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Perverse Triangles in Family Systems Theory

Name of Concept

Perverse Triangles in Family Systems Theory


Several family therapy approaches – Bowen’s transgenerational model (Bowen 1981), structural family theory (Minuchin 1974), and strategic family therapy (Hoffman 1981) – use the term triangle to describe a pathological interaction pattern. While triangle primarily refers to a three-person subsystem within the family, Jay Haley used the term perverse triangle to represent a specific form of triangular dysfunction within a system.

Theoretical Context for Concept

A perverse triangle has its roots in family systems theory which proposes that families are interactional systems that self-correct to maintain homeostasis (Whitchurch and Constantine 1993). In other words, family members change their behavior or interact in ways that provide a sense of stability. This cyclical system utilizes members’ interactions to indicate whether things are calm and predictable (negative feedback) or dynamic and necessitating...

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Correspondence to Laura M. Frey .

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Frey, L.M. (2017). Perverse Triangles in Family Systems Theory. In: Lebow, J., Chambers, A., Breunlin, D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Springer, Cham.

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