Skip to the main content.

3 min read

What is Functional Family Therapy, and Who is it For?

a family in the therapy room

Functional Family Therapy (FFT)

Functional family therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on family relationships of teens between 11 and 18 who have demonstrated behavioral or emotional problems. It is a short-term family intervention that uses aspects of both cognitive behavioral therapy and systemic therapy.

FFT involves both the teen in question and as many family members as they can participate. It focuses on improving family functioning, targeting negative behaviors, and building healthy family relationships.

When is Functional Family Therapy Appropriate?

Functional family therapy (FFT) will often be recommended as an intervention or prevention by a school or by a community. For example, if a teen has a conduct disorder, or has been skipping school functional family therapy may be recommended. It can also be used as a condition of probation if the teen is arrested. Some common reasons that a teen and their family are remanded to functional family therapy include:

  • Consistent rule-breaking in school or home environment
  • Truancy
  • Violence prevention
  • Adolescent substance abuse
  • Theft
  • Violating curfew
  • Disrespect toward teachers or other authority figures

The Benefits of Functional Family Therapy

FFT can not only target a teen's negative behaviors but also examines the individual family members' behaviors and relationships. This focus on family members during the treatment process can lead to several other benefits including:

  • Healthy coping mechanisms within the family unit
  • Improving family functioning
  • Lower rates of recidivism
  • Increased motivation and engagement in school and extracurricular activities
  • Lowered involvement in crime
  • Stronger, healthier family relationships
  • Decreasing family hostility
  • Less likelihood of criminal activity in adulthood

By addressing family functioning, FFT clinical model allows family members to work as a team and support each other with new skills and techniques learned during the therapy sessions.

How does functional family therapy work?

FFT may be offered through multiple community systems, including child welfare systems, community practice settings, youth case management programs, mental health facilities, or juvenile justice programs.

Functional family therapy (FFT) focuses on three key principles: motivation, relational focus, and strengths-based respectful attitude toward others. There are also three main phases of the FFT model which include the following.

The Engagement Phase

During the engagement phase of FFT, the therapist will focus on building balanced alliances and rapport. They will provide outreach, offer understanding and support, and present the problem to the family. This phase is very much about building therapeutic alliance with the teen, and the family as a whole.

The Behavior Change Phase

The behavior change phase of the therapeutic process looks a lot like cognitive behavioral therapy. The therapist will work with the family on decreasing negative behaviors and attempting to shift them into more a positive motivational context. They will teach healthy coping mechanisms, model healthy behaviors, and assign tasks and homework.

The Generalization Phase

The generalization phase of FFT is when the therapist works with the family members to anticipate any future challenges, and to encourage positive change in the school and community. Family members will be connected with community resources and will be given tools to continue to encourage positive changes and relapse prevention.

Throughout all three phases of functional family therapy (FFT), there will be an ongoing assessment to focus on how relevant family processes related to the issue at hand, identify risk factors and protective factors, and consider a variety of dimensions, including teen and parent interaction patterns, the teen's mental health, and their social environment.

Common Techniques Used in Functional Family Therapy (FFT)

There are several different techniques used across the three phases of functional family therapy. These include:

  • Validating the feelings of family members
  • Gather family members' perceptions
  • Implement a relational assessment
  • Building balanced alliances between family members
  • Working with as many family members as possible to share tools to interrupt negative behavioral or emotional patterns
  • Developing creative programs
  • Depending on individual family members behaviors, sharing skills in parenting, communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution
  • Addressing family functioning from a positive motivational context
  • Reinforcing protective factors
  • Creating relapse prevention plans
  • Connecting families with community resources

Is functional family therapy effective?

As a treatment method, functional family therapy (FFT) has shown a statistically significant reduction in recidivism rates, statistically significant improvements in behavioral or emotional problems, and statistically significant improvements in family relationships. In a therapy outcome study, FFT has also been shown to be effective in strengthening protective factors and relevant family processes across cultural groups and in a variety of settings.

It is important to note, however, that FFT, like other forms of therapy, relies on participation. In this case, family relational functions are an important part of the process, so the full participation of all family members. If family hostility is a factor, there may be less chance of success.

Finding a Functional Family Therapist

Functional family therapy (FFT) may be offered through multiple community systems, and if it is a mandatory intervention through child welfare facilities, family court, probation officers, or other programs for at-risk youth, you may be automatically given a clinic to attend.

However, if you have a teen with substance abuse issues or other severe behavioral or emotional problems and are interested in finding outpatient therapy through a family psychology clinic, you can do an online search to find a therapist near you. Simply type FFT into the search engine with your location to find practitioners in your area. Most will have profiles that offer licensure, certification, and experience in this modality.

Finding Functional Family Therapy in Austin, TX

Sometimes when a teen goes down the wrong path, it takes the whole family to build protective factors, offer emotional support, and guide them into more positive behavior. A therapist can help, and offer the skills necessary to make it happen.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, we offer a range of online therapy and in-person appointments that can fit into any schedule, so that your whole family can find time to work with your therapist on building self-worth and making positive changes in your teen's thoughts and behavior.

Give us a call today, and our patient coordinator will help you find the right family therapist  in Austin to offer their expertise and guidance in decreasing family hostility, improving family functioning, and modeling behavior change and positive behavior for your teen and family.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

A woman with postpartum depression

How Postpartum Depression is Treated

Pregnancy, birth, and the immediate aftermath of parenting are times of enormous change and upheaval in a person's life. Pregnant and postpartum...

Read More
a teen in therapy

Effective Therapy Activities for Teens

Most of us understand that there is some difference to how therapy sessions are structured for teens and adults. However, many parents may be...

Read More
therapy office in austin

What Should I Do If I'm Attracted to My Therapist?

A strong therapeutic relationship can be essential to success in therapy, but when the professional relationship begins to take on romantic feelings...

Read More