Family Counseling Case Study: Structural Family Therapy

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About this sample


Words: 3742 |

Pages: 8|

19 min read

Published: Dec 3, 2020

Words: 3742|Pages: 8|19 min read

Published: Dec 3, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. History
  4. Current Literature
  5. Similarities to other Theories
  6. Personal Integration
  7. Conclusion
  8. References


This research intends to identify leading figures, historical and current events, assumptions, development of the theory, concepts, and techniques related to Structural Theory. It will describe how integrating biblical scriptures and the writer’s own faith and family counseling approach to help the family that is in need. In the writing, the intent is to demonstrate the knowledge, concepts, and family approach to this theory and how it relates to other leading theories that are being used in the counseling field. This research is in two parts; part one will show the historical content; part two will show the reflections and interpretation. It will show a Christian view to the concepts related to Structural Theory.

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Structural family therapy is characterized by the emphasis on family structure and organization. Systems theory is a broad term in common use, incorporating general systems theory and cybernetic, referring to the view of networking units or elements making up the organized whole. In this research, the intent is to demonstrate the knowledge of structural theory in history and the present, exploring the different techniques, concepts, and assumptions. Structural theory can be applied to any family, but the healing process for the Turner family is the best fit. When conceptualizing the family as a part, the relationship of the family with other parts such as the community, peers and socioeconomic status are important for intervention. The theory has three main parts: the wholeness of the family system, the influence of the family’s hierarchical organization, and the interdependent functioning of its subsystems.


Salvador Minuchin is a leading figure in the Structural Model. He was raised in Argentina by European immigrant parents. He worked in the United States for about 18 months doing training as a child psychologist, then returned to Israel to work with victims of the Holocaust. Structural family therapy came into the forefront of family therapy during a period of research and emphasis over theory when Minuchin’s Wltwuych School Project became a groundbreaking study of inner-city slum families. Therapists such as Bowen, Satir, Haley, and Minuchin recognized that individuals were best understood in the context of their families and systems. In structural family therapy, it focuses on the entire family system and how it functions as a whole and its subsystems all working together. The family system may or may not be effective for bringing positive things into the family, but the system works for each individual family as a way of functioning. The approach that was developed, structural family therapy, is realistic and oriented toward problem resolution. Therapists and different professional that were allowed to help in treating the family was prevalent in the 1960s. Minuchin challenged the current norms when he brought the whole family into the session. Other leading figure in Structural Theory is Dr. Charles Fishman, harry Aponte, and Lindblad-Goldberg, who are from Philadelphia. They worked with families around the world with economically needy families. For example, the families that are in Russia on the countryside. They would work with low income families to show them different ways to cope with their current situations.

According to Minuchin (1985), the major principles of systems theory are 1) any system is an organized whole; objects within the system are necessarily independent; 2) the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; 3) systems are composed of subsystems; 4) patterns in a system are circular rather than linear; 5) complex systems are composed of subsystems; 6) systems are homeostatic mechanisms that maintain stability of their patterns; 7) evolution and change are inherent in open systems. When therapists are using this theory and therapy, it is important to note that systems affect people in all areas. In his work as a therapist, Minuchin took the responsibility to strengthen the family system, to develop appropriate family boundaries, and to modify family dysfunction by utilizing restructuring techniques such as joining the family, observing ways families relate to each other and the therapist, and challenging their functioning in insightful, innovative ways. The family is a system linked with other subsystems that can be the community, other parts of the family, and the basics in the family life. Minuchin believed that his role was to be ‘‘responsible’’ in the therapeutic change process and he also encouraged others to be responsible. This is important to note because the family hierarchy is who is responsible. If the hierarchy does not take the role to be responsible, then the family could be doomed. Structural models emphasize the contest of the family and use spatial and organizational comparisons to define problems and detect solutions. Structural therapy is one of the formative models of family therapy. It helped pave the way for other family theories to exist with its groundbreaking studies. It approaches all human behavior with the intent of identifying the dealings that normalize human relationships. (Wycoff, & Cameron, 2000). Structural theory focuses on the relationships in the family setting. When working with families, different interventions will work using this model. The major determinants of structural theory are the wholeness of the family system, the influence of the family’s hierarchical organization, and the interdependent functioning of its subsystems. The different factors of this theory are operational rules, defining boundaries, complementarity of functions, and identifying some subsystems just to name a few.

Clearly defined boundaries between subsystems help maintain separateness and at the same time emphasize belongingness to the overall family system. Defining roles in therapy helps to uncover things during sessions such as overinvolved members of a subsystem, and help create boundaries to help improve the family system. When a family presents to therapy with concerns about their child’s behavior, the therapist can use a structural therapeutic intervention at the levels of the family and at the macro system. Structural theory will work just as any other theory would, but the success depends on how the therapist or counselor uses the therapeutic processes and interventions. The effectiveness of any theory-based treatment model depends on the adherence and quality of the nonspecific therapeutic processes (Sheehan, & Friedlander, 2015). Some of the interventions used in therapy are structural mapping, unbalance, challenging unproductive assumptions, join and accommodate, and raise awareness so that the system must change. Identifying boundaries such as sibling subsystems or parental subsystem help with several areas of family dysfunction. Family systems use power, alignments, and coalitions to make family activities familiar and can be defining to the system.

