What's Your Conflict Style?

Two Structural Family Therapy Interventions & Techniques to Use Now

family therapy family therapy tools relationships Mar 16, 2023
structural family therapy interventions

What Is Structural Family Therapy?

Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is a powerful and effective form of psychotherapy or counseling that was developed in the 1950s by Salvador Minuchin and his colleagues at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. It views families as having unique systems, each consisting of roles, rules, and power dynamics that can be manipulated to create positive change within the family unit. SFT seeks to identify negative patterns of family interactions which lead to the symptoms in the IP. By examining underlying unhealthy patterns of interaction between individuals this type of therapy will help make lasting changes in relationships and the family. In this article, we will explore two structural family therapy interventions & techniques for lasting change

1. Circular Questioning

2. Family Mapping

Goals Of Family Therapy

I've been doing family therapy for my entire career and cannot state how helpful it was to me to get very clear on the goals of treatment. These are my big broad-stroke goals of therapy that keep me on track and improve my efficacy when I get lost!

1. Modify the role of the IP.

2. Push for clearer boundaries (strengthening or adjusting)

3. Increase flexible transactions

4. Express any pain or grief

5. Provide tools for healthy expression of anger and conflict resolution


What Are Two Structural Family Therapy Interventions I Can Start Using Now?

My People Patterns is all about family systems and we have two mini-trainings for you so you can start using Structural Family Therapy Interventions now.

1. Circular Questioning

2. Family Mapping

What Is Circular Questioning?

Circular questioning is a method used in Structural Family Therapy to understand the patterns of interaction in a family system. It involves asking questions that focus on the relationships between family members rather than on individual behaviors or characteristics - we tend to think in a linear format:

Linear thinking:

Johnny got a bad grade - Johnny might have ADD - Johnny goes to a Psychiatrist

Circular thinking:

Johnny got a bad grade - What was going on at home that prevented him from studying? - How do his parents interact around a bad grade?

Circular questions are designed to reveal the underlying assumptions, beliefs, and expectations that shape and model the family's interactions. For example, instead of asking a child why they are behaving a certain way, a circular question might ask how the child's behavior affects their parents or siblings.

The goal of circular questioning is to help family members gain insight into the effects of their behavior on others and to identify patterns that may be contributing to problems within the family system. It can also be used to explore alternative ways of communicating or behaving that might lead to more positive outcomes.

Circular questioning is a powerful tool for family therapists because it allows them to uncover hidden dynamics within the family system and to work with the family as a whole rather than focusing solely on individual members. By asking questions that highlight the interconnectedness of family members, therapists can help families develop more effective communication and problem-solving skills that can lead to greater harmony and well-being for everyone involved.

If you watch the video or take the course, I'll provide you with a pdf of some of my 'go-to' extra special questions that I ask in a family therapy session.


Circular Questioning - Technique #1

Circular Questioning gets the family members to describe and elude to and elicit descriptions of interactions around events that trigger problem behavior.

It helps us understand how the identified patient is treated while the problem behavior or symptom is exhibited. It helps us learn how members of the network try to deal with the problem, and the outcomes of any attempted solutions- so we know what doesn’t work

  • Interactions that trigger the problem bx
  • How the IP is treated before, during and after the bx
  • How the family deal with the problem bx
  • Any attempted solutions

Examples Of Circular Questioning Techniques

If I assume that all symptoms in the family are relationally driven, then I am going to ask questions about what goes on in the relationship:


What Is Family Mapping?

Family mapping is, by definition, a technique used to visualize and analyze the relationships within a family structure. It involves creating a visual representation of family members to better understand the connections and dynamics between them. Family mapping can help individuals identify patterns and issues within their family network and can be useful for therapy, genealogy research, and personal growth.

How Does Family Mapping Work?

Family mapping typically involves creating a diagram or chart that outlines the family structure. The diagram can be as simple or complex as needed, depending on the purpose and context of the mapping. The diagram may include information such as family member names, ages, and relationships to one another.

