What Is Brief Strategic Family Therapy® and How Does it Work?
Brief Strategic Family Therapy™(BSFT®) is an evidence-based, culturally sensitive family intervention which reduces delinquency and drug use in adolescents and strengthens the family unit. It is a structured, problem-focused, directive, and practical approach to the treatment of conduct problems, associations with antisocial peers, early drug use and the accompanying maladaptive family interactions (relations), and other recognized youth risk factors. It is designated a "Model Program" by many organizations such as SAMHSA, OJJDP, and CSAP.
Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT®) successfully provides families with the tools to overcome individual and family risk factors through: 1) focused interventions to improve maladaptive patterns of family interaction, and 2) skills building strategies to strengthen families. The efficacy of BSFT does depend on family’s abilities to come into the session. Therefore, BSFT provides specialized engagement strategies for bringing families into therapy.
Because BSFT is designed to target both the problem behaviors of the youth as well as the way the entire family functions, the therapist works with the family to identify interactional patterns that give rise to and/or maintain problematic youth behavior. After these patterns are identified, the therapist helps the family change these patterns to encourage positive family interactions.
In order to restructure interactions and change systems, BSFT addresses family behavior, affect, and cognitions. The strategies and treatment plans are designed specifically for each family and are based on a structured diagnostic plan. The therapeutic process uses techniques of:
- Joining—forming a therapeutic alliance with all family members
- Diagnosis--—identifying interactional patterns that give rise to/encourage/enable problematic youth behavior
- Restructuring—the process of changing the family interactions that are directly related to problem behaviors
The program fosters parental leadership, appropriate parental involvement, mutual support among parenting figures, family communication, problem solving, clear rules and consequences, nurturing, and shared responsibility for family problems. In addition, the program provides specialized engagement strategies to bring resistant family members into therapy.
Brief Strategic Family Therapy® is typically conducted in an average of 12-17 weekly sessions, depending on the severity of the problems. In various studies, the full range has been 8-24 weekly sessions. As the BSFT counselor and the family meet, the four steps of this intervention consist of:
(1) Organizing a counselor-family work team. Developing a therapeutic alliance with each family member, and with the family as a whole, is essential for success. The approach requires counselors to accept and demonstrate respect for each individual family member and for the family as a whole.
(2) Diagnosing the nature of family strengths and problematic relationships. Emphasis is made on those family relationships that are supportive or problematic and on the impact they have upon the children’s behavior and the parental figures’ ability to correct inappropriate responses.
(3) Developing a treatment strategy aimed at capitalizing on strengths and correcting problematic family relations in order to increase family competence. As a consequence, the counselor’s approach is planned, problem-focused, direction-oriented (so s/he can move from problematic to competent interactions), and practical.
(4) Implementing change strategies and reinforcing family behaviors that sustain new levels of family competence. Important change strategies include the use of reframes to change the meaning of interactions; shifts in the nature of alliances and interpersonal boundaries; building conflict resolution skills; and providing parents with guidance and coaching.
The key approaches included in the treatment are (1) focus on improving parent–child interactions; (2) parent training; (3) developing conflict resolution, parenting, and communication skills; and (4) family therapy.
Please view the BSFT Logic Model here