New Family Therapy Program Bringing Results

What is the answer to the violence and crime that is going on in our city right now? I think that is the million-dollar question that many key figures in the community, various organizations, churches and concerned citizens are striving to answer.

Our secretary of the Department of Children and Families, Eloise Anderson, did some research on the Functional Family Therapy (FFT) program and felt it would provide a vital service to our community. SaintA was awarded a grant in 2014 to provide this service to at-risk youth. Currently, the FFT team consists of eight clinicians and two clinical supervisors. The team has jumped in head first, and they are doing amazing work with families in our community.

Crystal Simpson
Crystal Simpson

A majority of the youth we are working with are either involved in the juvenile justice system or are at risk of becoming involved in the system. Within the FFT model, our clinicians learn specific skills to use when teaching and working with the families. We work hard at engaging the families in the beginning of treatment, to motivate them to work toward change and identify familial goals toward change. We focus on the whole family system as opposed to making the therapy individualized. FFT is a short-term therapy program that works with the families in their homes.

I see this as a unique model that defies the traditional therapy approach. We are able to work with the families in a way that engages and motivates them to want to change in a quick but effective manner. I and some of our therapists would like to share our stories of progress:

One of the families I worked with was a referral from the juvenile justice system. This youth and family also struggled with family conflict, school attendance and consistency in parenting. After approximately four months of treatment within the FFT program, this youth’s risks decreased, and the family felt more competent to manage their issues. The family had improved their communication with one another and their family relationships. The parents felt more empowered to set limits and discipline effectively, the juvenile began attending school on a more consistent basis and was recently accepted into the school of his choice for the turn-around he had made in his behavior. Additionally, the youth was accepting more responsibility for his actions and realizing how these actions affected the family as a whole.

FFT therapist Andrew Lauric is working with a family that is nearing the end of treatment after approximately six months. In the beginning, the youth was characterized as flying off the handle at everything and having a strong ability to justify his negative actions. Communication was lacking within the family as well, and the youth was on probation. Over the course of treatment, Andrew has reported an increase of positive communication between the parent and youth, the youth has gained a greater understanding of how his actions affect others and has been able to incorporate some of the problem-solving skills learned in sessions outside of therapy. Although there have been some relapses with behavioral changes, the parent has been able to utilize the skills taught in therapy to manage the relapses.

One of our newer therapists shares a story about a family with a juvenile and a father. The youth was suicidal and missing school daily. The father did not understand that level of mental health issues and dismissed the behaviors as attention-seeking. The father was resistant to therapy, feeling that the youth was the one who needed therapy, not the family. After about four months of treatment, the family was able to leave the program successfully. There were marked improvements in their communication and boundaries, a decrease in the youth’s suicidal thoughts, consistent attendance at school, and the youth was working. Moreover, there was an overall positive change in the parent-child relationship.

FFT therapist Tina Sabo speaks about a youth whose main referral reason was missing school; there also was a lot of family conflict. While working with this family the past two and a half months, there has already has been an increase in positive communication and respect between the youth and the family, and the youth is more motivated to do well. The youth has been attending school on a more consistent basis, and the family as a whole is more hopeful about change.

FFT therapist Lindsay Price talks about a family that she has been working with for about three months. The youth was referred because of school truancy. A large part of the issue was a lack of trust toward others due to trauma, and another part was motivation and limit-setting. The family worked through their trust with people outside the family and learned better social skills. Mom is still working on setting limits and positive reinforcement to increase the kids’ motivation, but the family has met with the school, and one child is attending school more regularly while the others plan to go back very soon.

While the FFT team family is new to the model, the team has learned a lot of about how this treatment approach can be effective with families. And we’re eager to continue to work with our families as more enter the program.

We celebrate even the smallest of successes with our families and continue to embrace the challenge!


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