Strategic family therapy is a technique designed to help improve family dynamics. This cross-cultural intervention is suitable for families with children and adolescents.
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What Is Strategic Family Therapy?
Strategic family therapy (SFT) is a short-term family therapy model that works on the principle that a family can influence adolescent behavior.
Usually, this therapy lasts between 12 and 16 sessions. The sessions are specific and focused on finding lasting solutions.
Adolescent rogue behaviors like unsafe sexual practices or substance abuse often arise from issues around the family unit and its dynamic.
SFT works to enhance the family dynamic to dissuade adolescents from such practices.
What Are the Core Concepts of Strategic Family Therapy?
There are three core principles at the heart of strategic family therapy.
These principles are:
- Family members are connected
- Family habits influence its members’ behaviors
- Intervention should target the problem
1. Families Are Connected
The first concept resonates with family systems. Essentially, the experiences or challenges of one member trickle down to the rest of the family members. Also, challenges with one member highlight some disconnect within the system that needs addressing.
2. Family Habits Influence Its Members’ Behaviors
Children and adolescents often adopt certain behaviors to mask off other dysfunctional habits.
Take the example of a situation where parents argue regularly. Adolescents may become defiant or disrespectful to get their parents’ attention. In this case, the parents will focus more on the children and argue less.
3. The need for targeted intervention
SFT’s third principle calls for an intervention that meets a family’s needs. The intervention may involve creating rules and consequences to guide the children’s behavior.
Besides, interventions could also target interactions and communication among family members.
When Can You Use Strategic Family Therapy?
SFT works suitably for children and adolescents with:
- Aggressive tendencies
- Conduct disorders
- Substance abuse disorder
The strategy is also helpful if your adolescents have interacted with the juvenile justice system because of these issues. Essentially, your whole family meets with a therapist to address your challenges.
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Strategic Family Therapy Steps
Typically, SFT is a short-term intervention process that lasts for 12 sessions. The initial sessions involve joining with the clients. Essentially, the therapist takes time to know their clients, setting up the best environment for the subsequent therapy sessions.
During this session, the therapist will ask each member to share their perspectives.
They will also observe family dynamics and assess how your interactions and communication patterns influence problem behaviors. At this point, you would want to ask the therapist about the process and confidentiality limits.
The therapist takes into account any family alliances or existing triangulation. Besides, the therapist also tries to reduce negative portrayals among other family members. In subsequent sessions, focus shifts towards engagement.
Most family members believe that the adolescent is the main issue. They have difficulty understanding that the adolescent’s choices reflect the family dynamics.
Your therapist will work on improving communication between members. Besides, they’ll help you highlight issues you might have ignored or repressed.
Typical SFT sessions last between an hour and ninety minutes.
These sessions are suitable for:
- Multigenerational families
- Single-parent families
Strategic Therapy Vs. Structural Family Therapy Concepts
SFT differs from other family therapy interventions in that it takes a strategic approach and focuses on solutions and directives.
Your therapist takes leadership and guides the conversations. They’ll coach your family members to foster better communication and interaction.
On the other hand, structural family therapy emphasizes adjusting and strengthening the family unit.
This therapy aims to restore the parents’ control and ensure that the family sets healthy boundaries. Essentially, the therapist joins the family to help strengthen relationships.
With structural family planning, therapists assume that changes in family structure can influence behavioral changes. The therapist forms a new therapeutic system to enhance the family structure and improve behavior.
Typical healthy boundaries could either be rigid or diffuse.
Defined, healthy, and flexible boundaries help family members gain a sense of belonging and being different.
Strategic family therapy places less focus on family boundaries. This therapy also relies on the fact that problems arise from actions from other members.
The goal of structural family therapy is to create an adaptive family environment. The therapist places emphasis on modifying the present without interpreting the past.
The therapist helps you understand your past actions influence present behavior for strategic family therapy.
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- Chapter 5—Brief Strategic/Interactional Therapies. (1999)
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