functional family therapy

Understanding Functional Family Therapy

Finding Help When You Need it the Most

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a therapy that engages youths and their families to address and work on challenging behaviors during adolescence. Most therapy courses last for a limited period, typically around 12 sessions over a couple of months, and use evidence-based treatment to identify and understand the underlying causes of the young person’s behavior.

FFT works with parents and siblings to improve communication levels to make inter-family relationships much more positive and develop healthier ways of tackling challenges. The therapist works with each family member in a collaborative setting to help offer support and guidance as these healthier solutions are implemented.

Evidence gathered in 2010 suggests that FFT effectively reduced juvenile behavioral problems when therapists adhered to the treatment model, showing a reduction of 35% in lawbreaking and a 30% fall in violent crime.

How to Find an Appropriate Therapist

Finding an effective and appropriate family therapist can be a process of trial and error. You can take several steps to reassure yourselves that the therapist you’ve chosen will meet your family’s needs and address their goals.

Asking friends or families for word-of-mouth suggestions is an excellent way to find the right therapist or approach your primary healthcare providers for advice or a referral to a professional family therapist. If you don’t have access to anyone that’s benefitted from FFT themselves, there are several online search engines, which can be found in the "resources" section at the end of this article, where you can find a therapist in your area.

Once you’ve found a suitable therapist, check their credentials, ensure they’re licensed and insured, and schedule a consultation with them. Many therapists offer a free initial consultation giving you and your therapist the time to ask each other questions and build a positive rapport.

What to Expect When Attending Therapy

Understanding that seeing tangible results through functional family therapy can take time is important. Each family member must remain patient, dedicated to the process, and open-minded throughout the therapy. It may take weeks or even months to see a breakthrough, which can build frustration as you feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall. Keep faith that the breakthrough will come and will be worth it in the long run.

As you approach your first session, you can expect to begin with an assessment, where the therapist will ask questions to ascertain your family’s existing state and needs. They will emphasize the need for everyone to work collaboratively to find a solution, participate actively, and treat anything said during the sessions sensitively and without judgment. Building a safe space where all family members feel heard and validated is critical to gaining positive outcomes.

Many therapists may set your family with “homework” tasks aimed at helping you practice the techniques learned in therapy and ensuring progress continues between sessions.

How to Determine if Your Family Should Seek Functional Family Therapy

Aggravation between family members is not unusual, so understanding when issues have become deep-rooted enough to require treatment can be difficult. There are several tell-tale signs you can identify that suggest that seeking FFT is useful. These include:

  • Communication difficulties – Regular miscommunications and misunderstandings between family members often lead to arguments and tension that affects the entire household.
  • Changes in family dynamics – Family dynamics can enormously destabilize family harmony. The departure or arrival of a family member at home, such as a new baby, or a serious life event, such as a family member's death, can significantly strain family relationships.
  • Mental health conditions – A family member being diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder can affect family dynamics and impact the entire household.
  • Behavioral issues – Substance abuse, aggressive behavior, or uncharacteristic behavior patterns can indicate significant underlying problems that need to be addressed.
  • Boundaries and family roles – Conflict arising from disagreements about roles and responsibilities within the family and boundaries such as those between parents and children can benefit from family therapy.

This list is far from exhaustive, and it can be worthwhile seeking help if there is a prolonged period of conflict, misunderstanding, or tension between family members, particularly if it begins to affect the happy functioning of the household.

Online vs. In-Person Options for Family Therapy

Most therapists now offer online or in-person services. Online therapy, often known as teletherapy, uses video conferencing facilities such as Zoom to bring the family together virtually, allowing family members to be in separate rooms when they meet to reduce tension in the room and encourage greater openness and freedom. Indeed, many families find themselves much more confident discussing sensitive issues in the familiarity of their own homes and surroundings.

In-person therapy gathers all family members in the same room with the therapist. It allows everyone to air their emotions, feelings, and grievances openly, safely, and confidentially. One of the main benefits of in-person therapy is that it makes building rapport and trust with the therapist easier, which is crucial in producing positive resolutions to issues.

The service a therapist provides is precisely the same, whether online or in-person, so the decision often comes down to the setting you and your family will feel most comfortable.

Article Resources