate Attributes Emphasised
    Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Self-motivation.
    View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
    Learning Outcomes

    Students who successfully complete the paper will have:

    • A thorough understanding of the theory of systems, such that the student can perceive systems in action
    • A comprehensive grounding in main schools of family theory through reading and discussion of key literature and evidence
    • The ability to discuss theoretical background of interventions and to assess the appropriateness of their use


    Not offered in 2024, expected to be offered in 2025

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught through Distance Learning
    Learning management system
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