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Structural Family Therapy vs Strategic Family Therapy

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Types of Family Therapies for Teens

Family therapy encompasses a wide range of therapeutic approaches designed to address the complexities of family dynamics and promote healthier relationships within the family unit. Each type of family therapy offers a unique perspective and methodology, tailored to the specific needs and situations of families so you can find what is most effective for your family. 

Here’s an overview of the major types of family therapy, providing a broad understanding of this diverse field.

Emotionally-Focused and Attachment-Based Family Therapy

Therapists help families map their current patterns of interaction, express primary emotions and needs, listen openly to the messages they receive from each other, then reflect back their impressions of other family members’ primary emotions and needs to ask for clarification. 

At Clearfork Academy we use these approaches and the family’s new understanding to address and heal any wounds in family relationships. Once those wounds are healed and a deeper level of communication is established, the therapist guides the family in building new and more positive interaction patterns based on mutual respect and empathy.

Narrative Family Therapy

At Clearfork Academy we use Narrative family therapy which is based on the idea that our identities are shaped by the stories we tell about ourselves and our families. This approach helps families to rewrite these narratives in more positive and empowering ways. The therapist helps family members to identify and express their own stories and to listen and understand the stories of others, facilitating a reauthoring of the family’s joined narrative that emphasizes strengths and positive interactions.

Systemic Family Therapy

At Clearfork Academy we use Systemic family therapy which views problems as part of a larger, complex system rather than isolating them to individual members. It considers the family as a whole, examining the rules, roles, and patterns that govern interactions. Therapists help families understand how each member influences and is influenced by one another. This approach often explores the meanings and beliefs underlying behaviors, enabling families to uncover and address deeper issues causing distress.

Structural Family Therapy

Developed by Salvador Minuchin, Structural Family Therapy focuses on the family structure, emphasizing roles, boundaries, and subsystems within the family. The therapist actively engages with the family to realign these structures. This can look like helping parents be on the same page or repairing sibling discord The aim is to foster healthier interactions and resolve dysfunctions.

Strategic Family Therapy

Strategic Family Therapy, influenced by Jay Haley and Milton H. Erickson, is goal-oriented and brief, focusing on altering specific problematic behaviors. The therapist uses direct interventions to bring attention to and then disrupt dysfunctional patterns, encouraging positive change through awareness and the family’ ability to resolve conflicts.

Bowenian Family Therapy

Developed by Murray Bowen, this therapy emphasizes the family as an emotional unit and focuses on intergenerational transmission of behaviors and emotions. It focuses on how ways of acting, thinking, and feeling we have gotten from previous generations are impacting our family today. Key concepts include differentiation of self and triangulation. The goal is to promote individual autonomy while maintaining family connections.

Cognitive-Behavioral Family Therapy

Combining principles of behavioral psychology and cognitive therapy, this approach addresses dysfunctional behaviors and thoughts within the family context. It aims to change negative patterns and improve communication and problem-solving skills.

Solution-Focused Family Therapy

Focusing on solutions rather than problems, this approach encourages family members to envision the future they desire and to identify the steps necessary to achieve these goals. It builds on the family’s existing strengths and successes to foster change.

Psychoeducational Family Therapy

This type of therapy educates families about the nature and management of specific mental health conditions. It’s designed to improve understanding and coping strategies, particularly when a family member has a mental illness or behavioral disorder.

Multisystemic Family Therapy

This intensive, community-based approach addresses the multiple systems influencing a child or adolescent with serious behavioral problems, such as their family, peers, school, and neighborhood. The therapy aims to change how these systems interact to support positive behavioral changes.

Each of these family therapy types offers distinctive approaches and techniques, catering to the varied needs of families facing different challenges. Whether addressing communication issues, behavioral problems, mental health conditions, or relational dynamics, family therapy provides a valuable framework for understanding and improving family relationships, fostering a healthier and more supportive family environment.

What’s the Difference Between Structural and Strategic Family Therapy?

Family therapy, a specialized branch of psychotherapy, employs distinct approaches to assist families in overcoming their challenges and improving their dynamics. Structural Family Therapy (SFT) and Strategic Family Therapy are two significant methodologies in this field, each with unique strategies and objectives aimed at enhancing familial relationships. Below, we delve into these therapies, outlining their methodologies, goals, applications, and providing two clinical examples for each.

Structural Family Therapy (SFT)

Developed by Salvador Minuchin in the 1960s, SFT focuses on the family’s structure, addressing issues related to boundaries and subsystems. It is grounded in the concept that family problems arise from maladaptive boundaries and subsystems within the family structure. Minuchin posited that healthy families have clear hierarchies and boundaries, with a well-defined distinction between parental and child roles.


SFT therapists observe and interact with families to assess their structure, subsystems, and boundaries. They look for patterns of interaction that contribute to the family’s issues and work to understand the family’s underlying structure. The therapist then actively intervenes to reorganize the family system, aiming to establish more appropriate boundaries and improve the interactions between different family members.


The primary goal of SFT is to realign the family structure to enhance functionality and health. This includes strengthening parental leadership, fostering appropriate boundaries between parents and children, and enhancing sibling relationships. By restructuring the family’s organization, SFT aims to resolve symptomatic behavior and promote more supportive and constructive family dynamics.


