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Strategic Family Therapy Research Paper

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Updated: May 14th, 2020

History of the Model and its Founders

A Brief History of the Model

The Strategic Family Therapy (SFT) is a form of intervention developed and specifically drawn to help struggling families to overcome problems that emanate from adolescent behavior problems. The SFT model/approach was formulated in 1976 as a response to the growing concern of increased drug use among adolescents who live among the community of Cuban immigrants in Miami. To reproach this issue, the Spanish Family Guidance Center, which is presently the Center for Family Studies, was found at the University of Miami. The first major objective of this program was to come up with a culturally acceptable treatment intervention for the youths who were already using drugs in Miami. This intervention was directed at addressing both the use of the drugs and the associated behavioral abnormalities among the affected people. According to an earlier research carried out by Sexton and Lebow (2015), it was discovered that most Cuban families living in Miami, for whom this model was conceived, had a reputable value for family togetherness/connectedness and hierarchy over independence. Therefore, they had more concerns regarding the present as opposed to the past. Because of this discovery, the developers of the model tended to align the principle guidelines with hierarchy and family connection (Sexton & Lebow, 2015).

About the Founders

Several renowned practitioners were involved in constructing the model. Nevertheless, Dr. Jay Haley is considered the most instrumental. Three other theorists, namely Milton Erickson, Gregory Bateson, and Salvador Minuchin, were greatly involved in the development of this concept. The three scholars studied with Haley. Therefore, they were highly involved in integrating and combining their knowledge with that of Haley to come up with a unique family therapy. In 1953, Gregory Bateson invited Haley to work in Palo Alto, California, in collaboration with a team (among them John Weakland and William Fry) where they were required to use family therapy for the management of schizophrenic patients. The team managed to apply the principles of cybernetics to interactive and communication patterns in the affected families. After his assignment, Haley noted the success that the selected team had made in the process of describing the conditions of their patients as an unrestrained conduct among people, as opposed to the individual phenomena. This conceptualization proved instrumental to the development of the family therapy (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2015).

Due to his impressive work, Bateson introduced Haley to Milton H. Erickson who later developed an intriguing interest in the works of Erickson regarding hypnotherapeutic communication processes. Under the supervision of Erickson, Haley developed expertise in therapeutic skills through examining and practicing Erickson’s therapeutic model. One of the constructs of the model was to direct the clients to behave in ways that were considered counterproductive to their existing maladaptive behavior. Through observation, Haley could derive that the symptoms of a particular client mainly depended on incongruent communication patterns such as overt and covert communication levels with other people. Through Haley’s exploration of triangular relationships in different sets of generations (perverse triangles, as he termed them), he provided clients with a sense of control in their personal relationships (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2015).

Later, when he joined the Mental Research Institute as a director, Haley had a shift of focus from the practice of therapy to supervision. In 1967, after leaving the MRI, Haley was appointed to direct the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic together with his colleague Salvador Munichin. Here, he served ten years after which he left to cofound the Family Therapy Institute with his other colleague Cloe Madanes in Washington, DC, which is now a major renowned institute of training. During his stay in Washington, he published “Problem Solving Therapy” and “Leaving Home” in 1976 and1980 respectively. The books became one of his most recognized works.

Apart from his instrumental participation in founding the Family Therapy Institute, Cloe Madanes helped in shaping the modern incorporation of strategic interventions such as the ‘pretend technique’ where the therapist integrates the concepts of play and play mode of therapy with strategic approaches to family therapy. Using a modern approach proved that family problems that resulted from dual hierarchies and conflicts in patterns of communication could be shifted through employing openness and imagination. These discoveries prompted Madanes to publish his book, “Strategic Family Therapy” (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2015).

Essentials of the Model

The model targets interactional and structural patterns in family environments of adolescents. It creates changes through strategic interventions that are aimed at disrupting or altering such interactional patterns. In this strategy, three core principles are strictly applied. First, the model uses an approach of family systems, which implies that the members of the family are independent. In this regard, all the family members are considered to have unique experiences and behaviors that affect the experiences of the other members of the family. Based on this theory, the affected family member who portrays risky behavioral tendencies such as taking hard drugs or having unprotected sex is a reflection of what may be affecting the whole family. Therefore, the family is said to display a maladaptive behavioral interactions. Haley and Richeport-Haley (2003) assert that the maladaptive interactions can be due to one, two, three, or more persons within the family structure. Maladaptive interactions refer to repeated family exchanges whose main intention is to achieve a particular outcome such as eliminating drug use among the affected members of the family while ultimately no positive results are realized (Szapocznik, Schwartz, Muir, & Brown, 2012).

In the second principle, the family’s repetitive or habitual interactive patterns influence the behavioral patterns of each member. In this case, patterns of interactions refer to sequential behaviors among members of the family that become habitual. As a result, they are repeated over time. For instance, an adolescent may constantly engage in disruptive fights with his or her caregivers, (say mother and father). In such a case, the adolescent may intentionally take a drug overdose or engage in other high-risk behavioral acts to distract his or her parents from engaging in severe conflicts. According to this theory, this form of behavior is referred to as triangulation. The adolescent is said to be inserting himself or herself within the triangle of conflict between the parents. Therefore, the role of the family therapist is to identify these habitual patterns of interactions to find ways of addressing them (Szapocznik et al., 2012).