There are various ways to create a family map, including using traditional pen and paper or using online tools and software. Regardless of the method used, the focus is on visually representing the family structure and relationships.

In the video I will take you through more structural family systems theory and in particular how to create a family map.

What Are the Benefits of Family Mapping?

Family mapping can offer several benefits, including:

1. Improved communication: By visualizing the family structure and relationships, individuals can better understand their family dynamics and communication patterns. This can lead to improved communication and more productive conversations.

2. Resolving conflicts: Family mapping can help individuals identify conflicts within the family and work towards resolving them.

3. Genealogy research: For those interested in genealogy and family history, family mapping can help identify ancestors and track family lineage.

4. Personal growth: Family mapping can also be used for personal growth and self-reflection. By understanding one's family dynamics and relationships, individuals can gain

Overview of Structural Family Therapy

Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is a type of psychotherapy developed in the 1950s by Salvador Minuchin and his colleagues at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. It views families as having unique systems, each consisting of roles, rules and power dynamics that can be manipulated to create positive changes within a family unit. The principles of SFT is to identify negative patterns of interaction that support and maintain the presenting problem and to understand and change the hierarchical structure of the family.

As a family therapist, I have to identify and understand relational patterns that are maintaining the mental health problems or presenting problems. This will then reveal opportunities for intervention so that I can modify those behaviors and change the patterns.

Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is an approach to therapeutic intervention that focuses on the family unit as a whole and aims to create lasting changes within the familial system. Originating in the 1950s with Salvador Minuchin, SFT seeks to identify negative patterns of communication which lead to disputes within families and helps them establish healthier ways of communicating - enabling interpersonal relationships to develop over time. This creates positive change that can be sustained through restructuring and redistributing power dynamics such as roles or rules within families. Additionally, SFT may seek out external support systems outside of the family.

The goal of Structural Family Therapy is twofold: it strives both for symptom reduction at an individual level among members in a family, but also seeks a more global systemic change in which new modes of understanding each other are established throughout for maximum impact across generations. By addressing not only individuals but families as a whole, practitioners hope this will help produce enduring change from one generation onto another instead relying exclusively on treating symptoms singly. Ultimately Structural Family Therapy looks to provide an extended understanding and appreciation for interrelatedness among members in a household with respect for different opinions when tackling hard decisions together–breaking away from harmful behavior patterns once rigidified by daily life–to have true lasting peace between generations.

Techniques Used in Structural Family Therapy

Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is a counseling approach that works to bring about positive changes in family dynamics. SFT seeks to identify and challenge unhelpful patterns of communication within families, thus promoting healthier relationships between individuals. The therapy utilizes certain techniques to achieve this, such as redefining the roles and power dynamics of family members, setting boundaries for their behavior, negotiating compromises amongst them, reframing problematic interactions into more constructive ones. As well as this interpersonal work with family members, Salvador Minuchin - who created the method - also recommended using structural interventions involving physical demonstrations during Sessions in order to better understand complex relational situations within the family. Examples of such include diagramming current arrangement/set-up and then rearranging it according to desired behavioral change; allowing participants to practice alternative behaviors through role playing; or structuring sessions by changing seating arrangements or requesting ordered interaction among its attendees. By utilizing these various methods along different scales (individuals & pairings – extended families), practitioners are able ensure that sustainable lasting change can be achieved across all levels of relationship dynamics within a client’s home.

Assessing Family Dynamics

As a family therapist, when assessing family dynamics, I am trying to identify the structure of the family, roles, and rules of the family unit. This can include understanding who each person in the family is seen as; are there clear leaders or decision makers? Do certain members of the family have more power than others? It is also key to identify negative patterns that impede positive change within a familial context such as conflict avoidance and blaming. To that end, Structural Family Therapy provides invaluable insight by helping practitioners identify problems with an emphasis on communication methods which lead to healthier relationships over time.

