Structural versus Strategic Family Therapies

Although structural therapy and strategic therapy are both used in family therapy, these therapeutic approaches have many differences in theory and application. As you assess families and develop treatment plans, you must consider these differences and their potential impact on clients. For this Assignment, as you compare structural and strategic family therapy, consider which therapeutic approach you might use with your own client families Structural versus Strategic Family Therapies.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

Compare structural family therapy to strategic family therapy

Create structural family maps

Justify recommendations for family therapy

To prepare:

Review this week’s Learning Resources and reflect on the insights they provide on structural and strategic family therapies.

Refer to Gerlach (2015) in this week’s Learning Resources for guidance on creating a structural family map.


The Assignment

In a 2- to 3-page paper, address the following:

Summarize the key points of both structural family therapy and strategic family therapy.

Compare structural family therapy to strategic family therapy, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Provide an example of a family in your practicum using a structural family map. Note: Be sure to maintain HIPAA regulations.

Recommend a specific therapy for the family, and justify your choice using the Learning Resources.


Family therapy is an organized approach to solving psychiatric problems facing family units. Unlike other psychotherapies, family therapy is unique since it is designed to work with families as individuals who spend a lot of time together in the same home. This means that a family therapist must understand the different therapy constructs for families and identify the most appropriate therapy to be applied in each family situation. This necessitates an awareness of the similarities and differences between family therapies (Gorski, 2016). The present paper explores the differences and similarities between structural and strategic family therapies while noting when to apply each therapy.


Structural and strategic family therapies represent two broad distinctions of psychiatric approaches applied in family situations. In fact, the two approaches share some similarities along with differences that make them distinctive. With regards to similarities, the first similarity is that the two approaches apply systematic methodologies that focus on evaluating the existing pathology while directing treatment efforts to focus on the whole family without ignoring the individual members. They look at how different factors influence the health of the family members as well as their integration into the family unit (Thompson, 2016).

The second similarity is that the two approaches focus on families as clients. In this case, they both identify dysfunctional family units to include problems with interpersonal communication and relationships. The intention is to improve family interactions, particularly for the younger members of the family who might feel isolated due to the generational gap that exists between parents and children (Szapocznik et al., 2015).

The third similarity is that these two approaches are keen on noting structural deficiencies in the family. In fact, they both inherently acknowledge that the majority of psychological problems reported in families are resultant of structural issues that revolve around family dynamics. The implication is that any real solution would seek to understand the family dynamics and present a new structure that logically addresses the existing psychological problem (Sheehan & Friedlander, 2015).

The fourth similarity is that the two approaches inherently believe that every psychological problem affecting the family can be linked to circular causality. In this case, the mutual influences that impact behavior are thought to stem from how the family members interact with each other. For that matter, any psychiatric problems noted in the family are caused by ineffective and problematic interactions between the family members as well as their behaviors. The implication is that a solution would first understand and identify the problematic interactions (Bitter, 2014) Structural versus Strategic Family Therapies.

The final similarity is that the two approaches apply family mapping as a guiding principles. The mapping identifies each member of the family in terms of responsibilities, roles, powers and hierarchy. The populated map is then used to review and identify problematic interactions before developing a solution to include establishing a treatment plan that follows set objectives (Gerlach, 2015).

Other than the five similarities, the two therapies have some unique differences. Firstly, the two therapies apply different methodologies. Despite seeking to restructure the family interactions, structural therapy would achieve this by changing the family system while strategy therapy would achieve the same aim by altering relationships (Thompson, 2016).

The second difference is that the two therapies require the therapist to play different roles. In structural therapy, the therapist does not have a fixed role and would typically adapt based on situational requirements. In fact, the therapist simply collaborates with the family while directing sessions to improve intimacy and achieve set objectives. In contrast, a therapist using structural therapy plays a set role that does not change even when the family circumstances change. Instead of collaborating with the family, the therapist manipulates the family and adopts an expert supervisory position that aloofly and coldly dictates how the family should proceed (Bitter, 2014). As a result, structural and strategic therapies share similarities and differences.

Example of a family using a structural family map and recommended therapy



A Muslim single-parent family with two dead members and two live members. One child and the father is dead. The remaining three family members are psychologically wounded since they were involved in a road accident that claimed the lives of the two members leaving the three alive. The accident occurred nine months ago. They are currently grieving and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) since the accident was a harrowing event that has left them afraid of using cars. As such, the death of the two members wounded the rest of the family. The communication between the remaining family members is currently strained.
The family is psychologically wounded and suffering from PTSD. As such, the psychological treatment should be directed by structural therapy. In this case, the treatment goal is to have the family come to terms with the death of the other members. For that matter, the therapist would spend time in directing the family members on how best they could come to terms with the fact that an accident occurred by this is not normal. The accident was a one-off occurrence and they should get on with their lives and use cars. For instance, the mother can be encouraged to act as a good example for the children by overcoming her new fear of cars and encouraging the two children to use cars Structural versus Strategic Family Therapies.


One must accept that structural and strategic therapies are intended as professional tools for use in managing the psychiatric needs of a family. The two therapies share similarities to include applying systematic methodologies, focusing on families as clients, noting structural deficiencies, acknowledging circular causality, and applying family mapping. On the other hand, they have some differences that include applying different methodologies and requiring the therapist to play different roles. As such, the particular therapy that can be applied for a family would depend on the existing problem and the therapist’s knowledge since each therapy can only be applied in certain situations.


Bitter, J. (2014). Theory and practice of family therapy and counseling (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Gerlach, P. K. (2015). Use structural maps to manage your family well: basic premises and examples. Retrieved from

Gorski, T. (2016). Problem-solving group therapy: a group leader’s guide for developing and implementing group treatment plans. New York, NY: BookBaby/Self-Help.

Sheehan, A. H., & Friedlander, M. L. (2015). Therapeutic alliance and retention in brief strategic family therapy: a mixed-methods study. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(4), 415–427. doi:10.1111/jmft.12113

Szapocznik, J., Muir, J. A., Duff, J. H., Schwartz, S. J., & Brown, C. H. (2015). Brief strategic family therapy: implementing evidence-based models in community settings. Psychotherapy Research, 25(1), 121–133. doi:10.1080/10503307.2013.856044

Thompson, R. (2016). Counseling techniques: improving relationships with others, ourselves, our families, and our environments (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge Structural versus Strategic Family Therapies.

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