Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT)

Intervention Basics

The Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) is designed to:

  • Prevent, reduce and/or treat adolescent behavior problems such as drug use, conduct problems, delinquency, sexually risky behavior, aggressive/violent behavior, and association with antisocial peers
  • Improve pro-social behaviors such as school attendance and performance
  • Improve family functioning, including effective parental leadership and management, positive parenting, and parental involvement with the child and his or her peers and school

BSFT focuses on problem behaviors by eliminating the addiction and believes that the family plays an integral role in this process. Therapy aims to help the family identify the interactional patterns that give rise to the problematic behavior in the youth and then works to change those patterns and encourage positive family interactions.

BSFT use the following strategies: 

  • Reframing
  • Shifting Alliances
  • Building Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Parental Empowerment
  • Reversals
  • Giving and Micromanaging Behavior Skills
Expectation of Sessions:
There are 12 to 16 family sessions but can be as few as 8 or as many as 24, which are based on individual treatment plans. Sessions typically range from 60-90 minutes and can be held at any location that is convenient to the family. 

Recommended Populations

  • Youth ages 13-17
  • Girls & Boys
  • Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino
  • Outpatient / Home
  • Urban  

Special Considerations for Juvenile Drug Courts 

This program has been used extensively and effectively with Latino and African American families, and to a lesser extent, with Caucasian American families...research is ongoing.

BSFT is one of the few interventions that has reported adverse effects related to the use of the intervention (i.e., negative behavioral outcomes occurred during or following a treatment session):

Among 900 individuals, seven adverse events were determined to be related to the delivery of BSFT. Four events were classified as "runaway." These events were determined to be related to the intervention because the adolescent ran away from home during or immediately after a session. For two events classified as "violence (victim/exposure)," a physical altercation between at least two family members occurred during a therapy session when family members became agitated. The single "arrest" event occurred at the conclusion of one of these two events when a family member was arrested and detained by police (excerpt taken from NREPP).

BSFT was developed and is used often in the context of bullying and violence making it more available to youth and families in highly volatile situations.  Working with family systems prone to violence requires very skillful therapists. There is a higher level of intensity when conducting family therapy, which may mean that the client-to-counselor ratio will be lower than in most programs.

JDC teams and treatment programs/agencies/offices need to understand that the availability of treatment providers will likely change or be different from what is customary (i.e., 8 - 5 office hours). Treatment programs will need to be open during hours that the family is available to attend treatment and be prepared to provide child care when necessary. 

Engagement Strategies 

The developers of BSFT focused on two major issues in therapy: engaging and retaining youth in treatment and engaging the entire family in treatment sessions. Training is provided to BSFT therapists specifically around these two crucial issues. Engaging and retaining youth and families are pressing issues for juvenile drug court teams, as well. JDC teams and treatment provider parent agencies should target challenges in this area and develop ways to increase retention and family engagement in treatment and in the juvenile drug court program. In practice, JDC teams should implement ways to incentivize families who participate and find ways to create buy-in for the program (i.e., implement family dinner night once a month).  

Implementation and Training  

Contact Joan Muir, Ph.D., (305) 243-6363, to research costs and training opportunities.

For more detailed information regarding research and replications associated with BSFT, visit: