This insight comes from psychotherapy research and initially does NOT mean something like „where there are people, there is always chaos“.

Rather, these research findings imply that human behavior and the behavior of communities have a very specific characteristic that can be described relatively precisely by the propositions of chaos theory and that occurs in many other systems, such as the global weather system.

From this insight, a few but quite fundamental insights about persons and communities can now be derived:

  • Human behavior is predictable and predictable only within a very small range.
  • Closely associated with health and good function are high variability and diversity of behavior and events. Healthy individuals and communities thus show a great diversity of ideas, emotions, and behaviors and a vital situational alternation between them.
  • The possibilities of controlling persons and communities and thereby influencing or even determining their ideas, emotions and behaviors for the future are extremely limited and depend on a very narrow framework.
  • The „chaotic“ characteristic of normal and healthy human behavior mentioned at the beginning shows regularities which are described in chaos theory. This provides a „metatheoretical“ framework of human behavior. From this framework, all processes, including processes of change in persons and communities, can be understood in principle and can also be influenced in a targeted manner.
  • Human intuition can be a tool to manage the complexity of human life in a constructive way and successfully.

Psychotherapy research – source of new knowledge

The described basics were the basis on which change processes in psychotherapy were and are fundamentally redesigned at the Institute for Synergetics and Psychotherapy Research of the Pracelsus Medical Private University Salzburg (directed by Univ.- Prof. DDr. Günter Schiepek).

In addition to the recording of the clients’/patients‘ personal resources and an individual („idiographic“) description of their own life system (by themselves), therapy monitoring in the form of the daily recording of their own state of mind in a web-based tool („Synergetic Navigation System, SNS“, see also play a central role. The resulting time series are the subject of joint reflection between patient and therapist, as well as for reflection on the progress of psychotherapy in the context of collegial team meetings at the Institute.

Time series as the backbone of change

These time series are evaluated in the SNS with the methods of the theory of complex dynamic systems and contain valuable information about the progress of the therapy. In this way, new methods are developed with which short-term predictions of the further development as well as targeted „interventions“ could become possible.

Understanding and cognition through modeling

The combination of a variety of psychotherapeutic insights into systemic relationships and the described „metatheoretical“ framework led to the construction of a mathematical model of psychotherapy. We were and are guided by the hope and expectation that some so-called „common factors“ of psychotherapy and psychological hypotheses on motivation, emotion regulation, and information processing of patients/clients can be integrated together in a nonlinear model of human change dynamics. The comparison with measured time series from psychotherapy monitoring subsequently makes the validation of the model possible.

Gaming and intuition

Whatever such a model looks like – its dyamics cannot be „understood“ in a framework that we are used to from so-called „linear“ mechanisms and models of thinking that we usually use in a „conventional“ science. There we assume that we can understand the whole when we have understood the sum of the parts. The cause-effect relationships remain simple and clear (we say „linear“ and „moncausal“).

Human behavior, on the other hand, can – according to our basic assumption – neither be understood nor described in this way. However, complex and non-linear behavior can – according to our assumption – be „experienced“ in a playful and intuition-guided way. This conviction and a large number of corresponding inquiries from therapists in further education and training courses – have prompted us to make available a miniature version of our computer-based simulation model as a psychotherapeutic simulation game – we call it PsySim – for the combination of simulation in psychotherapy.

So we wish you a lot of joy and insight when experimenting with PsySim – even if this might be connected with the necessity to read a little deeper into the applied theory of nonlinear systems.


Schiepek, G., Aas, B. & Viol, K. (2016). The mathematics of psychotherapy – a nonlinear model of change dynamics. Nonlinear Dynamics in Psychology and the Life Sciences, 20(3), 369-399.

Schiepek, G., Schöller, H., Viol, K., Hütt M.T., Sungler, K., & Menning, H. (2016). Die Mathematik der Psychotherapie. Psychoscope 5/2016, 28-31.

Stöger-Schmidinger, B., Aichhorn, W., Schöller, H., Aas, B., & Schiepek, G. (2016). Systemische Fallkonzeption und State-Dynamik bei einer Patientin mit struktureller Dissoziation der Persönlichkeit. Familiendynamik, 41(4), 322-332. doi: 10.21706/FD-41-4-322

Schiepek, G., Viol, K., Aichhorn, W., Hütt, M.T., Sungler, K., Pincus, D., & Schöller, H. (2017). Psychotherapy is chaotic—(not only) in a computational world. Frontiers in Psychology for Clinical Settings, 8:379. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00379

Schiepek, G., Aichhorn, W. & Schöller, H. (2018). Monitoring change dynamics – a nonlinear approach to psychotherapy feedback. Chaos & Complexity Letters, 11(3), 355-375.

Schiepek, G., Aichhorn, W., Schöller, H. & Kronberger, H. (2018). Prozessfeedback in der Psychotherapie. Methodik, Visualisierung und Fallbeispiel. Psychotherapeut, 63(4), 306-314.

Schöller, H., Viol, K., Aichhorn, W., Hütt, M.T., & Schiepek, G. (2018). Personality development in psychotherapy: a synergetic model of state-trait dynamics. Cognitive Neurodynamics, 12(5), 441-459.

Schöller, H., Viol, K., Goditsch, H., Aichhorn, W., Hütt, M.T., & Schiepek, G. (2019). A nonlinear dynamic systems model of psychotherapy: first steps toward validation and the role of external input. Nonlinear Dynamics in Psychology and the Life Sciences, 23(1), 79-112.

Schiepek, G., Gelo, O., Viol, K., Kratzer, L., Orsucci, F., de Felice, G., Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Stöger-Schmidinger, B., Sammet, I., Aichhorn, W., & Schöller, H. (under review). “Not On Track” – Are psychotherapies moving on standard tracks? Journal of Clinical Psychology