Leone Centre Glossary

Structural Family Therapy

Structural Family Therapy

Structural family therapy (SFT) is a therapeutic approach within family therapy that focuses on the structure and organisation of a family. Developed by Salvador Minuchin, it aims to understand and alter the underlying structures that govern family interactions and relationships.

Key principles

Structural family therapy is grounded in several key principles:

  1. Family structure: This refers to the invisible set of functional demands that organise the ways family members interact. These structures shape the behaviour and roles of family members.
  2. Subsystems: Within a family, there are smaller units or subsystems, such as parental, sibling, or spousal subsystems. Each has its own patterns of interaction and dynamics.
  3. Boundaries: These are the rules defining who participates in which subsystem and regulate the amount of contact and influence between subsystems. Boundaries can be rigid, diffuse, or clear, impacting the family’s functionality.

Goals of structural family therapy

The main objectives of SFT include:

  1. Realigning the family structure: By reorganising the family structure, the therapist helps family members interact in more meaningful ways, leading to healthier relationships.
  2. Strengthening boundaries: SFT works to create clear and healthy boundaries within the family, ensuring that each subsystem functions without undue interference.
  3. Enhancing family functioning: By addressing the hierarchical structure within the family and promoting balanced roles and responsibilities, SFT aims to improve overall family dynamics.

Process of structural family therapy

The process of SFT involves several steps:

  1. Joining and accommodating: The therapist engages with the family, building rapport and understanding their unique structure and dynamics.
  2. Mapping family structure: The therapist identifies patterns of interaction, hierarchies, and boundaries within the family through observations and interactions.
  3. Intervening to restructure: The therapist implements interventions designed to alter and improve the family structure. This may involve role-playing, boundary-making, and realignment of hierarchies.


Structural family therapy offers numerous benefits:

  1. Improved communication: Families learn to communicate more clearly, enhancing mutual understanding and reducing conflicts.
  2. Balanced relationships: By establishing healthy boundaries and roles, family members can develop more balanced and supportive relationships.
  3. Adaptability: Families become more adaptable and better equipped to handle changes and challenges in their lives.


What is the goal of Structural Family Therapy?
To understand and alter the underlying structures that govern family interactions and relationships.
How do subsystems function in Structural Family Therapy?
Subsystems, like parental or sibling units, each have their own interaction patterns and dynamics within the family structure.
What role do boundaries play in Structural Family Therapy?
Boundaries define participation and influence within subsystems, affecting family functionality. They can be rigid, diffuse, or clear.


  1. Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and Family Therapy. Harvard University Press.
  2. Nichols, M. P. (2013). The Essentials of Family Therapy. Pearson.
  3. Goldenberg, I., & Goldenberg, H. (2012). Family Therapy: An Overview. Cengage Learning.
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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision