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Structural Family Therapy

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Autor:   •  December 28, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,943 Words (8 Pages)  •  4,311 Views

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"The road is not the road; the road is how you walk it." - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Since not all changes affect all family members, and changes in one individual are not going to affect the rest of his or her family, it seems families can use whatever methods facilitate smooth functioning. Then, what is the definition of family and how family therapists help families when problems do arise? A family is an aggregate of individuals, and family therapists have inevitably been dealing with individuals within families. Thus, it is somewhat challenging for family therapists to deal with the family as it requires seeing people as individuals and as part of a whole.

Structural family therapy views a family as an aggregate of individuals that works in a system as a united whole. It presents a framework to help families modify their family structure or the underlying organization of family life. In structural family therapy, each individual becomes a subunit of his or her family as well as a member of different social contexts. This perspective helps families, as it grasps certain family patterns and focus on reciprocal relations within the family. Problems arise because of old habits, thus when those habits are change, the structure of family also can be changed. Structural family therapy is effective for treating various problems of families and members of families especially with anorexia nervosa, addiction, substance abuse problems, a troubled adolescent, or a marriage crisis.

Therapists insist that each family is basically unique no matter what characteristics they may share with other families. Through the lens of the above assumption, the family is seen as fundamentally resourceful and having a core of uniqueness that will determine how the family will change in therapy. Therapists also emphasize that it is possible to change family systems in a relatively short time by understanding families' unique characteristics and problems.

One of the main assumptions of the structural family theory is that families are trapped by certain patterns that are inappropriate for their current life circumstances. Families are organized hierarchically with rules for interacting within subsystems. Thus, inadequate hierarchies and boundaries can maintain symptomatic behavior. As the boundaries of subsystems improve, the functioning of the constituent parts will also improve (Minuchin, 1974).

Salvador Minuchin, who developed structural family therapy and rules to organize therapeutic techniques, helped families to see the hidden parts of their family. Minuchin suggested that therapists should understand that families are subdivided into subsystem with boundaries. He strongly advised therapists not to explain how families might experience pathological symptoms as they adopt changes in the system. By comparing therapists to anthropologists who have a thorough knowledge of a culture before conducting fieldwork, Minuchin encouraged therapists to join with the family before they take an active and intervening role (Nichols& Schwartz, 1995).

As compared to other theories, structural family therapy is unique in that it deals with spirituality and ways that therapists' own spirituality has an impact on therapy itself. Harry Aponte emphasized the importance of spirituality and asserted that spirituality brings the ultimate meaning to psychotherapy. All therapies are somehow connected to spirituality, as it is the basis of emotions families are confronting. Aponte challenged therapists to think of spirituality in a clinical context and to talk and work with spirituality. In order to utilize spirituality in therapy, he established the spiritual framework, which included love and forgiveness. Translating spiritual perspective into therapy, he constructed his own definition of love and forgiveness, but at the same time, he discovered that patients come with their own spirituality no matter what he believed. In therapy, therapists and patients establish a spiritual framework or the family's value platform for change. As patients accept the meaning of love, he found that it becomes unconditional love, which promotes responsibility, autonomy, and motivation. Aponte also stressed the importance of spirituality, as it produces factors critical to successful therapy in any model (Aponte, 1998).

By facilitating the transformation of the family system, structural therapists take a pivotal role in helping the identified patient and family. The therapists' use of themselves to support family members is especially crucial in work with pathologically enmeshed families. In the therapeutic system, the family therapists consider themselves as acting and reacting member. In order to join with the family, the therapist emphasizes the aspects of his or her personality and experience that relate to the family. As the experiences of family members change, the therapist joins with the family in the goal or changing family organization. Instead of focusing on the individual, the therapist focuses on the person within the family. Therapy based on this framework is expected to change the organization of the family. Each individual's experiences are transformed when the structure of the family group changes, and the positions of members in that group are altered accordingly (Minuchin, 1974).

Structural family therapists take an active role, and their interactions will generally consist of directions for family members in the therapy session. Since theory is heavily focused on change, the therapists emphasize present problems rather than those of past. In addition, the therapist is more interested in patterns of communication than in the content the communication, and thus, the role of the therapist is to shift patterns of interactions in a positive direction. By focusing on the consistent, repetitive patterns of family behavior, therapists are interested in the emotional boundaries and coalitions, as they help them to understand the structure of family (Minuchin & Fishman, 1981).

The family becomes an important factor in the therapeutic process, as therapy stresses individuals in their social context. Dealing with the process of feedback between circumstances and the person becomes an important factor in structural family therapy since persons make changes in their circumstances and feedback to these changes is directly connected to the next step.

Structural family therapy does not interpret or explore the past, but rather, it modifies the present. Although it seems theory is not interested in the past, it believes that the individuals are connected to both past and present circumstances. Individuals' past and unique characteristics form their social context, and this context influences them. With memory, the individual can produce his past, and through his present


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