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The Use of Multidimensional Family Therapy in Adolescent Treatment

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is a therapy approach that engages adolescents and parents on an individual level while building relationships between them.  MDFT, along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are therapies that are used widely in the treatment of adolescent drug use and abuse.  However, in two trials sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) conducted in 2010, it was found that MDFT therapy had resulted in fewer drug-related issues among teenagers and there had been improvements regarding future behavior in comparison to those teenagers who underwent CBT therapy.

MDFT therapy views drug abuse as a complex phenomenon in which personal issues, interpersonal relationships, and overall family dynamic and social forces play significant roles in adolescent drug abuse.  All of those factors need to be addressed in order to affect change in the adolescent’s behavior and worldview.  Sessions can either feature just the teenager, the teenager with his or her immediate family, or it may include multiple generations depending on the extent of personal and familial issues.  Therapists guide the family through discussion of problems in the family dynamic and introduces strategies that will help build family strengths, improve communication and reduce conflict.

MDFT therapy can be individualized depending on the structure of the meetings themselves.  For instance, if the therapy sessions are only conducted with the adolescent, individual and meaningful therapeutic goals are formulated.  Fostering motivation to formulate strategies for problem solving and alternatives to drug taking are also discussed.  For families, topics such as family management, parenting skills, setting limits and monitoring are touched upon.  The Multidimensional Family Therapy approach recognizes the stresses and anger present in the family dynamic and addresses the anger and hopelessness that is felt between parent and child.

The MDFT approach is a flexible approach that can also be modified to work with younger adolescents in the 11-15 year old age range.  In the two NIDA-sponsored studies, those adolescents who underwent MDFT therapy were using fewer drugs such as marijuana as well as decreasing their alcohol use in comparison to those adolescents who underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  In addition, academic performance improved and instances of delinquency (in regards to arrests, probation, and self-reported delinquency) had also decreased for those who were engaged in MDPT therapy.

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