Systems Theory

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1. Systems theory and the Ecological perspective

As a social worker, one must understand the impact of systems in the environment.

The interactions between the individual and their multiple systems give social workers a

visual of how to interpret their consumer's life. System theories is one way to try to

interpret a consumer's life to have somewhat of a general idea of how to help solve the

problems they are facing. The easiest way to view system theories are by creating

ecomaps. These maps give you a visual written in black and white to see the different

systems that the individual interacts with.

To understand this concept in the field, a social worker, must know what a

system even is. "A system is a set of elements that are orderly and inter-related to make a

functional whole." (Zastrow, Kirst-Ashman p. 4) I have a family system, social and work

groups system, communities system, and organizations system that have an effect on me

as the individual. There are three levels of systems that social workers go by. The micro

level, which consists of the individuals themselves, is the smallest of the three and would

be me. The next level is called the mezzo level. This consists of small groups. Some

examples would be my friends, family, and coworkers. The last and largest level is the

macro level. The macro level consists of institutions, organizations, communities, and

cultures. In my ecomap, some examples of the macro level would be my neighborhood at

home, college, dorm life, suburban, and my father's fire department. The point at which 2

systems or more come in contact with each other causing conflict is called interface. This

can include the individual, families, groups, organizations and communities. In my

ecomap, due to the stressful relationship and negative energy flow between my brother

and I, the most obvious interface would be my parent's house.

Sometimes systems can contain subsystems which are smaller systems located

within a larger system. An example of a subsystem would be the parental and sibling

subsystem within a family. My Mom, Dad, brother, and sister would be examples of

subsystems located within the family system. Boundaries give a system an identity

and can be permeable which means they allow things to get in. Some systems or

subsystems have open boundaries where you recieve a lot of input and some have closed

boundaries which do not let anything in. If systems have closed boundaries, they will

eventually die. They are to "protect our system so its function is not adversely affected by

external influences." (Zastrow, Kirst-Ashman p. 18) Parents create boundaries with their

children. An example would be my parents giving me a curfew. It is a set rule that they

want me to follow to make sure I'm not getting in any trouble or getting hurt in the night


When covering what boundaries are, the terms input and output were mentioned.

To describe these terms in the simplest way, one can explain input as the information,

energy flow, or communication flow that is recieved from other systems. All systems need

input and can be positive, negative, or you can give positive input but not recieve any

reaction in return. The last type of input is usually to explain the way you interact with an

inanimate object. If input is the information, energy flow, or communication flow that is

recieved from other systems, output has to be what happens in response to the input

recieved; it is the interaction between the systems.

Homeostasis is the stability or balance that the system is in. Most systems do not

like change, so if one system changes, the others have to as well. If they change, they then

work to reach the level they were once at. If one can maintain homeostasis, they recieve

benefits or...
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