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First-Order Change

First-order change is a concept originally codified by Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, and Richard Fisch in 1974 to understand how systems change. It refers to change that reduces symptoms, increases functioning, or alleviates a temporary stress rather than changing the systems and patterns that create and maintain symptoms. In couples and family therapy, first-order change is utilized both as a tool to identify the underlying assumptions of therapeutic work and to conceptualize the type of change systems require. This entry clarifies the concept of first-order change and describes how it differs from second-order change. Additionally, the entry reviews how first-order change can be utilized as a conceptual tool in family and couples therapy, discusses the rationale for working toward first-order change, and provides examples of ...

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