The Structural Family Therapy Concept


This research paper discusses Structural Family Therapy in relation to its development, tenets, application and comparison to other methods. It was established that Minuchin was at the forefront of developing the approach due to the realization that human problems cannot be solved individualistically. Instead, they should be solved in the context of family structure since it affects behavior profoundly. Some of the critical tenets of SFT included the family and the presentation of the problems as an issue of the system rather than the affected party. In regard to the process of application, it was noted that a family does not need to meet given requirement in order to enable the application of SFT.

Identification and Overview of the Approach

Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is regarded as a model of family treatment that is based on systematic theories conceived by Salvador Minuchin with the help of other psychologists at the Child Guidance Clinic of Philadelphia (Carr, 2000). In essence, the approach is founded on the principle that effective therapy is fostered by the change of structure within the family setting. It stipulates that the treatment process must focus on the details of personal change so that individuals restructure to attain a healthy pattern of relations.

It seeks to address the afflictions experienced in the functioning of the family by helping the members to understand the informally stipulated rules that govern its relationships and roles. This implies that the essence of family therapy does not rest on the individual prospects, but the ideologies of the family system in entirety. One of the most crucial aspects of SFT is the fact that therapists, in their attempt to bring positive change, integrate with the family, become temporal members and start learning the ways of the system in order to transform it (Dallos & Draper, 2010).

Development of Structural Approach

In essence, the conception of SFT was necessitated by the need to provide a way of treating family problems based on the system rather than using individualistic approaches. The history of this approach dates back to 1960 when the Minuchin conducted therapy in one of the schools in New York known as Wiltwyck (Dattilio & Jongsma, 2010).

Whereas the conception of this approach cannot be necessarily situated at that point, its development is attributed strongly to the Minuchin’s effort to establish it in this school. In other words, his application of the approach in Wiltwyck School is considered as a critical undertaking that catalyzed the entire development of SFT. In this regard, the boys from Wiltwyck School originated from disorganized families that had multiple problems occasioned by poverty. The psychologist noted that the society relied on psychotherapeutic methods that required verbal articulations and targeted the middle class.

As a result, the techniques resulted to very negligible transformational impacts on the students. In fact, it was discovered that most of the students lost the insight once they returned home (Doherty & McDaniel, 2010). Consequently, it called for psychologists to develop alternative approaches for the counseling. Minuchin started developing the method by seeking to change transform families into therapeutic entities. The focus shifted from the individualistic perspective to the use of techniques that manipulate family structures when solving delinquency problems (Gehart, 2012).

Having focused on the problem as a family matter, Minuchin developed techniques that were suitable for the diagnosis of poor socioeconomic families in the community (Donohue & Azrin, 2012). This diverted the attention of psychologists from the common individualistic approach to the use of the family system. At this point, Minuchin helped to create concepts that formed the foundation of a model that was exposed after one decade.

Since the model was used on a fairly small population, Minuchin and his colleagues decided to test its validity by using a bigger cross-sectional population. After the test, the results evoked critical contestations between the perspectives of Minuchin and Haley. The two authors’ vies differed essentially, but their controversies formed the basis of improving their respective models of counseling. Having applied the approach to the boys at Wiltwyk School successfully, one of the clinical centers in Philadelphia invited Minuchin to their premises in order to help diabetic children. It was noted that the children had inherent problems that did not have medical explanations (Gehart, 2012).

In addition, it was established that these problems did not respond to classical personal treatments. Minuchin collected and analyzed medical data from the clinical facility to determine the cause of these unexplainable issues. Along with his colleagues, he established that there was a close connection between the psychological afflictions and the family characteristics. It was established that most of these children came from families that exhibited similar characteristics, including extreme protectiveness, conservativeness of behaviors, and lack of conflict resolution among other critical features.

Having succeeded in the diagnosis of these patients, Minuchin pushed for the creation of clear stipulations that could increase the flexibility of families in light of their undertakings and resolution of family conflicts. This triggered the establishment of the Philadelphia Training Center in 1970, where Minuchin educated therapists about the ideologies of SFT. In 1972, Minuchin developed and published a systematic stipulation of SFT that contained distinct theories and concepts. The formulation was based on the concept of helping a family to develop from one level into another (Sim, 2010). It was focused on the realignment of family relationships so that the family could maximize its potential holistically rather than transforming the individual members.