When therapists or counselors use this type of theory, they join a family system and accommodate to its affective style. This is the beginning stage for the therapist to learn about how that particular system works and how they interact with one another. The therapist is observing, listening, distinguishing different things about the family so that recommendations or modifications can be made by the family. This also allows the family to see that the therapist is a willing outside person looking in and becomes somewhat a part of the family with them.

A core assumption of his Structural Family Therapy is that individuals are viewed within the context of their family; families are viewed within the context of their community (Rockinson-Szapkiw, et. al., 2011). What happens if a person feels that they do not have a community to be viewed in? As an example, in the role of the military where many different people come to serve the country, can be viewed as a family structure. The military has several different subsystems, in which a person can be a part of. In my experience of this, I was a part of a battalion, which is a group of companies (people) who serves a main purpose in the military. There were several of these, and within these companies, they had their own rules besides the main rules that everyone had to follow.

Current Literature

Therapists are not immune to this destruction and may need to make changes in their practices and ultimately their theories to address global changes occurring in people (Rockinson-Szapkiw, et. al., 2011). Being abreast on the growing changes in the field of family counseling is imperative for counselors to maintain their effectiveness in the family systems. In this changing world, marriage and family therapists, while continuing to consider the family, will need to move beyond the individual, family, and community (emic) to a universal or global (etic) orientation in counseling and psychotherapy theory, research, and practice. In the current literature, only five family therapy models were used by more than 1% of all articles in some reviews (i.e., in addition to EFT, Bowen/transgenerational, cognitive marital therapy, contextual therapy, and structural therapy). For emerging scholars, such as MFT graduate students, theory tends to be stressed least in training on scholarly research. It is prevalent in further research that is needed to continue evolving in the field. The findings suggest that over the last several years, family therapy researchers and scholars have considered the connection between theory and empirical research to a greater extent, thus indicating encouraging progress when it comes to theory and practice. Family members may lose perspective, show effects of immediate situations with past events, and become overwhelmed or cut off from painful feelings and contacts. (Walsh, 2003). Family counseling has become more necessary than ever with the growing issues of our youth. With things happening in the news with people getting shot by police, gang violence, and the drug epidemic in families, family counseling is needed now more than ever. Then in the community, the bigger picture is that it is hurting our foundation as a unit. Being cut off from situations that happened in the past not only hinders growth, but it serves as an opportunity for stepping above dated thought patterns.

Similarities to other Theories

Therapists such as Bowen, Satir, Haley, and Minuchin recognized that individuals were best understood in the context of their families and systems (Rockinson-Szapkiw, et. al., 2011). The following aspects of therapeutic relationships were distinguished: Bond, empathy, goal consensus, positive regard, congruence, collecting feedback from the patient, repairing relationship ruptures, avoiding countertransference, and matching the individual patient. Learning about structural theory, the entire world is made up in systems, which is the groundwork for other theories. With Minuchin’s revolutionary ideas and concepts such as boundaries, disengagement, and enmeshment, he profoundly influenced the fields of psychology, psychiatry, counseling, business, and education. Structural, Strategic, and Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy focuses on breaking or modifying the patterns of the family. In contrast, structural family therapy does not look at the unconscious situations of the family as psychodynamic theory does. Minuchin’s later influences included Adler’s work on the positive social, goal-oriented aspects of individuals; the concept of family constellation; and the ability to make change (Wycoff, & Cameron, 2000). This shows the growing work in structural family theory, and how the work in counseling always evolves in the field for the enrichment of the family system.

Personal Integration

I am a Christian. I have hope and faith that has gotten me through the tough times where my family system could not. Christian beliefs and values are crucial resources in times of family stress and providing hope in the midst of despair (Balswick, & Balswick, 2014). My faith has helped me through tough times of being a single parent to not knowing where my next meal would come from. I have gone through several different things in my life that has caused depression, anger, despair, and confusion when it comes to my family life. The effects of stressors may be positive and supportive or negative and destructive. In my life, I have been through things that have shaken my faith but knowing that I believe in God has grounded me. Learning about this theory, doing my family genogram, and looking at the type of things my family goes through, gave me perspective on how my family is the way it is and what it would take to get healthier. I moved away from home, standing on faith, when I went to the military in 1999. I had to learn how to live without my family around. Although this was hard at times, I found it to be worthwhile. Locations in the social structure (e.g., participation in community organizations, involvement in social networks, and immersion in intimate relationships) enhance the likelihood of accessing support which in turn provides the protective function against distress (Lin, Ye, & Ensel, 1999). I had to change my family structure so that I can continue to be productive. Because of the move from Baton Rouge, LA and getting out of the military, I had to change my thought processes when it came to my family that I left. I sought family in friends and in my neighborhood that I lived in. Learning how to be in the present so that I could survive without my family was hard, but I survived the hard times that laid ahead.

