Functional Family Therapy


Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a short-term intervention program with an average of 8 to 12 sessions over 3 to 5 months. FFT works primarily with youth who have been referred for behavioral or emotional problems by the juvenile justice system and their families. Services are often conducted in the home setting but can also be provided in other locations.

FFT is a strength-based model built on a foundation of acceptance and respect. At its core is a focus on assessment and intervention to address risk and protective factors within and outside of the family that impact the adolescent and his or her adaptive development.


FFT consists of 5 major components:

Behavior Change

The goal of this phase is to reduce or eliminate referral problems by improving family functioning and individual skill development. Behavior Change often includes formal behavior change strategies that specifically address relevant family processes, individual skills or clinical domains (such as depression, truancy, substance use). Techniques and strategies often include evidence-based cognitive-behavioral strategies for addressing family functioning and referral problems. Phase activities are focused on modeling and prompting positive behavior, providing directives and information, developing creative programs to change behavior, all while remaining sensitive to family member abilities and interpersonal needs.


The goals of this phase involve enhancing family members' experience of therapist responsiveness and credibility. Therapists work hard to demonstrate a sincere desire to listen, help, respect and match to family members in a way that is sensitive and respectful of individual, family and cultural beliefs, perspectives and values. The therapist's focus is on immediate responsiveness to family needs and maintaining a strength-based relational focus.

Generalization Phase

The primary goals in this phase are to extend the improvements made during Behavior Change into multiple areas and to plan for future challenges. This often involves extending positive family functioning into new situations or systems, planning for relapse prevention, and incorporating community systems into the treatment process (such as teachers, Probation Officers).


The goals of this phase include creating a positive motivational context that serves to decrease family hostility, conflict and blame, increase hope, and build balanced alliances with family members. Therapists work to change the meaning of family relationships by emphasizing possible hopeful alternatives, maintaining a nonjudgmental approach and conveying acceptance and sensitivity to diversity. The therapist's focus is on the relationship process, separating blame from responsibility while remaining strength-based.

Relational Assessment

The goal of this phase is to identify the patterns of interaction within the family to understand the relational functions or interpersonal payoffs for individual family members' behaviors. The therapist focuses on eliciting and analyzing information pertaining to relational processes, and assess each dyad in the family using perception and understanding of relational processes. The focus is directed to intrafamily and extrafamily context and capacities (e.g., values, attributions, functions, interaction patterns, sources of resistance, resources and limitations). This information is used to inform a Behavior Change and Generalization Plan that matches to each unique family.