What Is Strategic Family Therapy, And How Can It Benefit Your Family?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 5, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

There are many reasons for families to seek support through family therapy, and you do not need a mental health diagnosis to see a family therapist. Depending on your concerns, various types of family therapy may suit you. One such modality is strategic family therapy, developed to offer structure to the family therapy process. Learning more about this method can help you make an informed decision on the type of care you seek. 

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Gain insight into strategic family therapy techniques

What is family therapy?

Family therapy involves a psychotherapy session where more than one client from a family unit is present. All types of family systems can participate in this treatment, including families with step-parents, single parents, no children, or adult children. In addition, family therapists can support those experiencing challenges in their chosen family

There are several types of family therapy, with some of the most common including the following: 

  • Strategic family therapy
  • Narrative family therapy
  • Systemic family therapy
  • Bowenian family therapy 
  • Cognitive-behavioral family therapy 
  • Child-focused family therapy 

What is strategic family therapy?

Strategic family therapy (SFT) is a brief form of therapy developed by psychologists Jay Haley and Cloe Madanes in the 1970s at the Family Therapy Institute. SFT is often used for families with children between the ages of six to 18. The model focuses on symptom relief, quick solutions, and problem-solving teamwork. For those looking for quick answers, an SFT therapist may offer guidance. 

As strategic family therapy is solution-based, there is often a recognizable plan or trajectory outlined for family members. Each family member actively participates in their healing as the therapist helps them plan and execute strategies to meet their goals. Families with a known conflict that would benefit from a quick solution can consider contacting a strategic family therapist for guidance.

A few common goals of SFT can include the following: 

  • Solve the family's problems 
  • Help certain members of the family access support from the family system
  • Improve overall family mental health
  • Achieve the family's goals 
  • Address behavior problems of young family members
  • Offer structure that can be used long-term for recurring challenges 

The steps of strategic therapy

Strategic family therapy has five main identifiable stages, including the following. 

Find solvable problems

In the initial stage of SFT, you work with your therapist to identify concerns that are showing up for your child or the family. Your therapist may lead you through open-ended questions or have you write down these challenges in list format. Each family member can offer their insight. 

Create goals

After problems are identified in therapy, the family can work together to develop goals that mark progress in those areas. These goals will lay the outline for the rest of the treatment, so try to be honest and open about what you'd like to achieve. Even if you don't feel it is possible to achieve them, let your therapist know what would be ideal for you. 

Make a plan to accomplish your goals

The strategic aspects of therapy come in around the third step. After you create goals, you can develop a plan to move toward them. With the therapist, you find interventions to address the solvable problems you identified in the first step and move toward the goals you set in the second. Your therapist might help you break down these goals into small parts to make them easier to consider. 

Accomplish your goals 

After setting your goals, your therapist may continue to work with your family as you take steps to achieve them. In sessions, you may work on areas that are proving challenging or re-convene about a goal if you feel it no longer fits your needs. Instead of leaving the clients to navigate these goals alone, the therapist can play a mediator throughout the process. 

The therapist is not grading or scoring the family but looking to examine responses to the process to understand what's working well and where the family might benefit from growth. In therapy, revisiting goals and changing your mind can be healthy and normal. Changes might occur as each family member practices new skills and tries new strategies. 

Consider the outcomes 

Near the end of SFT, the family may examine the outcome of the therapeutic process. Note that therapy may or may not end at this stage. In some cases, families have multiple challenges to address and may move on to another after the first has been resolved. Talking to your therapist about the outcomes of achieving your goals can allow you to form life-long observations about what works and what doesn't. If you found that your initial treatment plan didn't support you how you had hoped it would, you may know to choose a different path in the future if the same problem arises again.


How brief is strategic family therapy? 

Many families may wonder how long the therapeutic process for SFT can take. Often, strategic family therapy takes around 12 to 16 sessions. However, it can be extended as needed, and every family may complete the modality in a different amount of sessions. 

What concepts are used in strategic family therapy? 

Strategic family therapists often believe that practical solutions and a problem-solving approach can remedy challenges. Instead of focusing on understanding an individual's underlying emotions, memories, or experiences, the family works together to develop present-moment solutions that intend to impact the future positively. While some similarities may exist between family therapy modalities, strategic family therapy often differs from other types. 

Below are a few concepts that may be addressed in an SFT session: 

  • In IFS, external sources may cause or contribute to a challenge or conflict, and problems do not exist in a vacuum. 
  • Instead of fixating on the root cause alone, strategic family therapy looks for solutions and alterations that can be made to move toward goals for the future. 
  • In strategic family therapy, a provider observes individual interactions within a family unit to understand how that unit makes decisions together.

Is strategic family therapy effective?

Strategic family therapy can effectively treat various concerns in children, adolescents, and adults. A large body of research surrounds strategic family therapy, showcasing how it can impact families seeking support. Studies have found that this type of therapy can lead to the following: 

If you're having difficulty in your family, whether due to one of the concerns above or something else, like frequent arguments, trouble expressing feelings, or difficulty navigating changes in family life, seeing a mental health provider may be valuable. A marriage and family therapist trained in SFT can help you develop actionable solutions in the present to improve the future of your family unit. 

In addition, if you're looking for a similar type of therapy for individuals or couples, strategic therapy can also be used in these formats. A similar form of treatment often used for individuals is solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), which also focuses on coming up with goals and achievable plans. Group therapy can also be beneficial for children and adolescents experiencing family challenges. 

Gain insight into strategic family therapy techniques

Counseling options 

You have a few options if you're interested in contacting a strategic family therapist. Many families look for family therapists online, as online therapy can be more convenient and affordable than in-person. In addition, many in-person therapists may not take insurance for family clients. 

Online platforms like Regain offer therapy for individuals and couples. Although they do not offer family therapy, there are platforms and providers online who may. Couples can also take advantage of the results-based focus of SFT by signing up for an online platform and noting their intention to try this form of therapy on their intake questionnaire. As many online platforms are match-based, they can match couples with a therapist specializing in specific therapy modalities or approaches like SFT. 

If you're unsure about the effectiveness of online therapy, note that studies have found internet-based options more effective than traditional therapy due to the format. In one study, couples reported feeling more connected with their therapist via videoconferencing than meeting face-to-face. When you try an online platform, you can choose to meet with your therapist via video, phone, or live chat sessions, making telehealth counseling flexible for many couples.  


Strategic family therapy offers a solutions-based therapeutic approach led by a licensed professional. In this approach, clients can set goals and take action within a short period. If you're interested in gaining further insight into these strategies, consider reaching out to a strategic therapist for guidance. 

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