Furthermore, SFT focuses on how modifications can be made without sacrificing authenticity or respect for individuals - making sure all members participating in treatment progress together towards common goals. Through observation from outside angles and direct intervention techniques such as reframing conversations and role-playing scenarios involving interactions between different parties Modern day SFT interventions provide support while making changes possible in order to reach preferred objectives set out by those involved. In short Structural Family Therapy allows practitioners to work closely with clients so they may find ways that suits them best to develop effective strategies when addressing issues related to interpersonal relationships & communication processes among them.

Who Was Salvador Minuchin?

Salvador Minuchin was a family therapist and pioneer in the field of family therapy. Born in Argentina in 1921, he later moved to the United States and became known for his work on family systems theory and structural family therapy.

Minuchin believed that families were interconnected systems, and that any issues or conflicts within the family were a result of the way the system was functioning. He focused on understanding the patterns and dynamics within a family, and on developing strategies to improve communication and problem-solving skills.

Minuchin's approach to therapy involved working closely with families to understand their unique needs and challenges. He was known for his ability to quickly identify patterns and issues within a family, and for his innovative techniques for resolving conflicts and improving family relationships.

Throughout his career, Minuchin published numerous books and articles on family therapy, and he was widely recognized as one of the most influential figures in the field. He passed away in 2017, but his legacy continues to shape the way that therapists and families approach the challenges of family life.

What techniques are used to increase communication and collaboration between family members?

When it comes to improving communication and collaboration among family members, there are several techniques that can be implemented. Below are some effective strategies that can help bring family members together and improve relationships:

1. Schedule regular family meetings: Family meetings provide an opportunity for everyone to come together, share experiences, and discuss any issues that need to be addressed. Set a specific day and time for the meetings and make sure everyone is present.

2. Encourage open communication: Encourage family members to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment. This can help build trust and foster deeper connections.

3. Practice active listening: Active listening involves fully engaging with the person speaking and attempting to understand their perspective. This can be achieved by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and paraphrasing what they say.

4. Foster a culture of appreciation: Encourage family members to recognize and appreciate each other's contributions, whether big or small. This can help boost morale and improve relationships.

5. Create shared experiences: Plan and participate in activities or events that the whole family can enjoy, such as game nights, movie nights, or vacations. These shared experiences can help create lasting memories and strengthen bonds.

6. Establish clear boundaries: Setting clear boundaries can help avoid misunderstandings and disagreements among family members. It is important to communicate these boundaries respectfully and ensure they are respected by all members.

By implementing these techniques, families can improve communication and collaboration, promote understanding and empathy.



How can family members be encouraged to form and maintain healthy boundaries?


Healthy boundaries are essential to maintaining healthy relationships within families. However, it can be difficult to establish and maintain these boundaries. Here are some tips to encourage family members to form and maintain healthy boundaries:

1. Communicate openly: Effective communication is the key to setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Family members should be encouraged to communicate their needs, expectations, and limitations in a respectful and clear manner.

2. Respect personal space: Encourage family members to respect each other's personal space and privacy. This means respecting boundaries around personal belongings, physical and emotional space, and personal time.

3. Avoid judgment and criticism: Encourage family members to avoid judging or criticizing each other. Instead, they should focus on supporting and respecting each other's decisions and choices.

4. Be consistent: Encourage family members to be consistent in their communication and actions. This means following through on commitments, being reliable and dependable, and respecting each other's time and boundaries.

5. Seek support: Encourage family members to seek support from each other and from outside sources, such as a therapist or support group, if needed. It's essential to recognize when help is needed and to reach out for it.

In conclusion, forming and maintaining healthy boundaries within families takes time, effort, and consistent communication. Encouraging family members to respect each other's needs and limitations can help them build stronger, healthier relationships. With patience and practice, healthy boundaries can become an integral part of family dynamics.


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