Salvador Minuchin is a contemporary psychiatrist who helped to develop family therapy and pioneered the field of structural family therapy.
Salvador Minuchin was born in 1921 in San Salvador, Argentina. In 1947, he earned a degree in medicine and briefly opened a pediatrics practice, before joining the Israeli army to help protect the newly established state. After a brief stay in the United States, studying psychiatry, Minuchin returned to Israel where he codirected programs for refugee children. Interested in learning more about child psychiatry, Minuchin returned to New York to study psychoanalysis at the William Alanson White Institute. He was certified in 1967.
While he was in training as an analyst, Minuchin worked as a psychiatrist at the Wiltwyck School, a home for inner-city delinquent boys, where he found that traditional psychoanalysis provide insufficient treatment for the residents. He began to experiment with family therapy, treating the boys and their families. Minuchin and colleagues wrote about their experiences at the school in the 1967 book, Families of the Slums.
In 1965, Minuchin was offered a position as director of the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center (PCGC), operated by the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He worked concurrently as a professor of pediatrics and child psychology at the university. Though Minuchin's radical approaches were not welcomed by all the staff at the center, under Minuchin’s direction, the center grew to become one of the most respected child guidance facilities and family therapy training centers in the world. Many at the center and the university challenged Minuchin's methods, and a complaint was filed with the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The APA conducted a five-day investigation and concluded that Minuchin's process was valid and could continue. Other prominent family therapists, such as Jay Haley and Cloe Madanes, began their careers at the PCGC when Minuchin hired them. Minuchin published Families and Family Therapy in 1974 to illustrate the methods he developed at the center.
In 1981, Minuchin began his own family therapy center in New York, Family Studies, Incorporated, renamed the Minuchin Center after his retirement in 1996.
Structural Family Therapy (SFT) is a form of psychotherapy that strives to identify subsets within a family construct in order to isolate dysfunctional subsets and remap them into more harmonious, healthy relationships. Minuchin theorized that an individual’s symptoms were a result of the dysfunctional family system, and he identified hidden hierarchies and relationships within the family that lead to dysfunction. In Minuchin’s model, it is the role of the therapist to identify patterns and help family members establish healthier relationships and coping skills.
SFT utilizes rules in order to maintain order and boundaries. Additionally, family rules ensure that the subsets within the family are in the proper orientation. The therapist can move family members physically, or introduce elements, such as one-way mirrors, to enhance the therapeutic process. Clients who participate in SFT report that the fundamental changes that occur within the family are maintained far outside the limits of the therapeutic walls.
Minuchin also helped to develop treatment protocols for anorexia nervosa. He argued that anorexia is a psychosomatic illness that often has its origin within the family, as outlined in his book, Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context. His methods for treating the condition integrate elements of both behavioral therapy and structural family therapy.
Last Update: 2013-08-05