Theories Critical Evaluation

Senior (College 4th year) ・Psychology ・APA ・10 Sources

Understanding the similarities between Systemic and Strategic Family Therapy helps a therapist to select which model for a particular person would function better. Therefore, it is good to compare the origins of the two, what inspired them, the type of methods they use, types of intervention, their formations, main techniques and mechanics, basic principles, treatments, setting goals and therapeutic performance. In order to explain how the two models vary or correlate so as to increase applicability, the strengths and shortcomings of the methods are also compared.

The Primary Contributors to the Theories

Structural Family Therapy was largely contributed to by Salvador Minuchin. While working in Wiltwyck a troubled boy’s school, he noted that the families of these kids usually had aggressive tendencies blaming others for the existing problems. As a result, he developed the notion that therapists had to help families directly alter their organization. He sought to see the boys’ parents for effective treatment of the problems affecting the kids (Nichols, 2014). The development of the Structural Family Therapy attempted to accommodate the needs of all clients and their families. He collaborated with many of his colleagues like Jay Haley who headed the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic in the 1960s. Minuchin was also influenced by the Ortega Gasset, who believed that individuals live by interacting with their environment. Minuchin pointed out that every family has a structure which is an invisible set rule through which family members relate to each other by influencing how the member's relationships. Some families’ have well organized hierarchical systems where they can interact with each other easily. Others have more flexible systems where family members freely communicate with each other. In both cases, the structure of the household is likely to become dysfunction because of stress exposure.

The strategic family therapy was introduced by Milton Erickson and Don Jackson. It can also be associated with the work of Joe Harry and Cloe Madanes. It was called strategic as it focused on specific strategies of intervention which were geared towards changing the present complaint of the family. Erickson had a belief that the aim of therapy is to bring about change by making use of the specific resources of his clients and coming up with a particular strategy for each specific problem (Plante, 2013). He functioned with his customers in a way that they would, in the end, be the modification mediator for themselves. He enabled this procedure by giving directions and subsidiary propositions in the therapy meeting. The theory also gained from the work of a team at the Mental Research Institute comprising John Weakland, Dick Fishc, and Paulatzalawick.  

The Underlying Assumptions about Problems and Solutions

The Structural Theory bases its assumptions on that the subsystems structures and hierarchies within families influence the actions of individual family members. The theory assumes that problems and solutions develop in order which follows; the hierarchal, subsystem and structural factors in a family. It assumes that people are repetitively affected by the patterns of interaction. The structure in a family or system can either be supportive or maladaptive and this structure can either maintain positive interactions or maladaptive ones (Mann, 2012). Family members are viewed by their relation to the whole, and each member of the family is considered important in maintaining either positive or maladaptive interaction. When problems in the structures arise, the members are encouraged to interact in positive ways so as to solve the problem. The structures are changed to create positive interaction again in the family system. Structural family theorists believe that changing the structure of the broken family system can make it start functioning in a positive manner making the family members interact well to overcome the problems in the family (Nichols, 2014). The comparison between challenges and solutions creates a relationship between family systems and individual components 

The assumptions in Strategic Family Therapy are not built on the identification of the problematic behaviors but on how the family interacts with the problem instead of identifying the problem itself. Therapists will, therefore, try to change how family members interact (Mann, 2012). They look at how the members communicate and help them to see and modify the actions which are related to the problem. This kind of intervention restores positive functioning to the system; reinstate the communication within the family thus solving the problem.

The Core Concepts of the Models

The core concepts of Structural Family Therapy are based on the system and organization of the family. Therapists look at how problematic are the family structure without looking for the solution even if that is the goal. Structural family therapy is characterized by its focus on organizational issues with every family having a set of rules that organizes the ways in which families interact. It assumes that a family subsystems and structure core concept affect how a family unit responds to problems (Sue, 2016).  The Therapist looks at how he can restore the structure of the family by changing the way people relate. Therapists also look at social factors from outside the family that worsen the problems. The Core concepts combine analyzing coalitions, subsystems, and alliances between different family members. The boundaries are diffuse, rigid, or stable.

On the other hand, the core concepts of Strategic Family Therapy put emphasis on the whole process, the hierarchal structure and the understanding of the individual and family communication patterns. It analyses visible and invisible family rules, functions and repetitive behaviors within the family.  Because problems are caused by structures within the family not working properly, therapists help families solve problems by changing how people interact with the family. Another core concept of this theory is the family’s behavioral patterns and the processes that worsen the dysfunctions.

