Structural Family Therapy: Everything You Need to Know

This is a drawing of structural family therapy

Structural Family Therapy

Family Therapy Techniques

Structural family therapy is a therapeutic approach that recognizes that families possess many strengths, and it attempts to move families beyond dysfunctional patterns of interaction. SFT can also improve the separation between couples, children, parents, and other family members. Therapy does not have to be a single-person treatment.

Here is Structural Family Therapy: Everything You Need to Know.

In this post I will share with you the general concept of what structural family therapy is and also give a base idea of what each family member can expect. Getting a family therapist is a great addition to everyone’s mental health toolbox.

Have you ever thoughts about the impact and importance of your family’s dynamics when it comes to mental health?

The structures and subsystems of any family are more complex than most of us may realize. And when families fail to notice their structural problems, they certainly can’t expect to know how to change them for the better.

Structural Family Therapy provides a wide range of benefits and can be useful for all kinds of family situations and struggles. Still, before exploring SFT as an option for you and your family, it helps to understand more about this therapy and who tends to benefit the most from it.

With Structural Family Therapy, the focus is helping a family see and understand how their family is organized. This therapy is particularly helpful and common for blended families (families involving children from different marriages) and single-parent families.

Suppose you are struggling with special needs children or part of a family where drug abuse, mental illness like anxiety & depression, or severe marital problems are present. SFT might be recommended since your family would be considered at risk.

Families at risk can also include families who experience unemployment, violence, or trauma. However, it’s important to distinguish when other types of therapy may be needed for the individual(s) going through this, despite its impact on the family. For example, if your partner or child is working through trauma or a mental health condition, they might consider anything from talk therapy to MDMA therapy.

Structural Family Therapy can be used to support families with children who have psychological problems, such as eating disorders or behavioral difficulties, or older teenagers who are having difficulties at home or school. These are all reasons why you might seek SFT and things you can talk about with your therapist.

If your family can relate to any of these issues, it’s important to address them as soon as possible. Especially considering that children from at-risk families may develop the same negative behavioral patterns as their parents and experience similar problems in their own families someday.

Even if you don’t connect with the issues above there are plenty of reasons to go to therapy as a family, that help individuals and the whole group. Read over this blog on positive things to work on in therapy to help find focus points that may not have occurred to you as viable therapy conversations.

Structural family therapists work to uncover any unhealthy habitual behaviors or routines that negatively impact family dynamics. This therapy is intended to help families establish better routines so everyone can have a more loving and stable environment.

What is Structural Family Therapy

Structural Family Therapy is one of the most popular types of family therapy. Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is different from other therapies in that therapists address the family as a cohesive unit.

Rather than working on one individual’s issues first and then moving on to group therapy, Structural Family Therapy views the family as a system. It holds that the interaction between its members is responsible for a family’s health and well-being rather than each individual.

Structural Family Therapy focuses on the structure within a family. It was developed by Salvador Minuchin, a therapist in the 1960’s who worked with troubled youth and asserted that the entire family needs to work together to improve a child’s behavior, outlook, habits, and home life.

Structural Family Therapy focuses on improving communication between family members by repairing disrupted relationships and strengthening weaker ones.

How Many Sessions is Structural Family Therapy

The number of sessions required for Structural Family Therapy depends on the depth of each family’s problems. While some families might engage in Structural Family Therapy for a few weeks, some may need months.

That said, a structural family therapist will develop a plan for the family that includes milestones to help gauge the process and provide an idea of how many sessions will be needed to achieve the desired outcome. This way, you can get an idea of the overall costs of therapy or options like a sliding scale, and explore other therapists and options as needed.

The timeline for SFT varies and depends on certain factors, like how well everyone cooperates. Generally speaking, a family’s time in therapy will be shorter if everyone listens and participates in the techniques.

Also, the therapy sessions themselves may vary and impact your timeline. For instance, a therapist might need to work with all family members at times and only certain members at other times to address specific problems.

