How MDFT Works

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) improves adolescents’ and their families’ lives by intervening in four connected areas: the adolescent, the parents, the family, and the community. Just as problems overlap, MDFT uses changes in each of these areas to stimulate changes in all the others. Sessions can be conducted from one to several times per week over the course of three to six months in the home or clinic.

Treatment is organized in three stages:

Stage 1: Build a foundation for change

Therapists create an environment in which the youth and parents feel respected and understood. Therapists meet alone with the adolescent, alone with the parents, and with the family, depending on the session's goals. Stage 1 goals are to develop strong therapeutic relationships, achieve a shared developmental and contextual perspective on problems, enhance motivation for individual reflection and self-examination, and begin the change process.

Stage 2: Facilitate individual and family change

Goals for youth, parent, and family functioning (see below) are established, evaluated, and revisited throughout this phase. Accomplishments in each individual domain activate and support change in the others.

Stage 3: Solidify changes

The last few weeks of treatment strengthen the accomplishments parents and teens have achieved. The therapist amplifies changes and helps families create concrete plans for responding to future problems such as substance use relapse, family arguments, or disappointments. The family members reflect on the changes made in treatment, see opportunities for a brighter future, and regain hope.

Goals Within MDFT Domains
  • Improve self-awareness and enhance self-worth and confidence
  • Develop meaningful short-term and long-term life goals
  • Improve emotional regulation, coping, and problem-solving skills
  • Improve communication skills
  • Promote success in school/work
  • Promote pro-social peer relations and activities
  • Reduce substance use, delinquency, and problem behaviors
  • Improve and stabilize mental health problems
  • Strengthen parental teamwork
  • Improve parenting skills & practices
  • Rebuild parent-teen emotional bonds
  • Enhance parents' individual functioning 
  • Improve family communication and problem-solving skills
  • Strengthen emotional attachments and feelings of love and connection among family members
  • Improve everyday functioning of the family unit
  • Improve family members' relationships with social systems such as school, court, legal, workplace, and neighborhood
  • Build family member capacity to access and actualize needed resources