Strategic Family Therapy And How It Can Help You & Your Family

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated April 18, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Melinda Santa, LCSW
Wondering How Strategic Family Therapy Can Help Your Family?
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We’ve all had problems in the family, be it unruly kids, frequent arguments, a lack of understanding for one another, parents and teenagers not respecting each other’s boundaries, parents trying to keep their relationship stable for the children, or something else. Since family-related matters are something many people tend to conceal or keep under wraps, it’s easy to believe that you’re alone, but the fact is that all families have problems.

If you or someone you know has had family troubles, there is no shame in considering family counseling. There are many types of family therapies to choose from. The one we’ll look at is strategic family therapy. First, let’s look at what family therapy, in general, is.

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is when members of a family attend therapy together. So, where you might go to individual therapy alone, or you’d go to couple’s therapy with a partner or spouse, you might attend family therapy with your parent or parents and siblings. You don’t have to have a nuclear family type to go to family therapy; it’s also common in step-parent families, single-parent families, and so on. Every family is different, and all families are welcome in family therapy.

What Is Strategic Therapy?

No one singular approach works for all clients or groups a therapist sees. That’s why there are so many different modalities of therapy. Strategic family therapy, sometimes abbreviated to SFT, is one of those modalities.

Created by Jay Haley, strategic family therapy is a brief form of therapy often used for families with kids between the ages of 6-18. It’s a model that focuses on symptom relief and may be used for children's concerns such as substance use* and other mental health or behavioral health problems. Not only is strategic family therapy effective, but the fact that it’s often short-term may be appealing to many families hoping to address these concerns.

*If you or someone you know lives with a substance use disorder or might be, help is out there. Please contact the SAMHSA hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or go to https://www.samhsa.gov to learn more about substance use disorders and treatment.

It’s a solution-oriented approach that, much like it sounds, is strategic in nature. There’s a recognizable plan or trajectory that typically exists in this modality, which is part of why it’s a good fit for families who have an identifiable concern that needs to be addressed right now.

The Steps Of Strategic Therapy

There are five main identifiable steps or stages in strategic family therapy or SFT. Here are those five steps and what they entail:

  1. Find Solvable Problems

In this initial step, you work with your therapist to identify concerns that are showing up for your child or in the family as a whole and what you’d like to address or resolve during the therapeutic process. This works as a foundation for the next step, which is to create goals.

  1. Create Goals

After problems are identified in therapy, you will create goals that mark progress in those areas. This is common in therapy. The emphasis on specific goals and symptoms in strategic family therapy is part of why many people drive home this modality as a solution-focused approach.

  1. Make A Plan To Accomplish Goals

Here’s part of where the word “strategic” comes into play in this form of therapy. After you create goals, you will make a specific strategy or 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.

  1. See How They Accomplish Their Goals

A good therapist won’t just set goals and push their clients on their merry way. They’re going to follow up with their clients and see how they accomplish the goals, or if they’re even doing so at all. If there are any hurdles to the goals, the therapists will intervene and figure out a new strategy to accomplish the goals. It’s not like a check-up or getting “graded.” Instead, it’s a time where you examine responses to the process so far and see what’s working as well as what still needs work. In therapy, it’s very common and necessary to revisit goals, address anything new that might come up during the process, and so on.

  1. Look At The Outcome

This is the step where you look at the outcome of the therapeutic process you have endured in the last four steps. This doesn’t necessarily need to indicate the “end” of therapy or treatment, especially considering that an adolescent or child may very well have an individual therapist or another form of treatment and support outside of strategic family therapy. Instead, it’s looking at what you’ve achieved and can potentially do to continue moving forward. For example, you might have a new goal now that things have improved throughout the therapeutic process and you have made progress or met your initial goals.

Wondering How Strategic Family Therapy Can Help Your Family?

We mentioned that this is generally a brief form of therapy, but how brief is strategic family therapy?

Many families and parents wonder how long the therapeutic process usually takes, which makes sense, as many families and parents are busy. Often, strategic family therapy takes somewhere from around 12 to 16 sessions. However, it can be extended, and it’s crucial to note that if the first therapist you see isn’t a good fit for you or your family, you can switch providers and start seeing someone new.

Concepts Used In Strategic Family Therapy

The definition of strategic therapy, as provided by the APA Dictionary of Psychology, is: “any intervention that is based on the belief that an individual’s problems are caused by ineffective solutions and on a problem-solving approach that focuses on pursuing a therapeutic strategy to promote change in the individual’s behavior rather than to understand his or her underlying intrapsychic factors.” Strategic family therapy applies this idea or approach to families. While there are some similarities, strategic family therapy differs from other types of therapy used for families.

While this is by no means an extensive list, here are some of the concepts a provider acknowledges in strategic family therapy:

  • How individuals develop problems: Haley looked at external sources that may cause or contribute to the concerns of an individual, acknowledging that our experiences don’t exist “within a vacuum,” so to speak.
  • Developing solutions: Instead of fixating on root cause alone, strategic family therapy looks for solutions and alterations that can be made to move toward goals.
  • Studying the family’s behavior:  In strategic family therapy, a provider observes the interactions between individuals within a family unit.

Strategic family therapy, essentially, takes your context into account. Or, rather, the context of your family. When a child or teen is having a tough time, many factors can go into not only the reason they’re struggling but also into the healing process.

Is Strategic Family Therapy Effective?

Alongside the question, “How long does it take?” one of the most common tasks people have about any kind of therapy is, of course, “Is it effective?”

Strategic family therapy is highly effective for various concerns that exist within families and children or adolescents. It’s known as one of the most effective. Perhaps due to how long it’s been present in the field, there’s a large body of research surrounding strategic family therapy and the effectiveness of this form of treatment.

What we know from research is that strategic family therapy can lead to:

  • Improvements in those who struggle with conduct or have a conduct disorder
  • Reduction in parental substance use
  • Reduction of substance use in adolescents
  • Improved communication within a family
  • Reduction in bullying behaviors

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, such as a move or a divorce, seeing a mental health provider can help. No family is perfect, but it is possible to find solutions that help you better and more confidently address your concerns.

Therapy, of course, isn’t just for families. You can also seek counseling on your own or with a partner. Group therapy is also advantageous for many people, including adolescents.

Seek Help!

Whether you seek individual therapy, family therapy, or another form of therapy, the therapeutic environment is a non-judgmental space where you can be vulnerable and human. Symptom relief, lower emotional distress, improved communication, and coping skills are only some examples of what you can gain from seeking help.

ReGain offers therapy for individuals and couples. All of the providers on the platform are licensed, and it’s often faster to get paired with a counselor or therapist through ReGain than when you seek traditional in-person services. The plans may be more affordable in comparison to face-to-face therapy you’d paid for out of pocket, too. Regardless of if you see a mental health provider remotely through a platform like ReGain or in your local area, you deserve to get the support and care that you need and will benefit from as a unique individual.

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