Whilst Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has to be the most famous and common psychological therapy clients come from, it isn’t the only one. There is a very wide range of psychotherapies that clients can be offered depending on the mental health condition. In this clinical psychology podcast episode, we’ll learn about what is structural family, when is it used and how does family therapy work. If you want to deepen your understanding of systemic approaches, clinical psychology and mental health then you’re going to love today’s episode.
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Social Psychology: A Guide To Social and Cultural Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
What Is Structural Family Therapy?
Personally, I’ve been wanting to learn about family therapy for ages so I am really excited that I finally get to learn about this great area. Therefore, structural family therapy is a type of psychological therapy that focuses on the relationships and interactions between different family members. It’s based on systemic theory that sees the family as a system and if there is conflict between family members then this impacts the entire family system. As a result, structural family therapists seek to improve a family’s communication skills and they encourage changes and rules to adapt to better serve the family system.
In addition, it really is this family structural system that makes this therapy distinctive compared to other therapies. As well as a structural family therapist actively engages in the process of restructuring the way the family system works so they can adjust the elements that cause the family dysfunction.
This restructuring work can impact the reactions by family members to major life changes, family boundaries and hierarchies of power.
Personally, I have always really liked systemic theory. Since whilst the cognitive-behavioural approach will always be in favour as I believe it explains more about mental health conditions than systemic ones. I think love the idea that a family is a system and conflict can spread through the family system and cause a lot of difficulties for an individual.
Furthermore, a really interesting difference between individual psychotherapies and structural family therapy is that the family therapy gives everyone in the family a voice. It means that a therapist gets to hear about the family from everyone and how everyone views each other and their relationship. This gives the therapist a lot more information and different angles compared to hearing about the family from only one single client.
This I think is very useful because the problem with any information coming from one person is that it will always be biased by their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Now that flat out isn’t a bad thing because therapists can get tons of information about a client and their family through this individual work, but when we’re trying to help an entire family system. It is a lot better to hear from everyone.
How Did Structural Family Therapy Develop?
Structural Family Therapy was developed in the 1960s by Minuchin because he believed that the more members of a family that participate the better the treatment outcome for a client could be. And this therapy continues its importance into these modern times as one of the main theories behind family counselling.
“The idea of structural family therapy sprang out of a sense that what we were doing was not working,” explained Salvador Minuchin, the principal creator of structural family therapy. “We were all very much oriented toward psychodynamic-oriented psychological approaches, and they didn’t work.”
In my opinion, I do understand where he’s coming from because back then the cognitive-behavioural approach was just starting to be developed and off the top of my head, I am fairly sure it wasn’t being applied to mental health conditions for a while after this. Even Beck’s depression work was still a number of years off at this point.
Therefore, I understand the sheer need to move away from psychodynamic approaches but like all psychological theories and schools of thought, family can’t explain everything. As well as this family system theory does completely dismiss the importance of social factors within romantic and friend relationships and cognitive factors like thinking, attentional and memory biases.
When Is Structural Family Therapy Used?
Now I am very excited to share some of the reasons why Structural Family Therapy is used in only certain situations. Since I know in my criticism above I was being a bit hard on the therapy because you just couldn’t use this therapy in a range of mental health conditions. But there are some difficulties that this therapy is brilliant at looking at.
As a result, Structural Family Therapy is commonly used in cases of divorce, blending families, drug use, adolescent behavioural as well as mood disorders, families where a parent has a mental health condition or when a family is affected by death or an illness.
In addition, significant changes in family life. This is what I’m seriously interested in not really because it can be used when a parent loses a job and move city even though these are very important uses of this therapy. Yet Structural Family Therapy is also used when it comes to a change of sexual orientation and gender identity amongst a family member.
Now because I’ve been trying to gain work experience in gender dysphoria places recently and I’ve been researching a whole bunch of gender stuff, I can totally understand why Structural Family Therapy would be brilliant for this difficulty. And all I will say is I would be extremely interested to see how this therapy works for a family struggling to accept the sexual orientation of a family member. That would be fascinating to me.
