Strategic Family Therapy: Effective Techniques & Approaches

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In the realm of family therapy, where every family is a unique puzzle, Strategic Family Therapy emerges as an innovative and solution-focused approach.

Developed by luminaries like Jay Haley and Cloe Madanes, this therapeutic model offers a structured and strategic framework to address a wide range of familial challenges.

This approach is characterized by its goal-oriented strategies, focusing on specific issues and symptoms within a family system.

Therapists guide families toward transformative change and healthier dynamics through skillful intervention and precise directives.

Concepts and Methodology

Strategic Therapy Interventions

Strategic family therapy (SFT) is a therapeutic approach that addresses relationships and communication patterns within a family unit.

This approach aims to identify dysfunctional interactions and establish new routines, leading to healthier connections among family members.

SFT has proven effective in resolving various emotional and behavioral problems and has been particularly beneficial for adolescents experiencing behavioral issues and substance abuse.

Brief Strategic Family Therapy

Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) is an intervention specifically designed to target the interactions within families of adolescents with behavioral problems and substance abuse issues.

BFST is developed based on five key principles:

Family-Centered ApproachBSFT places the family at the center of the therapeutic process.

It recognizes that family dynamics play a significant role in an adolescent’s behavior and emotional well-being.

The therapist collaborates with the family to understand their unique dynamics and challenges.
Assessment and DiagnosisBSFT emphasizes a thorough assessment of the family’s functioning.

The therapist works to identify specific family patterns, communication styles, and relational dynamics contributing to the adolescent’s issues.

This assessment informs the treatment plan.
Intervening EarlyBSFT is designed to address issues at their early stages, preventing them from escalating into more severe problems.

Early intervention is crucial in helping families break destructive patterns and find healthier ways to interact.
Focused and Strategic InterventionsBSFT employs strategic interventions that target specific family interactions and behaviors contributing to the adolescent’s difficulties.

These interventions aim to create change in the family system by altering patterns of communication and conflict resolution.
Empowering the FamilyBSFT empowers families by providing them with tools and strategies to address issues independently.

The therapist helps family members develop problem-solving skills, enhance communication, and strengthen their support network.

This approach highlights the importance of:

  • Family interaction patterns
  • Behavior change
  • Adaptation methods
  • Cultural competence
  • Strong therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the family members involved in the therapy

In BSFT, the focus lies on addressing problematic behaviors by identifying and working with precise family patterns that contribute to those behaviors.

Techniques like directive communicationproblem-solving, and negotiation skills are implemented to bring about changes within the family.

The main objective of BSFT is to enhance family functioning, harmonize interactions, and ultimately help adolescents overcome their behavioral and drug-related problems.

Key Techniques in SFT

Strategic Therapy Interventions

Strategic Family Therapy (SFT), a dynamic and solution-focused approach, has revolutionized the field of family therapy by introducing a set of powerful techniques designed to create meaningful change within families.


Joining is a fundamental technique in strategic family therapy (SFT) that involves building rapport and establishing trust with the family members.

The therapist’s goal is to create a supportive, non-threatening atmosphere that encourages open communication among family members.

They may do this by expressing empathy, validating feelings, and showing genuine interest in each individual’s perspective.

By joining, the therapist becomes a neutral and supportive figure who can help the family navigate the challenges and issues they face together.


Reframing is another key technique in SFT that helps family members see their situations in a different light. 

By offering alternative interpretations or perspectives, the therapist helps individuals reframe their beliefs, attitudes, and understanding of the problem, potentially leading to solutions and growth.

This technique is particularly useful when family members feel stuck in negative or unhelpful thinking patterns.

For example, a parent who views their child’s behavior as rebellious and disrespectful might be encouraged to see it as a manifestation of the child’s need for independence and autonomy.

The family can approach the situation with greater understanding and empathy by shifting perspectives.


Restructuring is a core SFT technique used to alter dysfunctional family patterns and help create more adaptive and functional relationships.

The therapist focuses on identifying and understanding the underlying structure that contributes to the family’s problems.

Once this structure is recognized, the therapist can help the family develop strategies to modify their behavior and adopt new ways of interacting.

This might involve reassigning rolessetting boundaries, or encouraging more effective communication.

For example, if a family is struggling with overprotective parenting, the therapist might help the parents learn to delegate responsibilities and encourage their child to take on more independence.

Restructuring the family system allows members to experience more balanced and healthier relationships, ultimately leading to improved well-being and more effective problem-solving.

Other Techniques

Strategic Family Therapy Intervention Techniques

Additionally to these techniques, some strategies are designed to create change by challenging existing patterns, altering perspectives, and promoting healthier interactions within the family system.

These techniques include prescribing the symptom, paradoxical interventions, circular questioning, ordeals and rituals, externalization, and directives.

Prescribing the SymptomIn SFT, therapists may prescribe or encourage the family to continue their problematic behavior or symptom.

The idea behind this technique is to make the symptom less appealing or functional, leading the family to seek change.
Paradoxical InterventionsParadoxical interventions involve prescribing the symptom in a way that highlights its absurdity or impracticality, encouraging the family to reconsider their behavior or issue.
Circular QuestioningTherapists ask circular questions that focus on the family’s interactions and patterns rather than individual blame.

These questions help uncover how each family member contributes to the issue.
Ordeals and RitualsSFT may involve creating ordeals or rituals that challenge the family’s problematic behavior.

These experiences can serve as catalysts for change and symbolize a commitment to transformation.
ExternalizationThis technique separates the problem from the individual, allowing the family to see the issue as an external force they can work together to combat.
DirectivesSFT therapists often give specific directives or tasks for family members to complete between sessions.