According to family systems theory, a healthy family is flexible enough to accommodate to developmental and cultural challenges, while supporting the growth of each individual member. I believe this to be true because in my life, my family has not been able to accommodate to the changes in my adult life. My adult life changes showed me that I can produce change in my own family system. Changing the way that I think, do things, and show my family love is completely different from what I learned growing up. I have changed for the better and show a model of what I would like to see in my children. My family was a hurting family. Hurting family tend to control rather than empower their members. Learning that people can learn from the hurt and still prosper, was a pivotal point in my life. Putting God in the midst of your life will change everything. The breakthrough comes when one receives God’s unconditional love (Balswick, & Balswick, 2014). I have always known about God and his love, but only as a child. Learning this lesson when you are an adult is a totally different thing. Most families find strength, comfort, and guidance in adversity through connections with their cultural and religious traditions. We are taught as Christians to honor our parents, and in the systems theory, we are taught to respect the patriarchal system as well.

Although I learned to honor my parents, I didn’t feel loved at the time. I only learned that they did the best that they could when I became older. Stepping away from my dysfunctional family system and on my faith in God exposed to me that I can truly do anything through Christ Jesus. The paradox of resilience is that the worst of times can also bring out our best. Going through generational things has taught me that we can step out and dare to be different. It took a lot of mistake making, and head bumping, but I have learned that when you pray about something, God always answers. It may not be the answer that you are looking for, but it is the answer that God has for you. In the scripture, it talks about God and answering prayers. The scripture says, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18, ESV). I believe that God puts us all through things for a reason, and with that, I believe that I found my purpose. I was taught to go to church, learn God’s way and follow his word. Growing up in the family system that I did, I was taught to “do as I say and not what I do”. This was very disruptive to me as a child. I still believe that I should follow God’s way, but it should be something that is practiced and not just preached by parents or elders. So where does this leave my family system? I believe that God has a purpose for us all, and that purpose for me is to be the groundbreaker of all of the dysfunction in my family system. The family systems theory in relation to my family, the boundaries are unclear. I have lived on my own since I was 19, but when my mother is around, it seems that she will not let go of the patriarchal role that she had when I was a younger child. Due to the power struggle in that aspect, we often have communication issues. My mother seems to have the old way of thinking that because she is the elder, what she says goes, but as an adult, I feel that my mother should not have a patriarchal role in my household. According to family systems theory, a healthy family is flexible enough to accommodate to developmental and cultural challenges, while supp orting the growth of each individual member.


There is great concern across the mental health and social service fields that interventions capable of making a critical difference in the lives of individuals, couples, and families are not finding their way into regular practice. This is why it is important for the world to normalize the counseling field. If it were normal for people to seek help, the world would be a better place. We as people should want to try new things to help the very people that need it. The family system is what needs help. Counseling from a systems theory can be educational as well as gratifying. Although some families are shattered by crisis or chronic stresses, what is remarkable is that many others emerge strengthened and more resourceful. My family has been through a lot from generation to generation, but as the saying goes, once you learn better, you do better.

A family resilience perspective recognizes parental strengths and potential alongside limitations. In the Turner family system, I have learned to apply what I have learned in life, counseling, and personal experiences so that I can help the family system become a better functioning unit. Although we do not live in the same area, there are ways to work on improving the relationships within the systems. With the advent and maturation of the Internet, more accessible air travel, continuing immigration and migration of world citizens, and increasing globalization of business, it is apparent that once-separate societies are becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent. We can talk on a weekly basis, make plans to visit one another, and communicate how we feel more effectively. As a functioning unit, each part of that unit plays a role in the communication process and has to be a willing participant. The Turner family has to set boundaries with one another, and be willing to respect each other in that aspect. On the road ahead, I plan to be a willing participant to put these important concepts in place.

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As mentioned earlier, the Turner family has dysfunctional units in the system. To repair the unit, I will be a leading participant so that the family can see that it can be done. I plan to step out on God’s word and my faith, so that the family system can be repaired. God will lead me, guide me and show me the way to make this family system better at communicating, building trust in the relationships, and seeing that repairing the system is worth it in order to lead future generations to be better than what we are now. I desire to be a better version of myself. Learning about myself will give me the understanding that I can’t make changes overnight. The bible says, therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This shows me in written form that I can change, my family system can change, and the world overall can change. As long as God is at the forefront of my life, I can be an agent of change for the world and God can use me as a vessel as he sees fit.


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Family Counseling Case Study: Structural Family Therapy. (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
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