The Systems Approach

Humans are infinitely complex. Adequately conceptualizing a person in health or illness requires a systems approach that encompasses this complexity. The concept of systems was first developed by von Bertalanffy (1968) to refer to the dynamic interrelationships of various components. A systems approach rejects the notion of linear causality in favor of multidimensional and multidirectional models.

The systems approach has strongly influenced conceptualizations of family functioning. Smilkstein (1978) developed one of the first applications of "family systems" thinking for family medicine. Physician attention is important to the systemic interactions of family members and the impact of crisis, coping styles, and resources on family functioning. He incorporated these components into the "family APGAR"

(adaptation, partnership, growth, affection, and resolve), a simple instrument and mnemonic device for assessing the functioning of a family system in health and illness (not to be confused with the newborn Apgar score).

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