Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Black Box Concept in Family Systems Theory

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_245-1

Name of Concept

Black Box Concept in Family Systems Theory


As psychotherapy shifted from intrapsychic to more contextual models of therapy in the 1940s and 1950s (Lebow 2014), the black box concept was adapted as an expression of the systemic perspective predominant in marriage and family therapy (Nichols and Davis 2012). The black box is the simplest way of approaching the individual mind within a family system, basing it solely on the outward behavior and communication between family members.

Theoretical Context for Concept

The metaphor of the black box has been utilized in a number of fields including computer science, engineering, and biology. A black box represents something whose internal system is unknown; studying the object involves looking at what goes in or comes out rather than trying to look inside and study the inner workings. Two fundamental concepts are key for understanding the black box concept in family systems theory. (1) General systems theory...


Internal Family Systems Integrative Systemic Therapy Breunlin Pinsof Narrative Therapy 
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • David Kearns
    • 1
  • Bahareh Sahebi
    • 2
  1. 1.Iowa CityUSA
  2. 2.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA