Second-Order Change

8 Commentsby   |  11.01.09  |  Uncategorized

Second-order change is one of the main concepts to be grasped in the field of Family Therapy. Because the family is viewed as a system, it is important to understand the role second order change can take in therapy sessions. Second-order change is change that reforms the structure of a system (Brill & Worth, 1997). In other words, this type of change takes place when a system’s structure is altered and produces different results than it had been before. The key to this is that the entirety of the system is altered, not just a single part. In a family, this could take the form the restructuring of a parental system in a step-family or a family with multiple and conflicting parental figures. Structural therapy makes use of this technique and focuses on second order change quite a bit.

Second-order change can actually be observed in nature. Think of a pride of lions. Lets say this particular pride of lions is used to hunting antelope. The lionesses might stalk for as long as they could and just pounce on the antelope so they would not have to run a lot and use too much energy. They work as a team, but to corner the antelope and pounce. Lets say, though, that the antelope went away and that a herd of zebra came into the territory. These are bigger animals and it takes a different kind of hunting to take one down for the lions. Instead of the system working on the element of surprise, the group of lionesses rely on the strength of numbers. Multiple lions jump on the zebra in order to take it down. At first the lions worked as a system to corner and surprise the antelope and then had to change their system to rely on strength.

Brill, P. L. & Worth, R. (1997). The four levels of corporate change. New York: AMACOM Books.

What are some other natural Systems in which we could observe second order change?

What role could second order change play in our own lives?

How do we observe it in our own Family of Origin?


  1. Sybil Vess
    10:42 am, 11.02.09

    Good analogy Kent! It makes it more clear to understand second-order change when you talk about changing tactics instead of rules about rules.
    The role that second order change plays in my life is my Christianity. I think becoming a Christian should be a second-order change for everyone. It does not just change one thing in your life; it affects everything about you. It changes everything from the inside out. I believe it completely transforms our systems in a way that makes us stand out for a completely different reason then we did before.
    Good job!

  2. Jacqueline Roberts
    12:29 pm, 11.03.09

    1. I think a common example of second order change is the birth of a new child. Not only does the couple have to adjust their everyday routine, but their lives will be forever changed by this new life.

    3.In my family of origin I think second order change was demonstrated when I left home. Even though I come back from time to time, my family’s system is forever changed.

  3. Dean Pye
    12:30 am, 11.05.09

    Good job describing what second order change looks like, Kent. I really have a hard time trying to understand what first order change looks like as compared to second order change, but your analogy helped put things in perspective. I also agree with Sybil that it helps to see second order change in terms of changing tactics and entire systems rather than rules about rules.
    1. One other system that second order change can be seen in could be (if we are going along with the Christian theme set up earlier) the system of the Jewish nation during the New Testament. They were looking for a messiah that would free them from Roman authority, but Jesus completely changed their perception of what a messiah would look like by dying to set us free from sin.
    I hope that’s actually an example of second order change…

  4. Amie Campbell
    7:31 pm, 11.05.09

    One way I’ve seen second order change in my family is in moving to Abilene and then getting married. My mother and I lived 40 minutes from my Grandparents and saw them often. Then I came to Abilene for school and my mother and grandparents were 2 days away. This dramatically changed the way that we interacted. Then, two years later, Philip and I got married. While not the same as the birth of a child, it did bring a new person into our family system.

    And I want to add my voice to the others, that analogy was pretty awesome!

  5. Blake Berryhill
    5:24 pm, 11.08.09

    What role could second order change play in our own lives?
    When I think of second-order change, I think of Dr. Milholland’s “boxes.” If second-order change is changing the rules about rules, then it can play out in our lives in significant ways. The best example is in relationships. The current rules in relationships allow us to act and react in certain ways. Some of these behaviors are dysfunctional or conflictual. Second-order change allows us to change these interactional patterns into more functional and healthy behaviors.

  6. Tommy Johnson
    10:51 am, 11.30.09

    I just got back from Thanksgiving, so I think I want to tackle to FOO question. Ok Second Order change in a family. I’m sure every family has it intricacies. But, my family tip toes around change. The thing that actually catapults us into change is an emotional outburst.
    This outburst usually has been from my sister or mother. But, my dad or I could be the instigators as well. Anyway, after the error message or outburst happens–then all members in the system try to correct the behaviors that caused the deviation. I think when we have “good” family talks, we are processing and changing the rules about the rules–so that all members in the family can be functional/”happy”.

  7. Kelsey Waskow
    11:02 pm, 12.06.09

    I agree with what the other’s said Kent: that was a great analogy! I think nature in general shows us a great deal of examples of second order change. One of those is that of extinction. When a species becomes extinct, the species that were previously it’s hunters have to incorporate second order change and discover another species that they can hunt. Very similar to your analogy, way to go on originality, Kelsey!

    Sybil, I also agree with what you said about Christianity being a great example of second order change in our lives. Only upon accepting Christ into our heart and lives, this complete metamorphosis is able to occur.

  8. renaissance women
    4:26 am, 01.18.22

    بالدسار کاستیلیونه در اثر خود، مرد درباری تصویری بسیار تأثیرگذار از زنان دورۀ رنسانس ارائه داده است. این کتاب راهنمایی دربارۀ کارکردهای اجتماعی و فرهنگی دربارهای دوران رنسانس است و برای مردان و زنان نجیب‌زاده تهیه شده است.

Add a Comment