Aspects of Structural Family Therapy


Structural family therapy (SFT) is a system-theory-based therapeutic method. According to Colapinto (2019a), in the context of the family, structural family therapy is a strategy for analyzing and treating behavioral issues (p. 107). The difficulty a client presents is due to harmful patterns of engagement within his or her family. Their interconnected social system is referred to known as the social web. The functional family therapist works not with the individual but with the family, helping members discover harmful habits and explore new methods of coping with the problems of family life.

The fundamentals of structural family therapy are usually deeply embedded in the shifting paradigms of various relational treatments. Stress can be fully understood not just in the context of the relationships from which it arises but also by seeing the potential for relationships to cause stress. The interaction of the family members and the definition of communication are significant factors in the challenge and thrill of structural family therapy. According to McAdams et al. (2016), “although SFT has been found to be relevant in the 21st century due to its ability to be applied to a variety of populations, presenting problems, and concerns, there is a lack of research validating SFT” (p. 255). Structural family treatments use the principles necessary to comprehend and arrange a particular family. This work aims to describe Structural Family Therapy as an effective and sought-after form of therapy today.

Salvador Minuchin and Structural Family Therapy

The structural family therapy paradigm is Salvador Minuchin’s main achievement. He wished to get a deeper understanding of the impact of both external and internal programming variables. Salvador Minuchin was a psychiatrist, physician, and the creator of the structural family therapy approach. People remember him for his charm and professional devotion. His writings have made a significant contribution to human understanding of the dynamics and daily problems of the family system.

He revealed the alliances amongst close relatives to the rest of the world. Furthermore, he demonstrated how strength and submission emerge in these circumstances. He was a psychiatrist who, among other achievements, had a remarkable capacity to enable the emotional component to emerge. He believed that he would be able to better deal with the tensions, tragedies, injuries, and unfulfilled needs by doing so. Salvador Minuchin reconstructed family structures like an architect; when it came to the mechanics that fueled their abnormal processes, he knew how to watch them and trust his intuition. Later, he encouraged any relevant adjustments by very directed interventions, always putting youngsters in the most potent place as essential adversaries.


Salvador Minuchin’s structural model’s therapeutic objective was to understand the relationships that existed in a given family structure in order to alter them. It tries to enhance the actions and relationships of the family members in order to accomplish this. In addition, by focusing on the kid as the main character. By disrupting the family’s hidden hierarchical structure, this approach aims to prevent sequences from recurring. It entails transferring power from oneself to others by altering one’s interpersonal style.

On the other hand, structural treatment seeks to change the complex structure by encouraging growth and encouraging people to establish family support. Furthermore, the aims of family structure are to change the dynamics and give new alternatives for issue solving and engagement. It contains subsystems that impact how members interact with one another.

The Role of the Therapist

A Structural Family Therapy practitioner will first examine the family in issue and take note of its general structure. According to Tadros and Finney (2018), “it is vital to note the family’s hierarchy in structural family therapy; members of a family may have different amounts of authority and reciprocal/complementary functions based on the family’s dynamics” (p. 253). There will be distinct responsibilities, behaviors, and boundaries, both good and bad, inside this framework. Following the creation of a chart or map, the therapist may identify any specific concerns that need to be addressed and which practical difficulties are causing the most significant difficulty in building a thorough treatment plan. When establishing a treatment plan, the reason the family came in will also be considered. Some families may come in because one of their children is having academic difficulties, which affects the entire family. They could be called in if a newly mixed family is having trouble establishing boundaries and defining parental responsibilities.

The therapist then proceeds to analyze the parts of the family’s interactions that are producing stress and creating disagreement within the family after the first session, or first few sessions, have been finished and the chart has been made. Role-playing, talking about thoughts and perspectives, and enabling family members to speak in a safe environment are all possible treatments. Instead of yelling, accusing, or blaming, family members may be encouraged to see the therapist as a guide to developing better, more helpful language.

Throughout a session, an SFT therapist must move in and out of the family’s relationships and behaviors in order to provide a safe space for the family to vent, communicate, and open up. Family therapists may participate in role-playing, play the position of the devil’s advocate intense situations, and illustrate the harmful elements of bullying, ridiculing, and other harmful behaviors. Therapists may also take one family member’s side or support one family member’s point of view over another, allowing for an angry or hurtful conversation to take place in a secure, nonviolent atmosphere.

Length of Treatment Course

There is no fixed, defined amount of time for treatment, as there are many other therapy techniques. Instead, therapists concentrate only on the changing trends of the individuals involved, working to move in and out of the family relationships to build a more efficient operating system, connecting, and setting boundaries. Treatment options are as little as two months, but it might take up to six months or longer, depending on the severity of the problem and how cooperative the family is. The faster a family listens, uses new tactics, and follows through on all of the therapist’s recommendations, the shorter the treatment sessions will be.

Structural Family Therapy can also go through a reorganization phase. The therapist may meet with the complete family at first, then ask for a few weeks with only a few family members to work on more minor, more specific concerns. Other family members may be requested to return or switch between a more significant and a smaller family unit. It can aid in enhanced collaboration and operating within the microcosms of a family. One week, just the adults in the family are required to attend treatment, and the next week, the children are separated from their parents. According to Eddy et al. (2021), dealing with children may be a challenging and frightening endeavor for many family counselors, especially when attempting to explain complicated family difficulties (p. 95). As family therapy aims to build a stable family environment, it is generally given plenty of time to complete.