How Does Structural Family Therapy Work?
On the whole, the main goal of Structural Family Therapy is to help a family change and restructure itself so the family members interact with each other in a way that increases their happiness and causes less conflict in the family system. As well as helps them to find more beneficial ways of dealing with stressors that will inevitably pop up in everyday life.
One way this might be done is by the therapist recommending that the parents change or adapt the way they interact with their child depending on whether the child needs more support or guidance or more independence. Also, they might suggest different strategies for parents so they can present a united front.
Overall, this helps to strengthen the family system and this psychological therapy can go on for a few weeks or months depending on the needs of the family.
What Should People Expect In Structural Family Therapy?
Personally, something I find really interesting about this therapeutic orientation is that unlike in other psychological approaches, the therapist is a very active part of the therapy. Since the therapists might suggest things at times. For example, that they change the format of the sessions by asking some family members to leave for a moment, by changing the position of family members seated in the room and sometimes the therapist suggests bringing family members behind a one-way mirror so they can watch and observe the conversations of other family members.
Moreover, there are five main tenets of Structural Family Therapy.
Firstly, there is mapping. This is an effort to understand how a family functions by looking at their structures, patterns and rules. Therefore, a therapist might draw a diagram, write notes to themselves or get family members to map out the family systems for themselves.
Secondly, there is joining. This is a process where the therapist gets to know the family and they set out the expectations of the therapy. This normally involves questions about the family, an explanation of the techniques of therapy and how the family and therapist will show support for the family.
Thirdly, there’s unbalancing. This is an interesting tenet of the therapy where the therapist challenges the family member. Of course this isn’t meant to be confrontational but to make the family members reconsider their perceptions about how the family operates.
Penultimately, you have reframing. This is a method that Structural Family Therapists use to show the family’s various complaints and challenges. Then the therapist will often reframe the problems that a particular individual has because of the structure as well as the patterns of the family’s dynamics.
Finally, there is enactment, which is very important. As this is all about the plan for the future. Due to once the family’s system and structure has been examined, the therapist with the input of the family will introduce different practices and ideas for the family to execute.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
Whilst I will happily admit I have absolutely no intention of getting trained up in system theory, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Since I understand the family system idea, its power and how it can be used to transform the lives of families for the better. I will never doubt the sheer power of family therapy and how it can save lives, improve them and stop people from suffering devastating consequences of mental health conditions.
Structural Family Therapy was just a logical next step in my own learning about this therapy.
And I am really glad that I did learn about it because it was interesting to see how this therapy encourages change and transformation so families can thrive.
Sometimes family is chosen and other times it is blood, but whatever family you have, it is flat out critical. None of us can be successful without our family so the fact we have a therapy that helps to enhance is great, wonderful and it certainly impacts individuals and makes them fly high.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Social Psychology: A Guide To Social and Cultural Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology References
Colapinto, J. (2019). Structural family therapy. Encyclopedia of couple and family therapy, 2820-2828.
Ellis, É. (2022). A critical, relational approach for working with suicide in family therapy. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 43(1), 104-117.
Jiménez L, Hidalgo V, Baena S, León A, Lorence B. 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. 2019; 16(7):1255. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16071255
Lee, N., & Spengler, P. (2019). Training counseling psychologists in couple and family therapy. In Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy (pp. 2962-2966). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Miller A, with Minuchin S and Lappin J. Instructor’s Manual for Salvador Minuchin on Family Therapy.
Romney, J. S., Hawkins, L. G., & Soloski, K. L. (2020). Gender conformity and suicide: A case study integrating structural family therapy and Satir experiential therapy. Clinical Case Studies, 19(4), 282-300.
Taibbi, R. (2022). Doing family therapy: Craft and creativity in clinical practice. Guilford Publications.
The Minuchin Center for the Family
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