What can systems theory do for me?
October 28, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Tell me all about Systems Theory, and how it can solve all my problems.

I'm becoming interested in Systems Theory. For those of you who, like me, are pretty weak on exactly what this means, here's a brief link: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/SYSTHEOR.html
Being a late bloomer, I'm just coming to the realization that there are whole fields of people who have been studying this stuff for decades.
I would like to: a) learn more about it and b) figure out how it might apply to future careers.
A few words about me: I turn 48 next month, so the term “future careers” is feeling ever more awkward on my tongue. I completed a PhD in Art History in 2008, in perfect unison with global economic meltdown, which hit humanities departments as hard as anyone else. Academic shrinkage combined with legions of rabidly motivated 27 year old keeners who would chew off their grandmother's leg for tenure to quickly convince me that there is no future for me in l'Academe. I just don't care enough.
So, I worked as a carpenter's assistant for a year, which sucked, and for the last couple of years have been writing internet content, which is boring and pointless but pays quite well and is easy and lets me stay home. But it's hardly a career, now, is it?
I'm wondering about getting training in Systems Theory as it applies to group behavior, management and public education about alternative energy and sustainability. So, here are a few questions.

1) What graduate programs exist in Canada that have anything to do with the stuff I just said?
2) What about funding? I'm through paying for school, seriously.
3) What sort of career might this lead to?
4) What kind of job could I get in this field without more training, i.e. with an extensive education in an entirely different field?
5) How much of a drawback is being almost 50?
6) Any other ideas for a useful and interesting career that actually might have openings for someone with a lot of skills but a very spotty resume?

I'm looking for a real job with real pay and a real future. If it takes yet more graduate school, I'm willing to do it, but only if it's funded and only if there's a very very good chance of getting a job at the end of it. I'm extremely talented at living cheaply, so rather that pursue another dead end I would prefer to get a little cabin in the woods and grow beans.

As usual, thank you!
posted by crazylegs to Education (3 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Marriage and Family Therapists have been trying to establish themselves in just this niche - sometimes even calling themselves Sytems Therapists, because they believe in the Sytemic notion that the "Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts." As such, they've tried to position themselves as seeingand dealing with issues in relationships *between* individuals, rather than in individuals themselves (even when doing therapy with only one person in the room). As a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) Intern myself, I can tell you that in many states, licensure (to provide therapy) requires a Masters degree and a few thousand hours of practicum.

I will say that many, many MFTs I currently work with are finishing their Masters in their 40s, 50s, 60s.

Because of my work/interest in Program Development and Evaluation, I also know that there's a significant push in the last several years in that world to consider systems theory in the evaluation of all kinds of programs, from education, to mental health, to organizations, to developing countries. The American Evaluation Association website is a fantastic jumping off point for exploring the state of the art of evaluation, and its often intuitive incorporation of Sytems Theory. Even just looking through their Job Listings would give you a sense of the kinds of work evaluators do.

I have a Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, with an emphasis in the application of systems theory to organizations and program evaluation, with many courses in systems theory, natural systems, cybernetics, etc... My dissertation was in the application of systems and lifecycle theory to organizational evaluation.

So, tl;dr, I love this stuff, and if I can help any more, point you to any books/articles, or answer anything else, or even just talk about this stuff more, please memail me.

Here's one thing you need to know about Systems Theory - once you see it (and see the world *through* it) it cannot be unseen. :)
posted by cheeken at 12:42 PM on October 28, 2011

Though we're making it look like only psychotherapists are interested in Systems Theory, I wanted to call your attention to the work of Yvonne Agazarian.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:15 PM on October 28, 2011

I use systems theory a lot in my own work. I would start off by reading Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline. Senge talks about many different applications of systems thinking in this book. Unfortunately, he is un-disciplined about crediting the people who originated "his" ideas, so it is hard to trace these back if you want further reading.
Having read this, you'll see so many potential areas for application, that you'll be buzzing to try them out. Management consultants use these ideas a lot in their work, as do IT analysts, organizational psychologists, group problem-solving consultants, etc.
Two major applications of systems theory are System Dynamics, which attempts to measure and quantify the relationships between elements of a situation, and Soft Systems Methodology, which provides a set of tools to explore and reconcile the multiple purposes and perspectives that need to be reconciled in order to take action in a complex situation.
The Systems Dynamics Society has career links on their website, which might spark you off. Alternately, here are a couple of useful explorations of how to apply soft systems methodology, that might inspire you.
posted by Susurration at 12:00 PM on October 29, 2011

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