What Is Family Structural Theory?

Family structural theory was developed by Salvador Minuchin and focuses on identifying the strengths of a family system in order to reduce dysfunctional patterns of interaction. This fits within the larger field of family systems theory, in which a family is seen as a complex set of interactions and relationships.

Salvador Minuchin developed his family structural theory while working at the Wiltwyck School, a residential treatment center for boys. Minuchin began to see the boys’ symptoms as connected to the dysfunction in their families of origin, and he theorized that a person’s view of himself is directly related to his role within the family structure. Minuchin developed new treatment protocols in which the boys’ families were included in therapy to address dysfunction in the family system.

A structural family therapist assesses the various patterns within the family system, such as identifying members who have developed alliances against other family members or understanding conflicts between members. A family map can be drawn to represent these patterns visually. Strengths are then identified to determine ways in which the family is functioning well. These strengths are used as a foundation to build upon so that the family develops new skills using the tools they already possess.