The third principle encompasses planning interventions that target specific repetitive maladaptive behavioral patterns in family interactions, as well as reinforcing the adaptive ones such as parents sharing their concerns regarding a daughter or son. The concept of normalcy within the framework can be applied to the parents’ perception of offering a good life to the family. The adaptive interactive patterns refer to acts that are considered useful in achieving the overall goal of the caregiver, which is to reduce the problematic/risky behavior of the adolescent. Nevertheless, applying an intervention that is in line with this principle may fail due to constant disruptions of the caregivers’ discussions. Therefore, interactions are the main target for planned interventions, especially when they are directly in harmony with the adolescent’s troubling behaviors. In this situation, interventions can be organized into four main theoretically and empirically based domains. In the earlier part of the sessions, the interventions are more focused on establishing therapeutic alliances with each of the family members, as well as whole family. Therefore, such intercessions are termed as “joining interventions”. They require the therapist to be accepted and respected by each family member and the family in whole.

Another emphasis that is laid is to apply “tracking and analytical intercessions” where both maladaptive and adaptive patterns can be used to design a treatment plan. “Reframing intercessions” are a type of intervention whose main goal is to reduce the negative effects of maladaptive family interactions by creating a conducive and motivational atmosphere for change. Lastly, at a later stage, therapists can use “restructuring interventions” to transform interactions among the family members from a problematic/troubling state to a supportive, effective and desirable condition (Szapocznik et al., 2012).

According to this model, the involvement of the indifferent parents creates a need for change in the hierarchical family structure. The transformation is commensurate to a change in the family system. The desirable change is for the independent experiences of each of the family members to affect the experiences of each other in a positive manner.

Model Application in Case Study

Role of the Counselor/Therapist

The therapist, in this case the teacher, has the role of identifying the specific maladaptive interactions among the family members who may be attributed to the troubling behavior of the son. In this case, the problem lies in both the mother and the father. Here, the mother’s maladaptive behavior involves clinging towards doing everything that she can to help her son. For the case of the father, the problem lies in his complete lack of quality interactions with his son, despite his portrayed diligence in providing the best for his family. The therapist/teacher can identify these problems in an effort to provide the appropriate interventions.

Target for Intervention

The main target for intervention is the adaptive and maladaptive interactions that affect the family. For instance, the teacher can learn that the indifference that is portrayed by the father is a pertinent cause of the negative behavior displayed by the son. Nonetheless, the teacher can use the mother’s adaptive interactions of sharing personal experiences where she comes along to inform the teacher about the discordance that is affecting the family (Szapocznik et al., 2012; Olson, 2008).


The assessment of this case can be done through the therapist’s understanding of the current hierarchy in the family. This goal is achievable by the teacher when he or she asks the mother questions such as ‘Who is the head of the family?’ ‘Who is the breadwinner in the family?’ For instance, the son’s troubling may be because of his way of grabbing some power in the family hierarchy by seeking attention and recognition from the indifferent and uninvolved father (Olson, 2008).

Normalcy, Health, and Pathology

According to the husband, the family is normal in the sense that the husband provides the members with a good house and a family vacation where both his wife and son are involved. The teacher understands the pathology in the family’s hierarchical structure, which in this case is the lack of interaction between the father and the son. As a result, the teacher resorts to changing the hierarchical structure of the family to one where the father is constantly involved in interactions with the son at work (Haley & Richeport-Haley, 2003).

Cultural and Diversity Factors

In the case under study, the teacher uses the model to influence the cultural tradition among the family, particularly the father. The teacher intervenes by changing the family and cultural tradition where the father is less involved with the son. He leaves all the work to the mother. Therefore, by requiring the father’s involvement, the model is successful in circumventing this cultural factor of male dominance and lack of involvement. Moreover, the model also exploits diversity in the case where the mother reports to the teacher the main problem that is affecting the family (Haley & Richeport-Haley, 2003).

Strength/Deficit-based Model

The SFT is both a deficit and a strength-based model because the teacher exploits the adaptive interaction of the mother to acquaint herself with the family’s hierarchical structure while at the same time trying to address the deficit of lack of interaction between the father and son (Szapocznik et al., 2012).

Examples of Interventions

The teacher uses the joining intervention approach by forming alliances among all the family members until success is attained in gaining acceptance and respect. Through exploiting a tracking and diagnostic intervention, the teacher identifies both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors that are affecting the family with the view of using the patterns to build a therapeutic plan (Szapocznik et al., 2012).


The Strategic Family Therapy model was successfully applied in the case study with the positive outcome of strengthening the relationships among the members of the family. As a result, the family managed to solve issues that were emanating from the lack of father-son involvement in the family.

Reference List

Capuzzi, D., & Stauffer, M. (2015). Foundations of couples, marriage, and family counseling. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Haley, J., & Richeport-Haley, M. (2003). The art of strategic therapy. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Olson, B. (2008). Strategic Family Therapy for dysfunctional Parents. Web.

Sexton, T., & Lebow, J. (2015). Handbook of family therapy. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Szapocznik, J., Schwartz, S., Muir, J., & Brown, C. (2012). Brief strategic family therapy: An intervention to reduce adolescent risk behavior. Couple and Family Psychology: Research And Practice, 1(2), 134-145.

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