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COCO 715: Family Systems




This purpose of this course is to facilitate students’ understanding and application of the family systems approach to counseling. In doing this, this course will focus on the development of seven knowledge/skill domains including: (1) Characteristics and functions of families and influential factors; (2) Concepts and theoretical models underlying family systems counseling; (3) Appraisal & Perceptual skill development that involves an increased awareness of family interactions and the meaning and effect that these have on the family system; (4) Intervention skill development to allow students to take an active intervening role with families. Such skills are based on the integration of conceptual and perceptual knowledge areas; (5) Research, outcomes, and best practices in family systems; (6) Application of family systems to rehabilitation and school counseling contexts; (7) Cross cultural, ethical, and supervision related issues within the family systems context and (8) Exploration of family of origin and its impact on counseling style and orientation.

1.    To learn various theoretical models and pertinent concepts related to family systems counseling;      
2.    To develop perceptual/observational skills to facilitate an increased awareness of family systems interactions and the meaning and effect that these have on the system. Perceptual skills focus on the counselor’s active observations of the family with the aim of accurately interpreting client issues within the context of the entire family unit;
3.    To learn assessment techniques and therapeutic interventions used in the family systems counseling context;
4.    To be able to identify characteristics of healthy and unhealthy families/systems; 
5.    To gain awareness of cross-cultural, ethical, and supervision issues in relation to family counseling;
6.    To increase self-awareness of own family of origin and its effect on you;
7.    To be able to apply family systems theory to rehabilitation and school counseling;
8.    To gain knowledge of best practices, outcomes, and research in family counseling

Weekly sessions will center on lectures and there will be group discussions related to reading material and course assignments. 

    Gladding, S. (2002). Family Therapy: History, Theory, and Practice (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall

Mikesell, R. H., Lusterman, D. D., & McDaniel, S. H. (Eds.), (1995). Integrating Family Therapy: Handbook of Family Psychology and Systems Theory. Washington DC: APA Books.

    Goldenberg, H. & Goldenberg, I. (2002). Counseling today’s families (4th Ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole

Hanna, S. M., & Brown, J. H. (2004). The practice of family therapy: Key elements across models (3rd Ed.). Belmont CA: Brooks/Cole

McGoldrick, M., Gerson, R., & Shellenberger, S. (1999). Genograms: Assessment and intervention (2nd Ed). New York: W. W. Norton & Company


1. Attendance and Class Participation: This is an applied course for which attendance and participation are mandatory. Students will be required to engage in small group activities during class and active participation in these activities is fundamental to your learning and evaluation. Students who miss more than two classes will have their grade lowered by one-half a grade and may be asked to repeat the course. If you are ill or have an emergency, please notify the professor before class, when possible. Please be on-time for class. If you are going to be late, contact the professor prior. Repeated tardiness will affect your grade.

2. Genogram:
Students will construct a comprehensive genogram of their family of origin and write a brief paper (2 pages) that explains key generational patterns of family dynamics from a coherent systems perspective. A minimum of three generations should be presented (the student’s generation, his/her parents and their siblings, and his/her grandparents and their siblings, ). In the paper, students will discuss two or three important generational themes and the effect of those themes on their own development. Additional information regarding this assignment will be provided. This should include at the least the following information:

    1.    Names, nicknames, year of birth (or approximate age), severe illnesses,     marriages, separations, divorces, death.
    2.    Geographic Locations
    3.    Siblings in order with the oldest on the left
    4.    Ethnicity, religious affiliations, SES
    5.    Relational patterns of using correct symbols

    Note: Genograms must be conducted using Genopro at (search word: genogram) or a  comparable genogram program.

3. Movie Analysis: This paper is an analysis of a scene in a movie assigned by the professor. The purpose of this paper is to give you the opportunity to exercise your perceptual/observational skills from a systems perspective. The analysis should be no more than 3 pages and include an identification of patterns, themes, boundaries, etc. from a systems perspective. The paper must be accompanied by a genograms of the family form the clip.
4. Group Presentation: Students will work in a small group to develop a mock family counseling session. Each student will assume a role in the family, with one student assuming the role of the counselor. You will need to develop a family scenario and act out this scenario in class. The purpose of this assignment is to get you, as a group, to enact certain issue that occur in families, and generate hypotheses and interventions as a group. Before the mock presentation, the group should give the class a briefing of the family, identifying roles, and then following the role play, a discussion regarding the family patterns, boundaries, etc. and the interventions used. The group will be expected to present their hypotheses, theoretical framework, and interventions used. A schedule will be determined for the mock role plays.
5. Final Paper: The final paper requires you to apply family systems theory to a specific problem within the school or rehabilitation counseling arena. Specifically, you will need to apply theoretical/conceptual, clinical and research literature in family systems to a particular problem that school or rehabilitation counselors face. Please cite relevant research and literature, use APA style (APA Manual 5th edition), and do not exceed 10 pages. Consider structuring your paper in the following manner:

    I.    Introduction: Include detailed review of problem; provide a rationale for the paper         (2-3 pages)
    II.    Make a convincing argument as to why the systems approach would be an                 effective approach for this problem. Use family systems and rehabilitation/school             counseling theory/literature/research to support your argument (3 pages)
    III.    Describe a few specific interventions based on the systems approach that might             be effective. Make your argument strong by citing the literature (3 pages)
    IV.    Summary and Implications (1-2 pages).

