When it comes to family therapy, there are multiple types that have been developed in order to cater to the specific needs of each family. Cognitive behavioral family therapy, systemic family therapy, strategic family therapy, and structural family therapy are all kinds of therapies that have been developed to help families as a whole.
Structural family therapy is a family therapy strives to change the family dynamic by focusing on the communication and interaction between family members.
The Development of Structural Family Therapy
Salvador Minuchin developed the field of structural family therapy in the 1960s. After earning his degree in medicine and furthering his career by studying psychoanalysis, Minuchin worked at Wiltwyck School, a school for troubled inner-city males.
While attempting to help the boys with therapy, Minuchin found that traditional individual therapy did not provide sufficient help for them. Because of this, he began to experiment with different methods, focusing on treating the troubled boys and their families together.
This experimentation laid the foundation for what would become structural family therapy.
Why Choose Structural Family Therapy?
Structural family therapy is a good choice for families that include delinquent, troubled family members, especially at-risk youth. It focuses on restructuring the family dynamic in order to help create a healthier family structure.
Structural family therapy acknowledges that, at times, the way that a family functions can cause issues for individual family members. It aims to alter the family dynamic in a positive way that promotes healthy relationships.
The Techniques and Goals of Structural Family Therapy
All therapists that offer structural family therapy will differ in the exact way they run their sessions; however, there are some fundamental techniques that all structural family therapists will employ in their sessions.
Joining, or accommodating, is the process in which structural family therapists get to know each individual family member in order to understand how the family members interact with each other as a group. This part of structural family therapy allows the doctor to earn respect from each family member which allows the family to form an alliance with the therapist and welcome him into their family in order to begin the healing process.
Working with Family Interactions
This part of structural family therapy is how the therapist learns how the family interacts and communicates. The doctor looks to see if there are clear boundaries, if certain family members are always attacking or always defending themselves, if any family members seem to be out the outside of everything going on, and if there are issues like parents bringing children into adult discussions.
This part of the therapy is important because it allows the doctor to see exactly what interaction is harmful within the family unit as a whole. For instance, if two people in the family are always interrupting each other, there may be an underlying issue between those two family members.
Mapping Underlying Structure
By observing how the family members interact with one another, the therapist can put together a map that shows how each family member interacts with each other. Sometimes, being able to see how you interact with someone is paramount to being able to realize that you may not have a healthy relationship with that someone.
The family map that a therapist draws in structural family therapy shows clean and unclear boundaries between family members, styles of interaction between family members, and how the entire family is structured based on these qualities.
Enactments are the “bread and butter” of structural family therapy. This part is where the breakthroughs usually happen. Why? Enactments require the family members to role-play as each other in family conflicts made up within the therapy session. They enact the roles that others in the family play, and this allows the family members to understand how other family members act and why they act certain ways themselves.
These enactments let the therapist show each family member how he or she is contributing to an unhealthy family unit in a way in which the member can see and understand the point that the therapist is making.
Boundary making, or restructuring, is the part of structural family therapy during which the therapist helps the family members to form new boundaries that strengthen their family unit. For instance, some family members may not have any boundaries between each other – ie. a parent that is overly protective of a child – which causes the child to act out.
On the other hand, there may be a dynamic within the family where there is a concrete boundary between members that doesn’t allow any closeness. In this case, the therapist would work to bring those members closer together.
This part of the therapy adjusts the dependence and independence of family members in relation to each other.
Unbalancing is a technique in structural family therapy during which the doctor will partner with an individual family member or a couple of family members to bring a focus to an issue that involves the family member or members he is partnered with.
Structural Family Therapy and Addiction
Proponents of structural family therapy encourage its use in rehabilitation facilities and sober living homes. This therapy is a great therapy to use in these instances because a large part of the addiction recovery process is making amends with those the addict has harmed and, in most cases, family members are the most likely to be harmed, either emotional or physically, by an addict.
The Benefits of Structural Family Therapy for Addicts
Minumich was inspired to create the method of structural family therapy while working with delinquent youth. Because the method of therapy was literally inspired by a group of at-risk people, it makes it an ideal form of family therapy for addicts, who are, themselves, a group of at-risk people.
The techniques involved in structural family therapy allow for addicts to take an honest look at how they interact with their family members. Are they closer with some and more distant from others? Are they defensive or aggressive? Do interactions with a specific family member cause the addict to shut down?
Additionally, addiction can be caused by trauma. That trauma could very well have happened within the family unit at any point in the addict’s history. Using structural family therapy to address the addict’s entire family unit can bring that trauma out in the open and allow healing to begin, helping the addict success in his or her recovery.
