Systemic thinking challenges the ways we are accustomed to seeing the world. Proceeding from the insight that all our knowledge is only valid in terms of our systems of reference, systemic thinking queries established certainties in science, society and everyday activity. Accordingly, systemic theory is an invitation to scepticism over and against “watertight” truths and demonstrates at the same time that this scepticism is entirely compatible with successful practice.

The significant difference between systemic thinking and other approaches was best exemplified by the dispute over psychological abnormalities that broke out in the 1980s. Controversy raged on the issue of whether it made sense to refer to such abnormalities as instances of “sickness”.

Today, silence reigns on the matter. Critical, self-reflective attitudes have largely disappeared from professional thinking, society has increasingly put up all kinds of barriers to reflection. These barriers militate against ongoing inquiry, they operate with concepts that no one dares to challenge: “diagnosis”, “success”, “deficit”, “profit”, efficiency”, “evidence” and many others.

Research programmes are frequently also conditioned by such concepts, many of them taken from economic contexts. They restrict the scope of research to the things that they are in a position to define and explain. The insights gained in this way are then written into curricula and teaching manuals, the normative claims of which finally bestow on them the status of un-doubted, i.e. certain knowledge.

Imperceptibly but increasingly, this restricts the scope available for thought and action. The existence of psychic (or rather “mental”) illnesses is regarded as an incontrovertible fact, and research is more likely to be devoted to finding out which part of the brain they are located in. Equally imperceptibly, the term “systemic” (not least as a victim of inflationary use) finds itself sucked into the gravitational pull of these spheres of ultimate certainty. Corporate consultants have long since cottoned on to the added value generated by the addition of the adjective “systemic”. In the meantime, Systemic Therapy has been awarded the predicate “scientifically acknowledged”. Will this lead to a situation where the reference to “failsafe” methodology will make all further inquiry superfluous? Will systemic practice soon be taught in strictly defined curricula in which only “evidence-based” methods are countenanced? Will Systemic Therapy end up like Behavioural Therapy, which back in the 1960s and 1970s arrived on the scene with a sociological model of psychic disorders that no one talks about any more?

At the symposium we intend to try and recover some of the motive force of those formative years and summon up the courage it takes to challenge the constraints imposed on psychological thinking. Together, we want to dismantle the barriers to reflection that also loom large in systemic practice. We plan to revive an important systemic resource, the capacity for untrammelled inquiry, including inquiry into the terms of reference of the systemic approach itself. And we shall be asking who it is who decides what is “healthy” and what is “sick”, and how much sense it makes to operate with those concepts.

In short, we want to revive the power of doubt for systemic practice and systemic thinking and turn it to account,

  • because doubt helps to avoid being reduced to silence by apparently incontestable explanations,
  • because doubt helps you to keep your thinking flexible and look for better solutions,
  • and because in practice doubt is the open door on reflection that ensures that we do not end up confined in thought-prisons.


For all these reasons we have invited renowned experts from psychology, sociology, psychotherapy, philosophy and the humanities to discuss with us their ideas for life as a practitioner. What they all have in common is their capacity for doubt.

Here are some of the topics and issues to be thrashed out at the symposium in talks, workshops, discussions and events, etc.:

  • Systemic Positions on Moving Ground
  • Between Manual and Gut Feeling
  • The “Nature” (or otherwise) of Psychic Illnesses
  • Brain or Psyche? On the Future of Psychotherapy
  • Systemic Therapy: Have our Triumphs Finished us Off?
  • A Quantum of Solace for Doubters and Ditherers: On Dealing with Ambivalences, Di-, Tri-, and Tetra-lemmas