The Structural Family Therapy


Structural family therapy (SFT) is a psychotherapy technique that evaluates the hierarchies, subsystems, alliances, and boundaries within a family unit while focusing on direct interactions among family members to build a positive change. SFT is founded on the belief that families with problems can discover their own solutions to ineffective patterns of interacting with one another when effectively persuaded. Unlike other psychotherapy techniques, SFT focuses on the present rather than the past. It is a short-term approach with a duration of at least three months. SFT is used to help families raising children with intellectual development complications to cope (Thayyil & Rani, 2020). It is also used to solve infidelity, trauma, violence, and mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety (Jiménez et al., 2019). The primary goal of SFT is to assist families in creating flexible structures to manage any challenges, life transitions, and changes in the future.

Structural Family Therapy Interventions

The SFT model employs several techniques in solving dysfunctional interaction patterns within the family unit. The interventions include;

Family Mapping

During the therapeutic process, the therapist may begin by drawing a genogram or a family map to better understand a family’s dynamics. The genogram illustrates various structural relationships in a family in regards to alliances, hierarchy, power distribution, and boundaries (Finney & Tadros, 2018). During the family mapping, each family member is requested to describe their family’s relations and problems. The information obtained assists the psychotherapist in discovering how different family members relate to and affect each other. This may help identify dysfunctional engagement patterns and innovate ways to solve the problems. Therefore, family mapping allows a psychotherapist to study a family’s details to detect the underlying problem and develop measures to address it.


This technique involves a therapist’s act of becoming a part of a particular family to evaluate its dynamics and identify appropriate interventions to establish positive relationships. The therapist joins the family by establishing empathetic relations with its members. Empathy helps the family members feel appreciated and respected, making them open up more on family issues. In addition, a therapist may join a family through accommodation. This refers to making individual adjustments to connect with members of a family. To gain more acceptance from the family, the psychotherapist may adopt the language style and mimic some behavioral tactics common to the family members (Thayyil & Rani, 2020). A therapist’s adaptation to a family’s hierarchy, rules, and styles makes the members more comfortable sharing their problems. However, the psychotherapist has to maintain their leadership position in the therapeutic process. Joining assists a therapist in identifying in-depth family problems (Finney & Tadros, 2018). It also helps discover a family’s strengths and highlight them to increase a family’s awareness of its useful skills that can assist in solving problems.


It involves a therapist’s creation of a scenario that depicts the dysfunctional interactions within a family to help the members identify the patterns. During a therapy session, the therapist may construct a scenario or ask a family member to respond to what another member has said. Such engagements may help pinpoint the unhealthy relationships between family members (Chappelle & Tadros, 2020). Consequently, the therapist may suggest some changes in the interactions that would result in better outcomes. This intervention is based on the assumption that the interactions changes made during the therapy session will be incorporated into the family relationships outside therapy. Effective enactments improve a family’s communication and functioning by empowering it to explore new behaviors.

Boundary Making and Restructuring

This strategy involves establishing clear boundaries within a family unit to promote healthy interactions and relationships. Therapists help families explore and adopt healthy boundaries by adjusting hierarchical positions if necessary (Muntigl & Horvath, 2020). This is achieved through defining which interactions are open to some family members and which are closed. Boundary making may be physical, like rearranging seating positions, or verbal, such as giving specific instructions or reminders to prevent interruptions. Setting boundaries restructures a family unit because it changes the rules within which it functions. Restructuring occurs when a therapist alters the existing hierarchical and interaction patterns to prevent dysfunctional relationships, whether through enactment or boundary setting (Thayyil & Rani, 2020). Through such techniques, family members become aware of how their actions affect those around them and are encouraged to develop new interactive tactics, thus promoting positive change.


It is an approach that exposes the family unit to a new perspective to influence positive behavior change. Following an extensive analysis of a family’s problem, the therapist may point out how each family member is contributing to the problem. In addition, the psychotherapist may offer their own views about the family problem and create a new perspective that provides solutions for the existing issues (Thayyil & Rani, 2020). Reframing aims to highlight the positive aspects of a family’s interactive process and challenge the negatives so that the family members may adopt new healthier behaviors and relationships.

Application of the Structural Family Therapy to Work with Family Unit

The various SFT techniques are critical in establishing the main issues affecting family units and how to resolve them. In this case, through the family mapping approach, a therapist may uncover and identify interactions and patterns of behavior within a family. It may also be used to understand family rules and their impact on family members. For instance, if a child in a family feels that they are not given equal support like their siblings, there may be issues of mistrust in the family. Therefore, through family mapping, therapists may understand the main problems within the family unit (Finney & Tadros, 2018). In addition, the strategy of joining exposes the therapist to more insights into the challenges being experienced by the family unit (Chappelle & Tadros, 2020). This is because the psychotherapist can observe the family’s interactions during therapy and in their home environment. The constant monitoring may help the therapist track a family’s interactions and form a hypothesis on the nature of their relationships and engagement patterns.

Following the diagnosis of the underlying problem, the therapist may work with the family to restructure the old interaction patterns and relationships into new and functional ones. In this case, the boundary-making approach may help the family members discover their limits during interactions which may help build healthier relationships (Finney & Tadros, 2018). For example, the therapist may assist the children in the family to recognize their limits in regard to decision-making. Clarifying that parents have the final decision-making because they are in charge of the family may help the children know their position. Thus, the boundary-making approach may help different family members identify their place in the hierarchy and the extent of their authority. Similarly, therapists may employ the enactment strategy to expose the negative interaction patterns between family members and assist them in developing positive behaviors (Thayyil & Rani, 2020). In this case, a psychotherapist may recommend that if two family members get into an argument, they should resolve it instead of ignoring each other. Moreover, the reframing technique may help the family members embrace new perspectives by changing their views about each other’s intentions, promoting positive interactions.


The family dynamics undergo constant change due to the growth and life transitions of each family member resulting in conflicts and misunderstandings, which may cause a rift. However, I believe that the SFT is instrumental in assisting families to overcome their challenges and adopt new mechanisms of dealing with diverse issues. I feel like this approach is more effective in solving family issues because it focuses on and evaluates how family rules, interaction patterns, power distribution, and hierarchies may create dysfunction in families. In this way, a therapist is highly likely to detect the underlying issue and devise the appropriate measures to solve it. I advocate for SFT’s practice of incorporating all family members in therapy. This helps them understand how their behaviors affect the rest of the family and what should be done to promote healthy and happy interactions. In my case, if my family was experiencing a significant problem, I would like for all of us to be involved in finding the solution because this promotes a sense of belonging. Therefore, I would recommend SFT to all families experiencing challenges because it improves family communications and rectifies imbalances.


Chappelle, N., & Tadros, E. (2020). Using structural family therapy to understand the impact of poverty and trauma on African American adolescents. The Family Journal, 29(2), 237-244. Web.

Finney, N., & Tadros, E. (2018). Integration of structural family therapy and dialectical behavior therapy with high-conflict couples. The Family Journal, 27(1), 31-36. Web.

Jiménez, L., Hidalgo, V., Baena, S., León, A., & Lorence, B. (2019). Effectiveness of structural–strategic family therapy in the treatment of adolescents with mental health problems and their families. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(7), 1255. Web.

Muntigl, P., & Horvath, A. (2020). Change in family therapy. Communication and Medicine, 16(2), 169-183. Web.

Thayyil, M., & Rani, A. (2020). Structural family therapy with a client diagnosed with dissociative disorder. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 43(6), 549-554. Web.

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