SFT is particularly effective for families with unclear or inappropriate boundaries, such as enmeshed parent-child relationships or situations where children are inappropriately placed in parental roles. It’s also beneficial for families struggling with transitions that disrupt the family structure, such as divorce or the introduction of stepfamily members.

Clinical Examples

Enmeshed Parent-Child Relationship: In a family where a parent and child are overly close, causing developmental or autonomy issues for the child, an SFT therapist might work to redefine the boundaries, allowing the child more independence while ensuring the parent supports this growth appropriately.

Blended Family Dynamics: For a blended family struggling with defining new roles and boundaries, SFT can help establish clear subsystems, ensuring that parents and children from different previous families understand their roles and relationships within the new family structure.

Strategic Family Therapy

Influenced by the work of Jay Haley and Milton H. Erickson, Strategic Family Therapy focuses on solving family problems through direct interventions. This approach is based on the idea that families are capable of change when provided with the right strategies and that behavior is maintained by feedback loops within the family system.


In this approach, therapists take a more directive role, identifying problematic family interactions and prescribing specific behaviors or tasks designed to disrupt dysfunctional patterns. The therapy is often brief and focused on specific outcomes, with therapists designing interventions tailored to the unique needs and dynamics of the family.


The main goal of Strategic Family Therapy is to alter the family’s behavior to resolve specific issues. This involves changing the feedback loops that maintain problem behaviors, thereby leading to symptom resolution. Therapists aim to shift family members’ perceptions and interactions, creating new patterns that support positive change.


This type of therapy is well-suited for families seeking solutions to specific problems or those who desire a more focused and brief therapeutic intervention. It is particularly effective for issues where identifiable interaction patterns contribute to a problem, such as in cases of behavioral problems in children or intergenerational conflict.

Clinical Examples

Behavioral Problems in Adolescents: If an adolescent exhibits behavioral issues linked to family dynamics, a strategic therapist might introduce tasks that disrupt the usual family interactions that perpetuate the adolescent’s behavior, encouraging new patterns that promote positive behavior.

Intergenerational Conflict: In a family where parents and grandparents have conflicting parenting styles, causing stress for the children, strategic therapy could introduce communication strategies and problem-solving tasks to align the family members’ approaches, reducing conflict and clarifying roles.


In summary, both Structural and Strategic Family Therapies provide valuable frameworks for addressing and resolving family issues. Structural Family Therapy focuses on the broader family structure and relationships, aiming to adjust boundaries and roles for healthier interactions. 

In contrast, Strategic Family Therapy targets specific dysfunctional behaviors with direct interventions, seeking to alter the patterns that contribute to family issues. These therapies offer distinct paths to improving family dynamics, highlighting the versatility and depth of approaches within the field of family therapy.

Comparing the Two Approaches

This table provides a concise overview of the differences between Structural Family Therapy and Strategic Family Therapy, highlighting their unique approaches, goals, and methodologies.


Structural Family Therapy (SFT)

Strategic Family Therapy


Developed by Salvador Minuchin

Influenced by Jay Haley and Milton H. Erickson


Focuses on family structures, boundaries, and subsystems

Concentrates on altering specific problematic behaviors


Observes and intervenes in family interactions to modify structure

Identifies and alters dysfunctional behavioral patterns


To realign family structures for healthier interactions

To change specific behaviors to resolve family issues


Reorganizes family structure, establishes boundaries

Prescribes tasks and behaviors to disrupt dysfunctional patterns


Effective for boundary issues, role confusion, and transitional family states

Suited for targeted behavioral issues and brief interventions

Therapist’s Role

Active and involved in restructuring the family’s dynamics

Directive, offering specific strategies to change behavior

Clinical Examples

1. Redefining parent-child boundaries in enmeshed relationships

2. Establishing roles in blended families

1. Addressing adolescent behavioral issues

2. Resolving intergenerational conflicts

Key Takeaways

  • Distinct Focus: Structural Family Therapy (SFT) concentrates on the family’s overall structure, such as boundaries and subsystems, whereas Strategic Family Therapy targets specific problematic behaviors within the family.
  • Methodological Differences: SFT involves observing and adjusting the family’s structural dynamics, while Strategic Family Therapy uses direct interventions to alter dysfunctional behavior patterns.
  • Goal Orientation: The goal of SFT is to realign and strengthen the family structure for healthier interactions, while Strategic Family Therapy aims to resolve specific family issues through behavior change.
  • Therapist’s Role: In SFT, the therapist actively engages in reshaping the family’s structure, whereas, in Strategic Family Therapy, the therapist provides targeted strategies and tasks to disrupt and modify maladaptive behaviors.
  • Application Contexts: SFT is particularly beneficial for families struggling with role confusion or boundary issues, while Strategic Family Therapy is ideal for families seeking solutions to distinct behavioral problems.
  • Intervention Strategies: SFT’s interventions focus on the family system as a whole, aiming to modify its organization and roles, while Strategic Family Therapy’s interventions are more focused on changing specific behaviors and interaction patterns.
  • Suitability: Each therapy type has its unique suitability—SFT is well-matched for families needing structural changes, such as those in transitions or with enmeshed relationships, while Strategic Family Therapy is best for families looking for quick resolutions to specific behavioral challenges.

Clearfork Academy Can Help Your Family

We have experienced, compassionate licensed family therapists on our Family Program Services team. If you have questions or feel that family therapy would be helpful for you and your family, reach out to us to discuss further or book an appointment.

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