Structural Family Therapy Techniques

Structural Family Therapy techniques include a wide range of actions and conversations that a therapist might have with family members, coming up with a strategic family therapy plan.

SFT techniques can be particularly useful in addressing symptoms that typically require more than one familial relationship to contribute to them, such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or eating disorders. Some of the SFT techniques include:

Reframing

Reframing aims to expose people to new perspectives that will change their behavior to become more effective. Creating new perspectives to certain thoughts helps create solutions to fixed problems.

Reframing can help family members see another side and good intentions of other’s ways. For example, a child who is fearful of their parent’s authoritative mannerisms can come to understand their parent’s rules as a demonstration of their love and concern.

Restructuring 

This technique can be used to help people see reality in a new light. Family members are encouraged to develop ideas for change. This helps them realize how their actions pertain to others and how they affect those around them.

Structural Family Therapy Mapping

Structural Family Therapy relies heavily on another technique called family mapping. During mapping, a therapist creates a structural map. The map is a visual representation of that family’s issues and how their current family dynamics impact and perpetuate those problems.

In other words, structural maps are used to demonstrate how family members interact with each other to find and understand patterns of behavior. During mapping, each family member is asked to describe their family problems in as much depth as possible. Other family members are not allowed to speak out of their turn during this process.

A therapist may also use this time as an opportunity to evaluate each member of a particular family unit – including its boundaries, communication tactics, and other components that play vital roles in how everyone interacts with one another.

Structural Family Therapy Treatment Plan

The goal of Structural Family Therapy is to make immediate and long-term changes to the family structure. Structural family therapists believe that for a family member to change their behavior, it’s important that they understand why their actions are dysfunctional. For this reason, a therapist will use the mapping session to create a treatment plan that ensures lasting change in a family’s interactions with one another.

That said, SFT therapists do not aim to solve a family’s problems but encourage them to take responsibility for making change. A therapist will ensure that a family’s goals are realistic and feasible.

Throughout the treatment, clients will receive feedback from their therapist. This helps reinforce new skills that have been learned and encourages family members to continue practicing them outside of therapy. Additionally, SFT therapists may teach parents new methods of handling conflict resolution as well as communications skills. These methods are meant to improve the overall functioning of the entire family unit.

Structural Family Therapy Activities

When a family has been referred to SFT for treatment, it will usually be recommended that the therapist begins with sessions meant to help them better understand how they all interact with one another in a group therapy environment.

As mentioned, family members will typically start by participating in a mapping session, which helps SFT therapists figure out what negative patterns occur within their relationships.

Structural Family Therapy activities also include setting boundaries, unbalancing (temporarily taking one person’s side), and heightening emotion to evoke change through techniques like circular questioning.

Enactment is a role-playing technique a therapist may use to have the family enact a specific conflict to watch how they communicate and react. The goal of enactment is to help clients become more aware of their patterns and responses. This technique can provide insight into various family aspects, such as how children feel when talking to their parents and how boundaries affect relationships.

Structural Family Therapy Strengths and Weaknesses

Structural Family Therapy has a few weaknesses. One weakness is that there are no specific guidelines or instructions for treatment. Each therapist must develop their techniques based on what they think will be most effective for each patient.

The specific techniques that therapists use require active participation, which some family members might not be comfortable with, such as enactment. And sometimes, strategies can lead individuals to feel singled out.

That said, Structural Family Therapy has many strengths. One of its main strengths is that it allows the therapist to see the interactions between members of a family and relationships as they happen in the present, instead of having the family try to recall them from memory.

For SFT to be successful, it sometimes requires a therapist to side with one family member, shifting the power dynamic temporarily to make an effective point. But in the end, SFT challenges a family’s negative patterns to ultimately benefit everyone, helping shift the family dynamic for the long haul.

Structural Family Therapy (SFT) Conclusion

Structural family therapy can be another source of help to add to your own personal therapy sessions.

Don’t think it needs to be one or the other.

And don’t forget… Therapy works.

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