Structural Family Therapy Techniques

Instead of focusing on family or personal history, structural family therapy approaches focus on the present situation. The therapist will usually start by sketching a genogram or map of a person’s family system. It demonstrates how the family’s structure, boundaries, connections, and specific alliances are now organized. The joining process is essential to the SFT approach. In this case, the therapist joins the family by developing an empathetic, sharing relationship. To strengthen this bond, he or she may imitate a family speech style or imitate certain habits.

Enactment, also known as role-playing, is a scenario created by the therapist in order for a problematic relationship to be acted out and recognized by the family. Proposals can then be investigated in the same manner. The process of examining and establishing the proper rules necessary for a healthy family function is known as demarcation and remodeling. It enables the family to change hierarchical ranks as necessary. Reframing occurs when the therapist gives different views on a specific situation to assist the family in understanding it more productively. By focusing on the good, the therapist hopes to alter the family narrative and increase self-esteem.


There are critiques and limits associated with every kind of therapy. Some argue that this type of treatment is restricted since it only involves close nuclear family members and ignores the entire family, social situations, mates, and neighbors. The financial and insurance aspect is also a barrier. As a particular treatment intervention, some insurance companies will not cover SFT. Due to private pay rates, it might be financially burdensome to the families to pay for these sessions, and structural family therapy approaches.

Real-Life Case

As a result of the economic situation in the country and the responsibilities that should be met, the Duncan family faces specific problems. Their relationship should not be affected by the tasks they have taken on, and they should take measures to grow the duties according to the structure established. The woman must appreciate her husband, even though she is the one who makes money. In addition, the spouse must realize that his son requires extra care. According to Colapinto (2019b), “family members must accept some degree of interdependency and some form of hierarchy” (p. 1059). Also, taking care of a newborn daughter may be very time-consuming as well. Therapists should examine these issues and offer advice on improving the existing poor condition, if necessary.

There is a range of prospective adjustments for the family in question. The incapacity of Jane to raise her kid Sunny is causing her concern. Her husband, Paul, wants her to pay more attention to his masculinity. His father spends more time with Sunny than with Jimmy, and Jimmy feels resentful of his father’s actions. Jimmy is one of the most fragile relatives, and he desperately wants someone’s attention. If the therapist wants to help Jimmy, he should not give him hollow promises. He should clearly describe his position as a counselor, one who will analyze the problem and propose choices that might help it improve.


There are apparent pressures that occur from time to time, resulting in a medium degree of normality in the household. Because of the lack of unhealthy habits and adequate nutrition, this is a healthy family. Just the incapacity to talk freely and speak out loud about personal dissatisfactions and wants is the pathology. As a consequence of open dialogue with the family, the therapist can propose many choices that can be accepted. There are phases of treatment:

  1. Joining;
  2. Understanding the presenting issue;
  3. Assessment of family dynamics;
  4. Goals;
  5. Amplifying changes;
  6. Termination;

Going through each of the phases, a family or a specific patient comes to a conviction.

Cultural and Diversity Factors

Cultural and diversity variables are overly sensitive to SFT, as it relies upon an individual’s or family’s ability to set cultural priorities and withstand the variety surrounding them. Minuchin emphasizes that the therapist must accept the cultural choices and not modify them or minimize their significance in the family’s existence. In reality, both cultural and diversity elements play an essential part in family therapy, as they serve to demonstrate to the family how distinctive and precious their family relationships are. Their own cultures are the ones that must be brought to society the most, and they need to be told that. They should feel respected for their differences and have a way to engage their individuality with a family, but they should not apologize for themselves or be disappointed by their situation or family. It is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that children understand their cultural requirements to their family hierarchy, and the therapist should describe all elements under this.


The ability to use SFT in a range of situations is key to its effectiveness. The therapist must be mature enough to get close to each family member without becoming a friend. However, it is essential to note that Minuchin’s treatment is more appropriate for prominent families to modify their structures, limits, and functions. Structural family therapists work to identify the unseen principles that govern the operation of the family system, map the relationships between family members or subgroups of the family, and disrupt dysfunctional interactions within the family, leading it to reset into healthier forms. Instead of focusing on the past, structural family therapy focuses on the present. Variables relating to culture and diversity are extremely sensitive to SFT since it depends on a person or family’s capacity to define cultural priorities and tolerate the variety surrounding them.


Colapinto, J. (2019a). Structural family therapy. In B. H. Fiese, M. Celano, K. Deater-Deckard, E. N. Jouriles, & M. A. Whisman (Eds.), APA handbook of contemporary family psychology: Family therapy and training. pp. 107–121. American Psychological Association.

Colapinto, J. (2019b). Family function and dysfunction in structural family therapy. Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy, pp. 1059-1060. Web.

Eddy, B. P., Clayton, C., & Hertlein, K. M. (2021). Our family is a team: A structural family therapy tool for counselors. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 16(1), 95-108. Web.

McAdams, C. R., Avadhanam, R., Foster, V. A., Harris, P. N., Javaheri, A., Kim, S., Williams, A. E. (2016). The viability of structural family therapy in the twenty-first century: An analysis of key indicators. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(3), 255-261.

Tadros, E., & Finney, N. (2018). Structural family therapy with incarcerated families: A clinical case study. The Family Journal, 26(2), pp. 253-261. Web.

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