Tres Madres: Structural Therapy with an Anglo/Hispanic Family
by Harry Aponte
Harry Aponte, an expert in structural family therapy, demonstrates in this video the power and subtlety of his approach in a session with a very complicated family suffering from multi-generational trauma and the effects of alcoholism.
In this absorbing session, Aponte helps a family unravel the layers of resentment and self-protection that have been getting in the way of closeness with one another. The family originally comes into therapy seeking help for their eight year old daughter who is having trouble sleeping, and exhibiting symptoms such as night-terrors, sleep-walking, and unexplained crying at school and at home. Aponte shifts the focus from the little girl to the center of the family--Lori, the 25-year old mother of Melanie. He moves thoroughly through the family’s complicated situation, asking about each person, each relationship, and each person’s role. Aponte is a warm and gentle presence; his care and interest in this family is evident from the start.

Once he understands the family structure, Aponte identifies that Lori must shift her role into a kind of Chairman of the Board, bringing the three mothers (herself as Mom, Melanie’s grandma, and her great-grandma) and Lori’s husband, David, all to the table to work out adult agreements about how to raise Melanie and her sibling. Aponte points out to Lori that her own history of conflict, confusion and family alcoholism meant that she was raised in a great deal of chaos and uncertainty which results in a lot of pain for her now. He helps Lori to see that if she does not get more help and support, her daughter will walk a similar path. Together they identify Lori’s tendency to isolate, self-protect and feel resentful and angry about all the burdens she carries. By the end of the session Lori is expressing hope about living her life in a different way.
In a follow-up discussion with the referring social worker, Aponte is optimistic about the family’s chances to improve their situation, and outlines some challenges he sees for the therapist in working with the family further.
In Depth
Aponte uses a gentle style of confrontation to offer the family insight into the multi-generational hurts and resentments that keep them isolated. His comfortable and comforting presence display a mastery of self and technique that inspire confidence in the family and the viewer. The demonstration is followed by brief discussion with referring social worker.

By watching this video, you will:
  • Learn to gather and sort quickly through the relational infrastructure to see how the family drama is unfolding.
  • Identify the structural problems and the strengths in each family group.
  • Appreciate the effects of actively involving oneself, as a therapist, in the family’s interactions, in order to help bring about changes in their patterns of relating.

Length of video: 1:00:00

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-410-X

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-410-9

Harry J. Aponte, LCSW, LMFT is a professor in Drexel University’s Couple & Family Therapy Department. He also has a private practice in Philadelphia. He has written several important articles and chapters in addition to his book, Bread and Spirit: Therapy with the new poor.  He has lectured and conducted workshops throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Among other honors, he received the award for Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy and Practice from the American Family Therapy Academy in 1992, and the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Marriage and Family Therapy from the Association for Marriage and Family Therapy in 2001.  He also received the I. Arthur Marshall Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Menninger Clinic in 1997.

See all Harry Aponte videos.
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