Switzerland (Hochschule Luzern): 1000 words about Swiss Systemic Social Work Print


Käthi Vögtli and Irene Müller

Hochschule Luzern - Soziale Arbeit


What Johannes Herwig-Lempp writes in his detailed and thorough paper "Systemic Social Work in Germany" also applies to a large extent in Switzerland.

We will therefore describe, in our view, the differences and particularities in Switzerland.  The history of systemic therapy in Switzerland is similar to Germany - with the big difference being that systemic therapy is recognized by health insurance in Switzerland.  Also, at the beginning of the Swiss program,it was possible for social workers to have a Therapy License and also psychologists / - which must be delegated by a physician. Today, for social workers, it is no longer possible to obtain a license as a therapist.


Systemic social work at the Colleges and Universities

History from the beginning: TheUniversities of Applied Sciences and Arts have only been in Switzerland for 15 years. Thus, the training landscape has changed a lot - from small colleges to larger Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts. There are two major educational mouvements of systemic social work. One is the systemic-constructive solution-oriented approaches which are practically taught in all schools, with varying intensity and in some cases, only as an elective module. The other, which was developed at the ZurichUniversity of Applied Sciences and Arts, School of Social Work, is an approach based on Mario Bunge, Werner Obrecht and Silvia Staub-Bernasconi. In short, this approach is more of a materialist theory of social problems which should constitute a ‘Meta Theory’ for social work. This direction is taught in most schools as well.

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, School of Social Work has a long tradition with the systemic approach. Since the 1970's it has been working in and on the subject of "Systemic Work with Families in the area of Social Work." Since 1985, Käthi Vögtli has continued with this tradition and developed it over the years, especially the systemic-constructivist and solution-oriented approaches to various dimensions and fields of social work practice. What has arisen from this development is the postgraduate course - Master of Advanced Studies in Systemic and Solution-Focused Social Work. In Switzerland, this is the course which is focused on most intensively in social work.

Other developments in systemic therapy / counseling / social work: The University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland - School of Social Work: Master of Advanced Studies MAS in Systemic Solution-Oriented Short-Term Counseling and Therapy with a focus on psychosocial work.

Zurich Universities of Applied Sciences have recently launched a MAS in Systemic Consulting, together with an institute which is primarily for therapists with a focus on counselling and therapy. In addition, there are smaller institutes which offer training in systemic and solution-oriented work, that are accessible to social workers.


The Master of Advanced Studies in Systemic and Solution-Focused Social Work (MAS LKO) an the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts – School of Social Work

This course is made up of four Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS). These studies build on each other and can be attended individually. The theoretical orientation and the attitude basis’s are similar to those described by Johannes Herwig-Lempp in his Article on Systemic Social Work in Germany.  Participants are trainees (interns) in social work with at least two years of professional experience. There are also individuals from related professional fields (education, health, psychology).

CAS 1: Solution-FocusedCounselling and Coaching

The contents are theoretical bases (systems theory, constructivism) and introduction to the solution-focusedcounselling model, focusing on face to faceconversationand practicing the basic attitudes and tools. Then, transfer to the social work practice of the students.

CAS 2: Solution-Focusedand Competence- Oriented Work with Small Systems

Work together with couples, families, in the stationary context, in teams, gender competence.

CAS 3: Solutions and Solution-Focused and Competence- Oriented Work in Large Systems and Challenging Contexts

It is about systemic and solution-focused collaboration within organizations and between organizations (social work), Managing Diversity and Trans-Culturalism, deepening cooperation with non-voluntary clients. In the context of complex regulatory or legal requirements, e.g. child protection, social assistance (questions of discretion).

CAS4: Master module

Introduction to scientific work.  A study week in Berlin, with visits to systematic solution-focused  working organizations. Master's thesis, Colloquium.

The affinity to what is described by  JohannesHerwig-Lempp is represented in the fact  that colleagues from Germany teach as guest lecturers:  Johannes himself, Heiko Kleve and Jürgen Hargens.From Austria there are AndreaBrandlNebehay and UlrikeRussinger, who both work in the systemic and social work context.


Good Practices

There are a number of organizations in Switzerland,working very decidedly in systemic and solution-focused  work, especially in social education work. For example, you may want to check the following web sites:  www.schachen.ch or www.schlossmatt-bern.ch. It is interesting to note for example, the school and residential center in Schachen not only workwith clients in a solution-focused way. They work in the same way  together between theprofessionals and they orient theinternal processes on systematicand solution-focused  principles.

In the MAS LKO the students reflect  an develop in theirmasterthesissystemic and solution-focused approaches in the various fields of social work, expecially in the field of social work and law.

Key Principles

We agree very much with the chapter "A Concept of Systemic Social Work" by Johannes Herwig-Lempp. In addition, we emphasize a few dimensions that seem to us particularly important.

Clients als Experts /Kundigkeit:

Weareveryinspiredby Jürgen Hargens' "Konzept der Kundigkeit”[3].  The underlying idea is that always the client is expert  for himself/herself, for the fittingof solutions in his/her own living environment.

Expertise of not-knowing/  Expertise of knowing

In social work it often goes that - in addition to the expertise of the not-knowing (clients as experts) - there is a combination with the expertise of knowing (specialised knowledge / knowledge of methods/ expertise of professionals). With reference to this, see the text of Marianne Roessler&WolfgangGaiswinkler. A very appropriate  chapter is the chapter by JohannesHerwig-Lempp "The Unique Features of Systemic Social Work".

Resource orientation

Includes in particular the principle of creating resources in conversation with the clients(exceptions, miracle questions, coping questions)

Positive focus

Important for us is the question of how something looks, if we decide to look at it from the positive side.

Recognition of Suffering

Sometimes resource orientation or positive focus let us forget  simplytorecognise suffering.For us it is important  to recognise suffering before the focus is changed . In social work this seems particularly important to us, also to the many non-voluntary clients and people in emergency situations.

Goal orientation - supplemented with ecological questions

From the neuro-linguistic programming, we also include the questions of the price and of the disadvantages of each goal.

Generic principles

In the past few years, we have incorporated the theory of synergetics and weintroductthe genericprinciples (see text of Gunter Schiepek, p. 14). This theory allows us to describe the processes of change and to integrate different approachesin counselling along these principles.



We largely use the same literature as Johannes Herwig-Lempp in his article "Systemic Social Work in Germany". In addition,

we mention Günter Schiepek and Marianne Roessler& Wolfgang Gaiswinkler:


-         Roessler, Marianne &Gaiswinkler, Wolfgang (2009). Using the expertise of knowing and the expertise of not-knowing to support processes of empowerment in social work practice. Journal of social work practice, p. 215 – 227.

-         Schiepek, Günter (2008). Psychotherapie as Evidence-Based Process Management: A contribution to Professionalism Beyond the Standard Model. Kairos 2, 1-2, p. 7 – 22.


[3] Jürgen Hargens told us: “Kundigkeit” means „ expertise competency“. In German the word "Kunde" can be formed as an adjective –“kundig”. This means „being an expert, having expertise“ .