Literature Review Chapter: Structural Therapy Positive Psychology (PP)

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Structural Therapy

Positive Psychology (PP) and Structural Family Therapy (SFT): A Literature Review

Abelsohn, D. & Saayman, G.S. (1991). Adolescent Adjustment to Parental Divorce: An Investigation from the Perspective of Basic Dimensions of Structural Family Therapy Theory. Family Process, 30(2), 177-191.

The study by Abelsohn & Saayman provides some empirical evidence of the need for Structural Family Therapy (SFT) for children of divorce by proving setting out to prove that adolescent children of divorce with more structurally sound family dynamics experienced better adaptation to new circumstances than did their counterparts in structurally unsound homes. (p. 177)

The study by Abelsohn & Saayman gathered a sample of 45 adolescent children and monitored their adjustment based on 'four family-based, clinical dimensions.' (p. 178) the adolescents, all sharing the common feature of being in the custody of their maternal guardians, were divided into an experimental group of families who had applied for treatment assistance and a control group of families who volunteered for particpation in the study. The latter group would be financially compensated for its participation while the former would not. (p. 178)

According to Abselsohn & Saayman, the families which had applied for treatment, or which were classified as Aided, "were perceived as more chaotic, disengaged, and enmeshed than Unaided families, while Aided adolescents were characterized by more behavior problems than Unaided adolescents." (p. 177) These findings allowed Abelsohn & Saayman to reach two conclusions of importance. First, the study's authors concluded that it was conceivable for children of divorce to achieve a state of healthy and well-adjusted adaptation. The second resolution of importance to the present study is that the capacity to do so will hinge on the structural stability of the post-divorce family. This appears to lend support to the assertion throughout the present study that post-divorce pathologies can be reduced substantially through Structural Family Therapy intervention.

Colapinto, J. (1982). Structural Family Therapy. Originally published in Arthur M. Horne and Merle M. Ohlsen (eds.)., Family counseling and Therapy. Itasca, Illinois: F .E. Peacock.

The article by Colapinto (1982) provides a basic historical review of the development and evolution of Structural Family Therapy (SFT). The demographic at the center of Colapinto's research is families of delinquent youths. As Colapinto points out, these demographics are frequently a part of dysfunctional families. (p. 1) Therefore, the Colapinto article describes the initiation and refinement of SFT as a response in the 1960s to the need for therapeutic processes that extended beyond the individual and to his or her family structure.

As Colapinto reports, "traditional psy-chotherapeutic techniques, largely devel-oped to fulfill the demands of verbally articulate, middle-class patients besieged by intrapsychic conflicts, did not appear to have a significant impact on these youngsters. Improvements achieved through the use of these and other tech-niques in the residential setting of the school tended to disappear as soon as the child returned to his family (Minuchin, 1961). The serious concerns associated with delinquency, both from the point-of-view of society and of the delinquent in-dividual himself, necessarily stimulated the quest for alternative approaches." (p. 1-2)

Structural Family Therapy would emerge as an important alternative because it acknowledged that a great deal of therapeutic process with the individual child could be rapidly undone by sustained exposure to a negative family circumstances. (p. 2) the Colapinto article is successful in elucidating the root imperatives leading to the development of SFT and, further, contributes to the present researcher's understanding of the intricacies of engaging in this type of therapy. (p. 12)

As the Colapinto article contends, every family, functional or dysfunctional, operates according to its own unique rules and dynamics. Where dysfunctional reigns, it is necessary for the SFT practitioner to "enter the system that is in need of change and to establish a working relationship. This requires a certain degree of accommodation to the system's rules -- but not up to a point in which the therapist's leverage to promote change is lost." (p. 12) This is a critical finding for the purposes of the present research for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its delineation of the historical development of the selected school of therapy. In its demonstration of the relative newness and continuing evolution of this practice, the Colapinto review helps to clarify the relative shortage of empirical, quantitative studies in the field.