These tasks are designed to disrupt problematic patterns and encourage change.

Therapeutic Setting and Family Environment

Strategic family therapy is a type of therapeutic intervention designed to address specific family-related issues and improve communication patterns among family members.

The therapeutic setting and family environment play significant roles in the success of this intervention.

Therapeutic Setting

Strategic Family Therapy

The therapeutic setting should be a comfortable space where family members feel safe to express themselves openly and honestly.

This setting can be a professional office, a home-based environment, or even a community center.

The key is to create an atmosphere that facilitates trust and the building of a strong therapeutic alliance with the therapist.

Some therapists prefer to offer home-based service delivery, allowing them better to understand the family dynamics in their natural environment.

Additionally, Strategic Family Therapy (SFT) can effectively adapt to various therapeutic settings, including online therapy platforms.

Online SFT sessions typically occur via video conferencing, which allows family members to participate from their own environments, promoting comfort and convenience.

Online directories such as Find-a-TherapistGoodTherapy, and Psychology Today could be helpful in finding a strategic family therapist, whether families prefer in-person or online therapy.

Family Environment

Family environment is particularly important in the context of strategic family therapy, as it serves as a foundation for the development of healthy family interactions.

A strong, cohesive family unit is essential in promoting positive communication and conflict resolution among family members.

During the therapy sessions, therapists may work to replicate typical family interactions in order to address and modify any maladaptive behaviors or communication patterns.

Family Cohesion

Additionally, family cohesion plays a significant role in the success of strategic family therapy.

Cohesive families have strong emotional bonds, a sense of belonging, and a supportive environment that enables members to work together during the therapeutic process.

Therapists may use various techniques, such as brief strategic family therapy, to strengthen family cohesion and help members collaboratively resolve issues.

Addressing Conduct Problems and Risky Behaviour

Strategic Family Therapy Interventions

Strategic family therapy is an effective approach that targets conduct problems and risky behavior among individuals, especially adolescents.

Conduct problems encompass a range of issues, such as aggression, rule-breaking, and antisocial behavior.

These challenges often co-occur with risky behavior like substance abuse and delinquency, making it essential to address them within the family context.

Reducing Risky Behavior

Strategic family therapy involves assessing and modifying family dynamics that contribute to the emergence and persistence of problem behavior.

The therapy seeks to disrupt unhealthy patterns and promote positive communication and problem-solving skills.

By fostering an environment that supports individual growth and healthy relationships, individuals can effectively develop strategies to reduce risky behavior.

Risky Sexual Behavior

One key aspect of strategic family therapy is addressing the underlying issues contributing to problem behavior rather than focusing exclusively on symptoms.

In the case of risky sexual behavior, the therapist works with the family to identify patterns that contribute to impulsivitypoor decision-making, and lack of self-regulation.

This may involve exploring family attachments, parental involvement, or family structure.


When tackling delinquency, therapists work closely with parents to establish consistent rules and expectations, ensuring they are clear and fair.

Implementing consequences and rewards is an essential component in managing and reducing conduct problems.

This approach strengthens parent-child relationships and fosters a supportive environment where adolescents can thrive.

Substance Abuse Problems

Strategic Family Therapy

Another crucial area in strategic family therapy is addressing substance abuse problems.

In this case, the therapy goes beyond addressing the addictive behavior itself to explore the contributing factors within the family dynamic.

The therapist works with family members to identify and address areas of stress, unresolved conflicts, and communication breakdowns that can exacerbate substance abuse problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary goals of this approach?

Strategic family therapy aims to identify and modify problematic patterns within the family system.

The main goals of this therapeutic approach are to improve communication, establish healthier family dynamics, address behavioral issues, and ultimately improve the overall functioning and resilience of the family unit.

What are some common interventions used?

Some common interventions in strategic family therapy include reframing, boundary setting, and implementing behavioral changes.

For example, therapists may require family members to engage in certain tasks or activities designed to disrupt dysfunctional patterns and promote healthier interactions.

They might also use various strategies to encourage better communication and understanding between family members.

An important aspect of this approach is directing therapy toward specific outcomes, as evidenced by the use of strategy in Brief Strategic Family Therapy.

Which techniques are utilized in brief sessions?

Brief strategic family therapy involves an adaptation of traditional strategic family therapy techniques to create a more time-limited and focused approach.

In these sessions, therapists might utilize problem-solving exercisesrole-plays, and strategic questions to help the family identify their dysfunctional patterns and address pressing issues.

The idea is to maximize the impact of each session and achieve lasting change in a relatively short span of time.

How is reframing used in this therapy?

Reframing is an important technique in strategic family therapy, which helps family members view situations or behaviors from a new perspective.

By helping family members see issues in a different light, the therapist can create space for renewed understanding, empathy, and change.

For example, a parent may initially view a child’s defiance as disrespectful, but through reframing, they may come to realize that the child is merely expressing a need for respect or autonomy.

By shifting these perspectives, families can often find more effective ways to resolve conflicts and engage in healthier interactions.

Additional Resources

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About the author

Eliana Galindo
Eliana is a dedicated psychologist from Colombia who has gained extensive experience and made significant contributions in child development, clinical psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. Her work as a rehabilitation psychologist with disabled children has been transformative and compassionate. In the child development field, she creates nurturing environments through assessments, interventions, and collaboration with families. In clinical psychology, she supports individuals overcoming mental health challenges with empathy and evidence-based approaches. Inspired by her experiences, Eliana is motivated to write about mental health, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a compassionate and inclusive approach to well-being.

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