Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Complementarity in Structural Family Therapy

  • Jorge ColapintoEmail author
  • Wai Yung Lee
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_253


Complementarity is the concordance of behaviors and roles between family members.

Theoretical Context

The concept is central in structural family therapy, underlying both the structural therapist’s challenge to the family’s definition of the problem, and her or his optimistic stance regarding the possibilities of change.


Complementarity denotes the fit among the behaviors and roles of individual members or subsystems of a family. Although the notion bears some resemblance to that of circular causality, there is an important difference between the two. Circular causality designates a sequential pattern of behaviors, represented with a series of arrows (girl clings ➔ mother rejects ➔ girl clings), while complementarity looks at the same behaviors as pieces of a puzzle: the girl’s clinginess and the mother’s rejection are “shapes” that fiteach other. The difference is not trivial; it accounts for the structural therapist’s preference for addressing spatial...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Minuchin Center for the FamilyWoodburyUSA
  2. 2.Asian Academy of Family TherapyHong KongChina
  3. 3.Aitia Family InstituteShanghaiChina

Section editors and affiliations

  • David Kearns
    • 1
  1. 1.Iowa CityUSA