Structural Family Therapy

Family therapy gives importance to the structure and organization of a family in order to address its psychological and emotional needs. There are a number of different methods of family therapy among which structural family therapy or SFT created by Salvador Minuchin is the most distinguished. Minuchin started to evolve his family therapy method while he was working at a New York school for problematic boys in the 1960s. Now let's learn more about this structural family therapy.

What Is Structural Family Therapy?

Although structural family therapy is not as well-known as some other therapies like psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, it is quite effective. SFT is not that different from family systems therapy, as it also considers family as a unit which grows and evolves with the passage of time and goes on to form culture and community.

However, problems in the family system can cause it to stop evolving. For instance, psychological problems faced by a member of the family can often disrupt the family's evolution process. SFT places more importance on the structure of a family instead of focusing on the individual's problem. It signifies that the problems of an individual get amplified because of the structure and communication within a family. Thus, SFT focuses on resolving the flaws in the family structure and communications in order to restore the normal function of the family system.

What Are the Concepts in Structural Family Therapy?

The main concepts which help in understanding the structural family therapy are family structure, family subsystems and family boundaries.

1. Family Structure

The interactions among different families vary depending on their inherent family rules. Each family member adjusts their behavior in accordance to the rules to make sure that the family system operates without issues. Family structure is based on family members' repeated interactions which can enhance expectations and establish lasting patterns. You can get a general idea about the family structure by observing family members' actions, like who says what to whom, the way of communication and the result of this talk.

2. Family Subsystems

A family contains many subsystems that perform different tasks according to the family's requirements. Family subsystems can be based on role functions, gender, age group and common interests. Common subsystems in a family include:

  • Spouse – wife and husband
  • Parents – mother and father
  • Children or siblings – sisters and brothers
  • Extended family

Problems can arise if one of the subsystems starts to take the role and place of another subsystem.

3. Boundaries

Boundaries are barricades through which different members and subgroups within a family system can communicate with each other. The boundaries in a family system can rigid or dispersed. A rigid boundary means that there are a lot of limitations on communication among different family members. Such boundaries cause feeling of isolation among different subsystems and disrupt family unity. On the other hand, scattered boundaries cause different subsystems and family members to overly affect the lives of other members. In an ideal family system, boundaries should be a mixture of both rigid and diffuse allowing for easy contact for support as well as independence.

Hoes Does Structural Family Therapy Help?

The aim of structural family therapy is to ensure effective working of the family order to establish a harmonious atmosphere in a family.

1. Making an Alliance

The therapist should make an alliance with each family member so that he/she can understand how this family interacts. Besides, therapist should reduce the anxiety of each family member and win them over by making appropriate greetings and comments.

2. Observe How Family Members Interact

Therapist can gain insight on the issues in the family by observing each member's spontaneous behaviors. Through this, therapist can determine if boundaries are clear enough, know the stand of each family member if it's neutral, defensive, or aggressive, and find out whether there are enmeshments, like children are involved in parents' discussion.

3. Map the Family Structure

The therapist should identify the structure of the family by understanding the interactions and boundaries between different family members. Once the structure of a family is identified, the therapist can identify the modifications which are required in the family structure.

4. Make Real Time Demonstration

In order to gain insight into the family structure and its transactions, the therapist should ask the members to demonstrate a conflict situation during a therapy session.

5. Alter Boundaries

Once the therapist identifies the modifications required in a family's structure, he/she should tighten or loose the boundaries between family different members and subsystems. For instance, if the boundaries are too diffuse, efforts will be made to enhance boundaries and let family members enjoy their own space.

6. Take Sides

Therapist can use his/her authority to modify interactions between different members and subsystems. For example, in order to resolve a conflict situation, the therapist can support one family member in an argument.