The Role of the Family in Addiction Recovery
The role of the family within an addict’s recovery can be both beneficial and detrimental to the recovery process.
The Addiction Center lists the following personality traits that family members tend to exhibit toward an addict:
- Savior – This family member plays the hero. They most often will make excuses for the addict in order please everyone. They are most often the family member that is in denial.
- Mascot – This family member tends to sue humor to deal with the addict, often using the addict as the focus of his jokes.
- Lost Child – This family member avoids conflict and copes with the addict silently.
- Scapegoat – This family member is the one that seeks the most attention and usually is covering his or her own shame when it comes to the addict.
- Caregiver/Codependent – This family member trait is, perhaps, the most detrimental to the addict. Caregivers are not always codependent, but they will excuse the addict’s behavior and take on the responsibility of the addiction. This causes the addict to not have to take responsibility for his or her own actions. The addict cannot learn and grow.
Because family members can automatically assume roles that are very unhealthy for an addict’s recovery, structural family therapy is a great choice for those struggling with addiction because it forces the entire family unit to face their own issues with interaction and communication that may be hindering the addict’s ability to recover.
Characteristics of Families Faced with Addiction
One study, reported by Unity Rehab, outlined the basic characteristics that are found within family units that have an addict.
Some of these characteristics are:
- Negativism – the home tends to be a negative environment full of criticism and complaints
- Parental inconsistency – there are no clear boundaries between parents and children; the environment is unstable, as a whole; children don’t know how to behave because they are unsure of what to expect from their parents
- Parental denial – family units with young addicts tend to have parents that deny their child has an addiction even though there are signs that point clearly to addiction
- Miscarried expression of anger – because the home unit does not function properly because of unclear boundaries and strained relationships, the members will misplace their anger and turn to substance abuse
- Self-medication – the negative atmosphere in the home leads to depression and anxiety within family members, and they may resort to substance abuse to deal with these feelings
- Unrealistic parental expectations – parents can set very high expectations for their children which will result in the children giving up because they know they’ll always fail or working themselves too hard in order to achieve the unrealistic goals
Because every family unit is different, you can find one of these characteristics within a dysfunctional family unit, or you can find all of these characteristics. No matter the number of negative characteristics you find in an addict’s family unit, it is clear that restructuring the entire family is necessary in the homes of those that have a family member (or multiple family members) suffering from addiction.
How Structural Family Therapy Improves an Addict’s Chance of Recovery
When an addict enters rehabilitation or becomes a resident at a sober living home, therapy becomes a necessary part of his or her lives. Addicts will participate in both individual and group therapy, but family therapy is an option that most people don’t automatically think of when it comes to an addict’s recovery.
Why is this? Addiction has such a negative reputation that many people look at addicts as weak individuals who decided to ruin their lives by trying drugs and becoming hooked. However, addiction can sometimes be put into place when the addict is a child within a dysfunctional family home.
Structural family therapy pulls the addict into therapy with his or her family and includes the entire family in the addict’s recovery process. This therapy helps to foster healthy familial support for the addict and allows the addict to see how his or her own interaction with family affects his or her addiction.
Structural family therapy takes the hard part of reaching out to individual family members to make amends away from the addict and allows the addict to actively take part in a therapy that restructures the entire family into a healthy and happy functioning unit.
This gives the addict an invaluable resource for his or her recovery – a supportive family.
Why Should An Addict Choose Structural Family Therapy During Recovery
During recovery, addicts follow programs that allow them to take responsibility for their own actions that have led to their addiction. Adding in structural family therapy brings to the plate a therapy that considers the entire familial structure. It looks for and identifies possible causes and triggers that enable the addict.
Some families may be completely unaware that their family unit is, as a whole, dysfunctional because of things that are not always seen as “bad” – like protective parents and strict religious views.
Structural family therapy does not only employ talking and listening in its techniques. It takes each family member and studies them then has the family role-play as one another in order to bring to light dysfunctions that are not clearly seen in everyday life.
It does not just ask what the problem is – structural family therapy actively searches for problems and fixes them with actions.
Structural family therapy has been used for decades to help those with dysfunctional or nonconventional family units that may have had a part in the delinquent behavior of one or more of the family members. This therapy strives to correct detrimental relationships within the family unit in order to help all members, especially the at-risk members, live healthy, successful lives.
One of many forms of therapy offered at The Hills, structural family therapy is an option for you if you’re struggling with addiction and want to heal the relationship with your family in the process. Reach out to us for more information in order to find out if our facility is right for your needs!