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Unveiling the Power of Structural Family Therapy Interventions: A Deep Dive into Family Mapping Technique

family systems family therapy family therapy tools Jul 31, 2023
family mapping technique, family mapping, structural family systems

Structural Family Therapy Interventions: A Deep Dive into Family Mapping Technique


In the realm of family therapy, there are numerous interventions and techniques designed to help families navigate their complex dynamics. Among these, Structural Family Therapy (SFT) interventions stand out due to their unique approach to understanding and addressing family relationships. One such intervention is the Family Mapping Technique. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of this technique, using a practical example from the popular movie, "The Incredibles 2."

Be sure to download the 19 page PDF on Family Mapping Technique PDF here

Take a look at this scene - and we'll circle back to how I turned this into a family map in a minute.


Understanding Family Mapping:

At its core, a family map consists of boxes or squares representing people, with the entire space of the paper symbolizing the family's relational dynamics. The placement of these boxes, their sizes, and the lines connecting them all play a crucial role in depicting the power dynamics, boundaries, and relationships within the family.

In the first map, we'll place two boxes on the page, one for you (the reader) and one for me (the writer). Given the anonymous nature of our interaction, I'll place these boxes at opposite ends of the page, symbolizing the distance between us. This distance represents not just geographical and chronological distance, but also the power dynamics at play. As the writer, I hold more power or influence in this context, which I'll represent by drawing my box slightly larger than yours.

Adding In The Famous Structural Therapy Boundaries:

A key aspect of family mapping is the representation of boundaries. In the context of Structural Family Therapy, boundaries are about the rules of engagement within and between different groups in the family. For instance, in our reader-writer relationship, the boundaries are quite rigid, symbolized by double lines. This is because our interaction is limited, with information flowing mainly in one direction.

Just to contrast this idea with another, say if we were to meet in person for a discussion over a cuppa tea: , the boundaries would become less rigid, maybe represented by a single line, there's be more of a flow of information, it would be less formal. I would draw a very different representation of that. The boxes would be more equal in size, indicating a more balanced power dynamic.

Family Mapping Technique With The Incredibles

In the clip above, the family is having dinner, and we can observe several key dynamics at play.

1. Violet, the teenage daughter, repeatedly instructs her younger brother to wash his hands, indicating a parentified role. If this was a family in my office, I would be thinking that Violet holds way more power than is typical for a teenager. We can represent by making her box larger and placing it in the center of the map.

2. We also observe a conflict between the parents. You can draw on a representation of the conflict however you want, I usually do a zigzag line. The beauty of family mapping is that it only has to make sense to you, and it's your experience of the family. 

3. The other key thing I noticed was how the father sided with Violet against the mother. Ideally, we don't want that, we want Mom and Dad to be on the same team, and if they disagree, they would do so in a way that doesn't involve their teenager. This clip in the video suggests a cross-generational alliance between Violet and her father, which we can represent by placing their boxes closer together and indicating opposition to the mother's box.

Family Mapping To A Treatment Plan

A good family map will essentially write you the treatment plan for your family. We know by looking at the visual, that Violet needs to be on a subsystem of her own and a more appropriate size. We know that Mom and Dad need to learn some conflict resolution skills. We also know that those porous boundaries are a problem

The Goals Of Structural Family Systems Therapy: 

1. Modify the role of the IP - get violet back to her normal size and subsystem!

2. Help families learn conflict resolution skills, or help the family resolve the issue that causes repeated fights

3. Clarify Boundaries  - boundaries either need to be toughened up if they are porous or loosened up if they are too rigid.


Please watch the video above to get more information and I hope it becomes useful. Family Mapping will help you visualize and understand the intricate dynamics within your clients, and it's a compass to the treatment plan and interventions you need to implement. Be sure to download the handout to making family maps when you sign up to our email list. 


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