Structural Family Therapy, developed by Salvador Minuchin, is a strength-based, outcome-oriented treatment modality. The job of the therapist is to locate and mobilize underutilized strengths, helping the family outgrow constraining patterns of interaction that impede the activation of its own resources. Structural therapy is based on the following principles:
Context organizes us. Our behaviors are a function of our relationships with others. The structural therapist focuses on what is taking place among people, rather than on individual psyches.
The family is the primary context, the “matrix of identity” where we develop our selves as we interact with spouses, parents, children, and other family members. The family is in constant transformation, adapting to an ever changing social environment.
The family's structure consists of recurrent patterns of interaction that its members develop over time, as they accommodate to each other.
A well functioning family is not defined by the absence of stress or conflict, but by how effectively it handles them as it responds to the developing needs of its members and the changing conditions in its environment.
Some of the central concepts of structural theory include:
Boundaries: emotional barriers that protect and enhance the integrity of individuals, subsystems, and families
Coalition: when two people or social units form an alliance against a third
Disengagement: psychological isolation that results from overly rigid boundaries around individuals and subsystems in a family
Enactment: An in-session intervention/interaction initiated by the therapist for the purposes of observing and then changing the interaction
Enmeshment: Loss of autonomy due to a blurring of psychological boundaries
Family structure: the functional organization of a family that determines how family members interact
Hierarchical structure: The ideal structure for healthy family functioning, based on clear generational boundaries, in which parents maintain control and authority
Reframing: Relabeling a family's description of behavior to make it more amenable to therapeutic change
Shaping competence: Reinforcing positives rather than confronting deficiencies
Structure: recurrent patterns of interactions that define and stabilize the shape of relationships.
Subsystem: Smaller units in families, determined by generations, sex, or function