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Last Updated on : 24th Sep, 2012

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What is Family Therapy?

Family Therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families or couples in intimate relationships. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interactions between family members. Families are seen as an interconnected force where the actions of the family members affect the health or dysfunction of each individual and the family as a whole. Family therapists focus on relationship patterns and are generally more interested in what goes on between family members rather than within one or more individuals. One family member may have a problem and the family relationships may be contributing to or maintaining that problem. For example, when a child has a behavior problem, family therapists may see the child as a 'scapegoat' and view the problem as actually residing within the family system. Family therapists avoid blaming any family member for the problem, and instead help the family interact in different ways that may solve the problem. There are both general, historical models of Family therapy (i.e., Structural, Strategic, Bowenian) and more specific, evidence-based approaches that are based on the earlier models. Strong research evidence suggests that both general and specific family therapy approaches are effective with a wide variety of clinical problems, including the treatment of schizophrenia, alcoholism, drug abuse, and adolescent conduct/oppositional defiant disorders. Below are examples of evidence-based family interventions that are proven to be effective for children and adolescents:

  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) is a family-based intervention designed to prevent and target youth behavior problems. BSFT intervenes with children and adolescents who are at-risk, or who are displaying behavior problems, including substance use and delinquency. Further, it is based on the fundamental assumption that adaptive family interactions can play a crucial role in protecting children from negative influences, and that maladaptive family interactions can contribute to the evolution of behavior problems.
  • Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is a family-focused evidence-based intervention program for youth antisocial behaviors and substance abuse. MST subscribes to the view that behaviors are embedded in multidimensional contexts and that problems are determined by multiple social-ecological factors in the individual, family, peer group, school, and community. MST interventions aim to reduce the prevalence of antisocial behavior and other clinical problems, to improve functioning, and to provide cost-effective treatment of offenders with mental health issues. Click here for more information about MST.
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is a family-based treatment and substance-abuse prevention program developed for adolescents with drug and behavior problems. The multidimensional perspective suggests that symptom reduction and enhancement of prosocial and appropriate developmental functions occur by facilitating adaptive developmental events and processes in several domains of functioning. The treatment seeks to significantly reduce or eliminate an adolescent's substance abuse and other problem behaviors and to improve overall family functioning through multiple components, assessments, and interventions in several core areas of life.
  • Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a family-focused, evidence-based intervention program for at-risk youth (ages 11-18) and their families. Goals in FFT are to engage and motivate youth and their families by decreasing the intense negativity so often characteristic of these families. FFT therapists also work to reduce and eliminate the problem behaviors and accompanying family relational patterns through individualized behavior change interventions, which could include skills such as family communication, parenting, problem solving, and conflict management. Finally, FFT therapists help families generalize changes across problem situations by increasing the family's capacity to adequately utilize community resources, and engage in relapse prevention.

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