Cutuli, J.J.; Chaplin, T.M.; Gillham, J.E.; Reivich, K.J. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Preventing Co-Occurring Depression Symptoms in Adolescents with Conduct Problems. Annals New York Academy of Sciences, 1094, 282-286.

The study by Cutuli et al. (2006) helps to draw a connection between approaches in Positive Psychology (PP) and an improvement in emotional outcomes for children with conduct problems. Among the study's authors is included Martin E.P. Seligman, often acknowledged as the founding thinker in the modern Positive Psychology movement. The study's focus is on children with conduct problems and is pertinent to the present study for proposing the argument that children with conduct problems can be spared the co-morbid conditions of anxiety and depression if given access to Positive Psychology. (p. 282)

The article engages a total of 718 families, "stratified by gender, grade, and depression symptom levels within each school and then randomly assigned to either the intervention or control conditions." (p. 283) According to Cutuli et al., depression and anxiety are commonly found in children who present conduct problems and are frequently cemented by the negative attention that accompanies such conduct problems. (p. 282). Therefore, the study would expose the experimental group selected for participation to intervention strategies derived from the principles of Positive Psychology. According to Cutuli et al., these intervention "sessions stress techniques in emotional regulation, cognitive abilities, and social skills. A key component of the intervention involves teaching the participants to cognitively challenge inaccurate, negative self-perceptions and interpretations of experiences, such as arguing with a friend or getting into trouble at school. Evidence suggests that the program is efficacious in preventing psychopathological symptoms." (p. 283)

Cutuli et al. ultimately evaluate their study as a success in validating the use of Positive Psychology as a mode of intervention with children at risk of developing sustained emotional problems. The researcher find that the intervention is effective in reducing symptoms of depression for all participants. However, "these findings suggest that it is especially efficacious in preventing depression symptoms in young adolescents who already express significant levels of conduct problems." (p. 285)

While the study does not directly apply to the discussion of children of divorce, it does underscore the value of Positive Psychology as an intervention strategy where symptoms of emotional pathology may be present.

McConnell, R.A.; Sim, a.J. (2000). Evaluating an innovative counseling service for children of divorce. British Journal of Guidance & Counseling, 28(1).

The source by McConnell & Sim (2000) makes as its focus the array of psychological risks facing children of divorce and what the article refers to a set of innovative counseling courses. The study is largely qualitative in nature and is comprised of a literature review aimed at elucidating several family therapy models specifically aimed at the demographic of children of divorce.

Specific among these, McConnell & Sim identify Structural Family Therapy (SFT) as one possible treatment course. (p. 10) According to the research by McConnell & Sim, "because the parent-child-parent triad often influences children's adjustment, a number of therapists advocate some type of family therapy (Emery, 1988). Kaplan (1977) favors structural family therapy because he believes that pathology-inducing family interactions following divorce are often identical to the interactions prior to the divorce." (p. 10)

This denotes that the various impediments to healthy and functional family interactions that have ultimately led to divorce are likely still playing a role in the interactions that the child experiences either with one or both parents. The result is an inherent proclivity to develop critical relationship deficiencies in adulthood. Consistent with the imperatives underlying the present research, the source by McConnell & Sim confirms the value of SFT as a way of preempting the development or sustaining of relationship pathologies into adulthood. The article describes this approach to counseling the "treatment of choice when children's problems appear to develop from continued family conflict or family avoidance of problems' (Hodges, 1986)" (McConnell & Sim, p. 10) the McConnell & Sim text contributes the idea that addressing critical structural flaws in family dynamic following divorce can significantly reduce a child's long-term stress as a consequence of said divorce.

Snyder, C.R. & Lopez, S.J. (2009). Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.

The collection of essays assembled by Snyder is of particular use in helping to understand Positive Psychology with greater depth. As is noted throughout this literature review, Positive Psychology is part of a more recent tradition of treatment strategies. As such, extensive empirical research on the subject remains in relatively short supply. However, the collection of essays be Snyder assembles much of what has been written on the subject in a singe place. Examples of the text's value to the present research are found in such essays… [END OF PREVIEW]

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