Psychology Essay Sample: Key Concepts in Structural Family Therapy

Published: 2019-09-16
Psychology Essay Sample: Key Concepts in Structural Family Therapy
Categories:  Psychology Family Counseling
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1149 words
10 min read

Structural family therapy is an organization of techniques and concepts that attempt to approach individuals in their relational and social contexts (Minuchin, 1974). It was vividly developed in the concept of therapeutic work with family members. It is predicated on the family systems theory and brings with it a lot of strengths as well as weaknesses that are associated with the appropriation of the general system theory into the social behaviors. The fundamental structural family therapy is usually deeply embodied within the shifting paradigm of various relational therapies; that stress can be wholly understood not in just the context of the relationships that it arises, but in seeing the potential for relationships to be the cause of stress (Barnes, 2004). The challenge and excitement of the structural family therapy are majorly by the interaction of the family members and the definition of communication. The structural family therapies usually utilize the concepts that are required to understand and organize a particular family. The most important concepts are subsystems, structure, enmeshment, boundaries, power, disengagements, coalition, and alignment (Hadfield & Karin, 2007).

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One of the most vital tenets of any structural family therapy is structure. A healthy family structure has clear boundaries around the systems as well as its subsystems (Barker & Chang, 2013). The structure of the family indicates the behavioral patterns which are described as conservative as well as unchangeable. By changing a dysfunctional structure means that the therapy will be directed towards alteration of the current structure.

The families with boundaries that are diffused are referred to as enmeshed. The boundaries of the family, in this case, are very permeable and therefore there is sacrificing of autonym to maintain the great sense of belonging to the particular family system. Dependence is very much encouraged because members of the family stay close to home, expecting that all of their emotional and financial needs are met by the family.

Disengagement occurs when boundaries of the family are overly rigid. Inflexible boundaries aim to keep the members as separated as possible from each other (Madanes, 2001). Family members have a considerable independence, but there is the existence of low interdependence and less communication between the subsystems. This will lead to family members having difficulty in relating to one another in intimate ways and therefore causing them to be disconnected.

The concept of power in a family refers to the amount of influence that each member has on the consequence of activity. The level of power may vary according to the setting, and it is generated by the way in which the members will react.

Coalition in a family structure is the alignment between two members in the system that completely excludes the third party. There is a strong boundary between coalitions. However, coalitions in families are usually short lived and may be benign. For instance, when the children collude to demand pizza instead of vegetables for supper. Stable coalitions may end up harmful over time.

Application according to the Case Study

The structural family researchers and clinicians are well conversant with the benefits of improving the body of knowledge that is in existence about how the therapy works. However, family therapies have some unique challenges (Carlson, Aponte, & Allyn and Bacon, 2007). Unlike other types of therapy, the family therapies involve several clients simultaneously. This makes it really hard in determining the measures that will best define a successful therapy session. Moreover, there are less manualized interventions for the family therapy than there are for individual therapy. Therefore, it is at times difficult to effectively perform the research in which the therapeutic processes that are used are similar across the families in a study. Hence, there is a limited base of knowledge about the processes that make a structural family therapy effective and successful.

From a thorough observation of the family in the case study, a therapist would easily uncover a dysfunctional structure in the family and aim at transforming it into a working structure. The boundaries of the family are quite complex due to the combination of disengagement and enmeshment. Merel and his mother have a disengaged relationship due to the fact that he was adopted. The hieratical family structure showed that Martyn was on top with his wife. However, Martyn and Jantien are much closer than they are to the children. There was a dysfunctional element when Martyn and Jantien formed a sort of alliance against Merel.

For Martyn and Jantien Mulders family, the therapy will involve shifting the family structure, and this will be accomplished by the re-creation of family dialogues as well as manipulating the geographical arrangements during the particular sessions and behavioral assignments outside the session. The re-creation of the family dialogue will only occur when the therapist directs the parents to talk to their son, Merel. This particular move is very valuable because it ensures the families enact effective transactional patterns rather than describing them. During the sessions, the therapist may also change how the family members are sitting in the consulting room in order to physically challenge the family structures like coalitions and hierarchies. For instance, Martyn and Jantien appear to have a coalition against Merel. Furthermore, it is also important to have out-of-session assignments that will help to weaken the family boundaries so that Merel can be more open with his family. This assignment may be done by including all the members of the family in certain moments of family life and hence changing the boundaries that may exist between them into more appropriate ones.


Structural family therapy is a concept that has clear strengths as well as great impact on the field of family therapy. In the case study, it shifts the focus of the therapists away from Merel and onto the family as both the target for treatment and source of pathology. It is quite clear that the behaviors of Merel may be from family dynamics which is at our disposal and can be modified. However, there is lack of cultural awareness that is inherent in some of the concepts used in the structural family therapy. The concepts of disengagements and enmeshments fail to consider the different ways of parenting utilized by different cultures. Moreover, the concept of healthy boundaries may be challenging for the cultures that have a less distinct definition of boundaries with the family. It is, therefore, important to note that these concepts are just constructs that may or may not have universal application.


Barker, P., & Chang, J. (2013). Basic family therapy. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Barnes, G. G. (2004). Family therapy in changing times. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Carlson, J., Aponte, H. J., & Allyn and Bacon. (2007). Structural therapy (3rd ed.). Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Hadfield, & Karin. (2007). A structural family therapy approach to counselling families.

Madanes, C. (2001). Strategic family therapy (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families & family therapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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