Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

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

Theory of Constraints in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Douglas C. BreunlinEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_913

Name of Theory

Theory of Constraints in Couple and Family Therapy


Negative explanation; Restraints


The Theory of Constraints derives from Gregory Bateson’s theory of Negative Explanation (Bateson 1972). This theory holds that a phenomenon occurs because something keeps a different phenomenon from occurring. Applied to the practice of couple and family therapy, the theory posits that people in a relational system do what they do because they are kept, that is constrained, from doing something else. The problems of a relational system, therefore, are the result of constraints rather than pathology. The theory of constraints encourages therapists to maintain a systemic lens, thereby holding the view that relational systems solve problems by lifting constraints.

Prominent Associated Figures

Douglas C. Breunlin

Gregory Bateson

William Pinsof

William Russell

Michael White


Gregory Bateson was an anthropologist whose thinking had a major impact on the theories...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Family Institute at Northwestern University, Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies, Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jessica Rohlfing Pryor
    • 1
  1. 1.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA