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Family Therapy

Created on August 5, 2017. Last updated on March 6th, 2024 at 04:45 pm

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a form of treatment that views psychological problems and their treatment in terms of the interactions among family members. Families are seen as an integrated, interconnected unit in which psychological functioning is influenced by each and every family member individually and collectively as an entire system.

In family therapy, there is no traditional identified patient; the focus is on relationship patterns and communication among family members. For example, when a child has a behavior problem a family therapist is likely to perceive the child’s difficulties within the larger context of the family system, rather than his/her individual deficits. During family therapy, therapists avoid blaming any individual family member for the problem, and instead help the family interact in new, different ways that may improve functioning.

Family therapy can be beneficial in treating a number of disorders, including:

What are some forms of family therapy?

Family-based Behavioral Treatment 

In Family-Based Behavioral Treatment, parents set a positive example by changing their own behavior to help their children change their behaviors in the long run. An important component of this type of therapy is training parents in child management and problem-solving skills. This treatment has been proven to be effective by research for obesity or overweight issues in children, as well as for treating anorexia in adolescents.

Family-based Behavioral Treatment – Parent Only

Parents are often an important part of therapy for children, and in family-based therapy, research has shown that in treating children with obesity or overweight issues, it can often be beneficial to include only the parent(s) in the therapy process. Taking this approach often involves parents practicing modeling, identifying rewards, implementing consequences, and being more mindful of how children’s behaviors get reinforced.

Parent-only Family-Based Treatment has been proven especially effective when added to a lifestyle or dietary program for children with obesity or overweight issues.

Note: Currently, Family-Based Behavioral Treatment – Parent Only has only been proven well-established for children, but not for adolescents.

Functional Family Therapy

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a family-based therapy that was developed to help youth with behavioral issues, and has been proven effective in treating substance use disorders in adolescents. The goals in Functional Family Therapy are to motivate adolescents and their families to reduce negativity in the household and to build skills within each family member to reduce problematic behaviors by using communication, effective parenting, and conflict management.

Multidimensional Family Therapy

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is a family-centered treatment that addresses the individual, family, and environmental factors that influence a variety of behavioral issues in youth. This treatment is based on the idea that behavioral problems in adolescents are caused by many factors and treatment should come from a place of respect and compassion. In MDFT, youth learn coping, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, and the family learns ways to enhance family functioning.

MDFT has been proven through research to be effective in treating substance use disorders in adolescents.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

Multisystemic therapy (MST) is a family-focused evidence-based intervention for youth with significant antisocial behaviors, delinquency, and substance problems. MST appraises these behaviors within the larger context of multiple systems of influence, including multiple social-ecological factors such as individual, family, peer, school, and community influences. In a cost-effective framework, MST interventions reduce these problem behaviors and improve youth and family functioning.

Source(s): Myra Altman & Denise E. Wilfley (2014). Evidence Update on the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. Vol. 44 Issue 4, 521-537. 

Family-Based Behavioral Treatment:

 Family-Based Behavioral Treatment – Parent Only:

 Functional Family Therapy:

Multidimensional Family Therapy:

Multisystemic Therapy:


Partner Sites:

Evidence-based Services Committee of Hawaii