An adolescent caught in the grips of drug addiction is particularly heartbreaking. It often takes a devastating toll on mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, along with the addict himself. But just as families suffer as a result of addiction they can become an integral part of the solution as they help their loved onto the path of recovery
Brief Strategic Family Therapy
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) as “a brief intervention used to treat adolescent drug use that occurs with other problem behaviors.” Incorporating the family into the treatment process is central to this approach to recovery. The entire family may experience healing along with the patient.
BSFT is generally used treat adolescent drug abusers as opposed to adults. A 2014 article published in Medicine.Net stated that half of America’s high school seniors have tried an illicit drug by the time they graduate and four in 10 have used it in just the past year. Individuals who begin using drugs as juveniles are at greater risk of becoming addicted compared to those who begin drug use as an adult due to the immaturity of the teenage brain, particularly of that part of the brain that controls impulses.
Signs and behaviors that may indicate adolescent drug abuse include:
- School truancy
- Associating with antisocial peers
- Conduct problems at home and/or school
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Oppositional behavior
- Risky sexual behavior
BSFT is a solution-focused model of treatment that targets problematic family relationships and the impact these have on adolescent drug abusers. The Carroll County Youth Services Bureau describes BSFT as “a strategic approach that uses pragmatic, problem-focused, and planned interventions that improve relationships in the family and helps parents develop strong, consistent, and effective parenting skills.” It starts with the idea that the adolescent is one part of a larger family system comprised of interdependent members. This system is a highly influential force in the psychological development of children. BSFT recognizes that what impacts one member of the family will impact the other members of the family as well. Each family system develops its own patterns of interaction. BSFT works to improve the quality of these interactions allowing families learn how to communicate in more positive and effective ways.
How Does BSFT Work?
BSFT is conducted in approximately 12-18 weekly sessions. These usually last 60-90 minutes. The therapist establishes relationships with each family member. He will encourage them to interact, looking for insights into the way each relates with the other. Once he learns about their patterns of interaction the therapist will create a treatment plan designed to improve the family’s communication skills. This enables the family to more effectively manage the adolescent’s troubled behaviors, including his drug abuse. In some cases the therapist may have the adolescent enter into a contract with the rest of the family setting clear boundaries and guidelines for future behavior.
BSFT has been shown to get results. According to the American Psychological Association “studies have led the United States Department of Health and Human Services to label the BSFT approach as one of its “model programs,” and to be included in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices.”