Minuchin’s structural school fits into the systemic block. Historically, the models of this current applied to family therapy, but today their scope has expanded.
It should be emphasized, first, that the systemic model conceives the family as a system in which the behavior of a member cannot be understood in isolation, regardless of what others do.
In general, it can be said that it takes into account three aspects of family dynamics: the structure of the family, determined by the limits, hierarchies and degree of identity of the members; the rules or how the family maintains the balance of its interactions and information or how members communicate with each other.
In the 1970s, Salvador Minuchin founded the structural school based on his clinical practice in the approach to mental health problems of marginalized populations. The major breakthrough initiated by Minuchin was to include the context and responsibility of each of the family members as important variables. Emphasize that, at times, the symptom suffered by the family is the consequence of the actions of one of the family members, aimed at maintaining family stability – homeostasis.
He understands that, at times, these measures are the very source of the problem and argues that it may be necessary to unbalance the system itself for the symptom to resolve itself. This way of doing therapy, although paradoxical, leads the family to learn alternative solutions and to start evaluating other resources and paths.
The purpose of the Minuchin structural school
According to the structural school, the symptoms presented by the family appear when there is a delay or arrest in the family life cycle. In other words, the system crashes and does not advance as a result of several transactional patterns that have repeated over time and are not functional.
In this sense, the processes of the family system are reflected in the structure of the family itself. Structures are made up of hierarchies, boundaries between subsystems and external boundaries, as well as the rules governing power and communication. Furthermore, there are also alliances – unions between individuals – and coalitions – alliances between members against third parties.
If we change the rules on limits and hierarchies, it is likely that the patterns of interaction – the patterns – that make the symptom persist in that moment will also change. Therefore, the therapeutic goal is to change that family organization, those limits that have been created between subsystems and hierarchies, and to adapt transactional schemes to the needs of the family.
Minuchin wants to challenge the dysfunctional structure created by the family, to generate an imbalance and start developing new models of interaction and, therefore, new solutions.
The stages of Minuchin’s therapy
Minuchin establishes several moments in family therapy. A diagnosis will be made at first, but unlike other approaches, the diagnosis is about the structure of the system. As we have previously commented, from the point of view of the structural school it is assumed that each member of the family has his share of responsibility, because he participates in the interaction and maintenance of the symptom.
Already in the second phase, and once the therapist is within the family system, another set of techniques is implemented. In the challenge technique, the family plays the role of a dysfunctional communication model. The therapist asks the family to play a familiar scene and collects information not only about what happens, but also about how it happens.
After this staging, the therapist performs focusing or targeting. This technique, basically, tries to focus attention on a specific point of the staging to highlight some important aspects: “It seems that what you represented is a different reason than the one raised at the beginning of the therapy …”
On the other hand, there would also be restructuring techniques, the aim of which is to change the system. To achieve this change, a number of strategies are put in place. The positive redefinition of the symptom consists of an alternative relational rereading to question the definitions of family.
At the same time, the therapist will prescribe tasks with the aim of modifying some aspects of the system. The family is often assigned to have some members perform a task together to foster new covenants.
The imbalance occurs
This is the most important part of therapy and the one that involves change. The therapist temporarily allies with some members to unbalance the system and cause crisis.
An example of this imbalance could be: “Elisa, you are very intelligent, protective, loving and you always try to maintain family unity. Don’t you think it’s time to stop living your children’s life and start living your own … “
The structural school is a very useful approach, designed specifically to understand the whole family system. One of the most interesting points is the acceptance of the responsibility of each member in the protraction of the problem.
It is directive therapy, which seeks to mobilize the system to generate change. To this end, it clarifies that whether or not the goals set will be achieved will largely depend on the family’s involvement in therapy.