Simple guide to structural family therapy

Family therapy is a form of psychological counseling designed to help family members improve the ways in which they communicate with each other and resolve troublesome conflicts. Unlike other types of therapy which focus on a single individual, family therapy improves relationships and relationship dynamics by treating all members of the family as a single unit, with the overall aim of creating a healthier, happier homelife for everyone. Some people consider doing a type of therapy that is called “Family constellation therapy“.

What is structural family therapy?

Structural family therapy, also known as SFT, is a subset of general family therapy and concentrates on the entire family as a whole. It works by developing more effective dynamics, behaviors, patterns and hierarchies between individual family members.

Therapists who specialize in SFT analyze the current family dynamics and work to identify any potential problems. They uncover unhealthy routines, patterns and behaviors which may have a negative impact on family members. When these have been revealed, the therapist helps the family establish positive routines within the family structure, creating a loving and stable home for everyone. 

Read: “What is structural family therapy?” >>

Read: “What is family constellation therapy?” >>

Who is it for?

Structural family therapy is most often recommended as a treatment for:

  • Families who have experienced trauma
  • Families at risk
  • Single-parent families
  • Blended families
  • Parents that have difficulty parenting
  • Families in which one or more children are disabled
  • Families with children that need pediatric counseling

Families who have experienced significant trauma, such as a serious accident or the loss of a loved one, can also benefit from SFT. This specialist form of therapy gives them the space and time needed to effectively process their grief and trauma together as a family unit, instead of each individual attempting to process everything separately. Other than that, stay-at-home moms have a high rate of depression

At-risk, single-parent and blended families can also find structural family therapy helpful. This is because in these family units, boundaries can often become clouded and communication can easily break down due to resentment and stress. An SFT family therapist can help rework the relationship dynamics, carving out an easier, smoother homelife for everyone. 

Families with children who have a disability can also benefit greatly from SFT, as it shows individual family members how they can create healthy boundaries and smooth transitions. Both these acts can be incredibly difficult for parents and other siblings when one child has a mental disorder. 

While any family is eligible for structural family therapy, it’s most effective for families which are on the brink of giving up and falling apart. Other families consider behavioral pediatric and family therapy , while others considering therapy exclusively for parents.

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How does it work?

When you take part in a structural family therapy session, the counselor will watch the way your family interacts and will make notes about your general structure and dynamics. The therapist will pay close attention to the boundaries, habits and roles of your family — both the healthy and unhealthy ones.

After this stage, the therapist will move on to identify the most important issues which need addressing first and create a comprehensive treatment plan to move forward. When creating the plan, the therapist will also take into consideration the reason your family sought out therapy. This could be because your child is having problems at school which is affecting your whole family, because your newly-blended family is struggling to create boundaries or an entirely different issue.

Following the first few sessions, the therapist will evaluate the dynamics which are creating tension and discord between your family. They’ll then help you work through your issues in a number of different ways, including:

  • Role playing
  • Discussing feelings
  • Talking about perceptions
  • Safe communication

While receiving structural family therapy, you should think of your therapist as a guide to help you develop clearer and more helpful ways to communicate. By being able to effectively tell your family how you feel and perceive things, blaming, accusing and shouting can be avoided. 

Integral therapist role

It’s important to understand that when taking part in SFT, your therapist will essentially become a part of your family. This enables them to step in and out of your family’s interactions, creating a safe space in which everyone can speak, open up and vent.

Your structural family therapist will play an integral part in your therapy to help you see and discover things about your family members you didn’t before.

For example, during role-playing activities, your therapist will act as a devil’s advocate while escalating interactions, demonstrating how harmful mocking, bullying and other negative behaviors are. They’ll also take the side of one family member over another, allowing expressions of hurt and anger to happen in a safe environment.

How long does it take and what is “parenting therapy”?

Structural family therapy isn’t an instant solution to your family’s problems, but it is an effective one. There’s no fixed number of sessions or set amount of time for SFT to be completed. It could take you and your family two months or two years to resolve your issues.

How long SFT takes really depends on your ability to cooperate and the severity of your problems. The more your family members listen to each other, are open to your therapist’s suggestions and act upon them, the sooner your treatment will conclude.

Parenting therapy is the exact same thing is structural family therapy but focuses on the parents more than the children. It’s not a term used by clinicians but people generally use the term a lot.

Online structural family therapy

If you think your family could benefit from SFT, but you don’t know where to start, consider reaching out to an online family therapist. Many people find online therapy more accessible and comfortable than traditional therapy, especially when it involves multiple family members with different schedules and priorities.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recommendation to stay at home, online therapy is becoming many people’s preferred way to solve their issues. Being able to book appointments at the time you choose and taking part in sessions from the safety of your own home are just two reasons why online family therapy is so effective.

Family life is often busy and hectic, especially if one member has a substance abuse problem, a borderline personality disorder or a disability. Having the opportunity to seek the help you know you need without having to physically drive everyone to an unfamiliar location can often be the difference between a family that sticks together and one which falls apart.

When you’re ready to get your family back on track, we’re here for you. Book your first online session with Cyti Psychological and we’ll help you break down your barriers and rebuild a happy, loving family from the ground up.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741