We think it is helpful to make a distinction between a systemic hypothesis or formulation, and a working hypothesis. A systemic or overall hypothesis represents the therapist's view on the connection between beliefs, behaviour and relationships that he or she arrives at after working with the family. A working hypothesis is a tool which enables the therapist to interview the family and explore certain beliefs, behaviours and relationships which eventually lead to an understanding of the meaning which the problem acquires in the wider system. As such it is a set of ideas that stimulates the curiosity of the therapist (see Cecchin 1987) and leads him into certain areas and not others. It also enables him to make connections between his own thinking and the feedback he receives from the family. For example, with the Johnson family, the initial working hypothesis based on the referral information was as follows:
The boys and the mother in the family seem close and the father somewhat peripheral. Maybe Mrs Johnson married a husband who could be a father for herself, and maybe Mr Johnson wanted an organizing mother as a wife so he could get on with his career.