The Battle for Structure

We marriage and family therapists often have to engage in what we call a Battle for Structure with clients. It's kind of a pre-therapy intervention we do with clients to maximize their engagement with therapy - a way of non-verbally getting the client to take personal responsibility for engaging in therapy. If therapists lose this battle by being over accommodating or handholding the client, the client typically does not make progress or benefit from therapy. Once the Battle for Structure is won, the client can then engage in the Battle for Initiative, taking personal responsibility for their mental health and wellness (attending appointments, completing homework, applying therapeutic techniques and interventions).

If the Battle for Structure is not won by the therapist, it's almost pointless for therapy to continue because clients won't engage or move forward significantly. This may be one of the down sides of person-centered therapy (meeting the client where they are at), which overly accommodates and validates the client's point of view, such that they win the Battle for Structure, and thus do not take ownership of their growth. Instead, they expect the therapist to "cure" them, which is not how therapy works.

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