Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Exosystem in Family Systems Theory

  • Amy D. SmithEmail author
  • Kelley Quirk
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_266

Name of Concept

Exosystem in Family Systems Theory


The exosystem is one of four primary levels of the environment, or ecosystem, which are described in the bioecological theory of human development (Bronfenbrenner 1986, 1977). Understanding the different levels of the ecosystem, and how they can impact the development and experiences of individuals, can help therapists to better understand underlying causes to presenting problems, thus enabling a more effecting and change-promoting therapeutic process.

Theoretical Context for the Concept

Family systems theory assumes that families operate as a system which cannot be fully understood by looking at one individual without also including all of the other individuals which comprise the system, or family (Cox and Paley 1997). The way in which different aspects of families and the environment can influence the development and experiences of the individual can be understood through the bioecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner 1977...

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  1. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32, 513–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as context for human development. Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22, 723–742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cox, M. J., & Paley, B. (1997). Families as systems. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 243–267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Lerner, R. M. (2002). Concepts and theories of human development (3rd ed.). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marriage and Family Therapy/Applied Developmental Science ProgramColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Marriage and Family Therapy Program, Human Development and Family StudiesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

Section editors and affiliations

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