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Brief Strategic Family Therapy


JosČ Szapocznik, Ph.D.
(Contact) Carleen Robinson-Batista
1425 NW 10th Avenue, Third Floor
Miami, Florida 33136

(305) 243-2226         Fax: (305) 243-5577

Family Therapy Speciality
8-17 years Target
Exemplary II Rating

Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) is a family-based intervention aimed at preventing and treating child and adolescent (ages 8-17) behavior problems including mild substance abuse. BSFT was developed at the Center for Family Studies, a division of the University of Miami Medical School's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, in 1975 and has since been tested and refined in clinical studies.

BSFT is based on the fundamental assumption that adaptive family interactions can play a pivotal role in protecting children from negative influences, and that maladaptive family interactions can contribute to the evolution of behavior problems and consequently is a primary target for intervention. The goal of BSFT is to improve the youth's behavior problems by improving family interactions that are presumed to be directly related to the child's symptoms, thus reducing risk factors and strengthening protective factors for adolescent drug abuse and other conduct problems.

Therapy is tailored to target the particular problem interactions and behaviors in each client family. Therapists seek to change maladaptive family interaction patterns by coaching family interactions as they occur in session to create the opportunity for new, more functional interactions to emerge. Major techniques used are joining (engaging and entering the family system), diagnosing (identifying maladaptive interactions and family strengths) and restructuring (transforming maladaptive interactions). BSFT has been tailored to work with inner city, minority families, particularly African American and Hispanic families and therapists are trained to assess and facilitate healthy family interactions based on cultural norms of the family being helped.

BSFT is a short-term, problem-focused intervention. A typical session lasts 60 to 90 minutes. The average length of treatment is approximately 12-15 sessions over three months. For more severe cases, such as substance abusing adolescents, the average number of sessions and length of treatment may be doubled. Treatment can take place in the office or home/community settings.

BSFT has been rigorously evaluated in a number of studies with experimental designs. The approaches have been found to be effective in improving youth behavior, reducing recidivism among youthful offenders, and in improving family relationships.


Implementation Costs:

Staff requirements for implementing BSFT include: BSFT therapists and a clinical supervisor. In mild to moderate cases we have found that a reasonable clinical load for a full time therapist is 20 active cases.

BSFT therapists typically have masters level training in mental health, social work or counseling and at least three years of supervised clinical experience. In addition to skills specific to BSFT, therapist must possess the clinical skills of empathy, timing, ability to provide support and validation, ability to establish working alliances with individuals and families, enthusiasm, and optimism. Cultural competence to work with minority populations is also crucial.

Other program implementation costs include office space, transportation costs (for therapists doing home/community visits or for families to attend therapy in the office). It is recommended that therapy sessions be either video or audio taped for clinical supervision.

Training Costs:

The Center for Family Studies can customize a training package to meet the needs of a particular agency depending on agency size, level of clinical staff experience, and treatment population. A standard training package includes the following components:
1) A 3-day intensive workshop given by two presenters which includes: didactic presentation of the BSFT model, videotaped demonstration of BSFT techniques, clinical case consultation, and a supervisor's training component.
2) Monthly telephone consultation (for 12 months) which consists of a consultant's review of a pre-submitted video or audio tape and feedback to therapists and supervisors.
3) A follow-up 2-day skill development workshop.

Upon completion of training, trainees will receive a certificate issued by the Center for Family Studies.

Cost of the package: $18,000 (plus travel expenses and long-distance expenses for monthly consultations).


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