Components of SFT


Among the various tenets of this approach, family is the most critical aspect that define the essence of this model of counseling. It is defined as living open system where the components are independent of each other, but they are governed by unformulated ruled to maintain patterns of relationships. In essence, those set of rules that govern these relationships make up the structure (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2013). The family is subject to essential influences from the external aspects so that its structure is not only shaped by the members, but also the environment within which it lives (Rivett, 2010).

This implies that the family rules can be conceived by the member or enforced by the culture of the people surrounding it. In addition, the family is a transformational entity because the mentioned rules keep on changing continuously according to the negotiations that take place. These rules change naturally to coincide with the broad life circles and become more effective in relation to the system. The change is considered as the tool of re-accommodating the arising circumstances in the environment and adapt to them (Gurman, 2010).

For example, if one of the family members is incapacitated, then the rest should come up with ways of tackling his or her roles to avoid any gaps in the family. However, in some instances, the common setting of continuous change and readjustment can be halted. In this case, a family can refute responding to some circumstances occasioned by the internal and external environment (Lowe, 2004).

Problem Presentation

The other critical tenet of SFT is the presentation of the problem and the way in which it is viewed by the psychologists (Rambo, 2010). In this regard, it is evident that the problem is considered as a part of the family structure rather than an issue of the individual. This implies that when answering the question of whether a child is disciplined or not, one must consider the structure of the family before making a decision.

Furthermore, it means that the actions of indiscipline must be put into context with the underlying ideologies, rules and beliefs of the family system. For example, it must be established whether the child is more undisciplined towards the mother or a father. In addition, the therapist could establish when exactly the child turns aggressive in order to understand the circumstances that trigger the actions of indiscipline (Myhre & Weima, 2012). Importantly, it is critical when determining how other members of the family respond to the aggressiveness in order to measure the extent to which reactions accelerate of reduce the rate of misbehavior.

Process of Therapeutic Change

In regard to this model, the issues raised by the patients are viewed as critical components of the family system so that the solution can originate from the structure only (Winek, 2010). In essence, the restructuring involves the changing of relative positions of the family members. The process calls for the redefinition of critical relations in relation to the hierarchical and coalition interactions (Nichols & Schwartz, 2005).

This implies that the therapeutic change facilitates transformation of sustained patterns comprising of the problem. Since SFT requires the therapists to act as a member of the family, they have the capability to request different behaviors and change the perceptions. By influencing the behaviors and perceptions, the therapist is capable of changing the interaction between the family members, so it coincides with the prevailing environmental conditions (Rambo, 2013).

Application of the Approach during Family Therapy

In the light of the application of this approach, it is important to understand that the model is not a mere collection of techniques applied to the problem. Instead, it is a practical and systematic model based on the principle that problems can be conceptualized and diagnosed in the context of their relationships (Pocock, 2010). In addition, the application must be based on the fact that the family is an existing entity that has a past and a future. These two aspects influence the behaviors, beliefs and ideologies of the family members.

In essence, there are no particular specifications that the problem should envisage in order to apply SFT. Whereas it is unthinkable that that the model cannot be applied in some situations, it is critically important to notice that some situations impede the effectiveness of the approach (Winek, 2010). For example, if a child is hospitalized for diagnosis, it is difficult to trigger the change of the family structure. This implies that the efforts to change the family structure are essentially ineffective due to the separation of the child from the members whose relationships should be changed (Lange, 2010).

Similarities, Differences and New Lessons Learnt

While considering psychoanalytical approach, it was noted that the two methods focus on the rules and relationships of the family in the light of interacting with each other. However, it was noted that diagnosis is not based on changing the structure of the family. Instead, therapists consider individual psychoanalysis in order to diagnose the patients. In addition, there is one critical realization that was made during the study, namely, it was established that the problem does not need to meet certain requirements in order to apply SFT.


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