Major Interventions of the Models

The Structural Family Therapy applies unbalancing techniques, helping family members to change their views, family mapping, interacting with the family members during therapy sessions and looking at the dysfunctions as a representation of other things as interventions (Sue, 2016).  This helps the family realize the dysfunctions and also assists them to raise the family esteems. 

Strategic Family Therapy uses a set of planned, practical and problem specific strategies to correct behaviors and family structures that cause specific problems. Only the most problematic behaviors and relational structures contributing to the problems are addressed. The approach joins, diagnoses and restructures the family with an aim to bring change. Therapeutic paradoxes entails having family members do the opposite behavior from the one that is believed to be driving the problem behavior. Ordeals are also incorporated which involve the behavioral prescriptions directing a family to implement changes.

Goals Setting and the Expected Therapeutic Outcomes

Both theories share in goals as they both seek to alter the family network through behavior modification, communication enhancement while restoring dysfunctional interactions. Another goal is to create an efficient hierarchical structure which leads to putting the parents in charge of their children (Kouzes, 2017).  The outcome in both approaches is a change in patterns affecting individuals and family units. A proper balance is achieved and family homeostasis restored. 

Evolution of the Models over time to Their Contemporary Forms

The Structural family therapy has evolved to include new understandings about how relational processes affect development, for example, the attachment theory and evolved original concepts into new practices (Kouzes, 2017). For example, Eco systemic structural family therapists concentrate on a systematic and evidence-based process focusing on the family with adolescents and children with behavioral dysfunction. They help the family to restore household homeostasis by addressing dysfunction.
 Brief strategic family therapy models use the core concepts of strategic family therapy and structural family therapy. This combination produces an evidence-based model important in dealing with addict children in families (Schulman, 2011). The combination also increases therapeutic retention and enables families to fight dysfunction. Despite extensive research, the effectiveness of the model in fighting addiction problem is still questionable.

Evidence-based Research Completed for the Models

There has been an adequate use of strategic family therapy in the treatment of child and adolescent drug abuse, delinquency, antisocial behaviors and unsafe sexual activity. Research at the University of Miami center for family studies indicated that Cuban families in Miami tended to put the value to family connectivity over individual autonomy and appreciated the present over the past. This showed that there is need to address the current problems than the past (Benuto, 2012).

Comparing and Contrasting the Two Models

Both models were developed to focus on social cultural and socioeconomic aspects of the ignored communities. They concentrate on such communities with emphasis on the importance of racial and class diversity. Both were created specifically for troubled youth and their families resolving the troubling communication and relational styles of these young people (Gay, 2010). 

The major difference comes in the order by which each takes to change the system. Structural family therapists change the structure within the system while Strategic family therapists change the relational strategies. In Structural family therapy, the therapist must be sensitive to the multicultural perspectives within a family during counseling. The therapist must acquire knowledge and skills in working with these diversities. The theory considers the families’ ability to access sociopolitical systems.  It recognizes and addresses these factors in families to avoid working on the symptoms of their distress out of context. The Strategic Family Therapy ensures that the therapist does not become judgmental of the clients (Watkins, 2014). The theory carefully examines the therapeutic systems used and takes advantage of the biases present for the family. This makes the solution easy to achieve without violating the rights of the family.

The shared strength between the two approaches is that they both emphasize the importance of systems inside and outside the family structure. They explore, interpret, comprehend and modify dysfunctional relation to environmental factors. Both models share in the weaknesses of focusing highly on intrapersonal relationships within the family system failing to address the intrapsychic and emotional factors of individual family members in the dysfunctional network (In Reece, In Hanson, & In Sargent, 2014). Personally, I would prefer the structural family theory to the strategic family therapy.  The structural family theory seeks to holistically dig into the whole family system digging out the problems possibly solving problems that would have been overlooked if the strategic family therapy approach had been used. A hybrid of the two approaches would also work well for me since one will cover for the shortcomings of the other. 


Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College.
Gehart, D. R. (2010). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
In Reece, R. M., In Hanson, R. F., & In Sargent, J. (2014). Treatment of child abuse: Common ground for mental health, medical, and legal practitioners.
Kouzes, J. M. (2017). Leadership Challenge : How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, John.
Mann, M. (2012). The sources of social power: Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nichols, M. P. (2014). The essentials of family therapy.
Plante, T. G. (2013). Contemporary clinical psychology. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.
Shulman, L. (2011). Dynamics and skills of group counseling. Belmont, Calif: Brooks/Cole Pub Co.
Sue, D. (2016). Understanding abnormal behavior.
Watkins, H. (2014). Therapeutic Alliance in Couple and Family Therapy: Therapist Experiences and Perspectives on Multidirected Partiality (Doctoral dissertation)

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