Consider talking with the professor about your topic in the earlier part of the semester to insure you have a clear direction. You are welcome to turn in one draft prior to the final paper.

Grades will be calculated as follows:

Attendance and Class Participation 10%
Genogram 20%
Movie Analysis
Group Presentation 20%
Final Paper 30%
----------------------------- ----




100-97.5% = A+
92.5– 97.4% = A
90 – 92.4% = A-
87.5 – 89.9%
82.5 – 87.4% = B
80.0 – 82.4%
77.5 – 79.9%
70.0 – 77.4% = C
0 – 69.9% = F

Students will be graded based on the scoring rubric provided. The grades are assigned according to the values published by the Hunter College Graduate catalog.

1 Introduction to course; overview of systems theory and family counseling/ Family as a Social Unit K5 (a-d)
2 Characteristics of families; levels of family needs; the family life cycle / Overview of Family Life Cycle K3 (a-c), K5 (a-d)
3 Traditional Theoretical Models and Concepts / Historical Perspective of Family and systems Theory K3 (a-c), K5 (a-d)
4 Traditional Theoretical Models and Concepts/ Developing Genogram K3 (a-c), K5 (a-d)
5 Postmodern Theoretical Models and Concepts/ Family Patterns and Triangles K5 (a-d)
6 Appraisal: Concepts & Methods K5 (a-d)
7 Perceptual Skills- Activity: Analysis of Movie Clip/ Structural Diagrams K3 (a-c), K5 (a-d)
8 Perceptual Skills - Activity: Analysis of Movie clip/ Appraising Couple and Family Functioning K3 (a-c), K5 (a-d)
9 Midterm
10 Research, Outcomes and Best Practices- Counseling and Consultation Practices K5 (a-d)
11 Family Systems & School Counseling- Therapeutic Interventions and Strategies
K5 (a-d)
12 Family Systems & Rehabilitation Counseling K5 (a-d)
13 Working with Culturally Diverse Families K3 (a-c), K5 (a-d)
14 Ethics/Supervision K5g
15 Final Exam


Expectations for Written Proficiency
Students must demonstrate consistently satisfactory written English in coursework. The Hunter College Writing Center provides tutoring to students across the curriculum and at all academic levels. For more information, see In addition, the Teacher Placement Office in the School of Education offers a writing workshop during the semester and a series of free writing classes are offered to students who are in need of additional support in improving their writing skills. In both cases, stop by room I000 West for information and dates of workshops.

Integrity and Plagiarism
Hunter College has subscribed to the online company, allows faculty to compare student papers with extensive databases of billions of documents in order to detect and verify material that has been plagiarized.  In this course, is used to deter students from plagiarizing material.  Please be aware that student papers will be examined from time to time.  Students who plagiarize will be punished. “Hunter College regards acts of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating on examinations, obtaining unfair advantage, and falsification of records and official documents) as serious offenses against the values of intellectual honesty.  The college is committed to enforcing the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity and will pursue cases of academic dishonesty according to the Hunter College Academic Integrity Procedures.”

Statement of Reasonable Accomodation
In compliance with the American Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) and with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Hunter College is committed to ensuring educational parity and accommodations for all students with documented disabilities and/or medical conditions. It is recommended that all students with documented disabilities (Emotional, Medical, Physical and/ or Learning) consult the Office of AccessABILITY located in Room E1124 to secure necessary academic accommodations.  For further information and assistance please call (212- 772- 4857)/TTY (212- 650- 3230).

K.3.a. theories of individual and family development and transitions across the life span;

K.3.b. theories of learning and personality development;

K.3.c. human behavior, including an understanding of developmental crises, disability, exceptional behavior, addictive behavior, psychopathology, and situational and environmental factors that affect both normal and abnormal behavior;

K.5.a. counselor and consultant characteristics and behaviors that influence helping processes including age, gender, and ethnic differences, verbal and nonverbal behaviors and personal characteristics, orientations, and skills;

K.5.b. an understanding of essential interviewing and counseling skills so that the student is able to develop a therapeutic relationship, establish appropriate counseling goals, design intervention strategies, evaluate client outcome, and successfully terminate the counselor-client relationship. Studies will also facilitate student self-awareness so that the counselor-client relationship is therapeutic and the counselor maintains appropriate professional boundaries;

K.5.c. counseling theories that provide the student with a consistent model(s) to conceptualize client presentation and select appropriate counseling interventions. Student experiences should include an examination of the historical development of counseling theories, an exploration of affective, behavioral, and cognitive theories, and an opportunity to apply the theoretical material to case studies. Students will also be exposed to models of counseling that are consistent with current professional research and practice in the field so that they can begin to develop a personal model of counseling;

K.5.d. a systems perspective that provides an understanding of family and other systems theories and major models of family and related interventions. Students will be exposed to a rationale for selecting family and other systems theories as appropriate modalities for family assessment and counseling;

K.5.g. ethical and legal considerations.

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