An Evidence-Based Intervention

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is an integrated, comprehensive, family-centered treatment for youth problems and disorders. MDFT prevents out-of-home placement. MDFT focuses on key areas of the adolescent’s life and provides an effective and cost-efficient treatment.

MDFT addresses a range of youth problem behaviors – substance abuse, delinquency, antisocial and aggressive behaviors, school and family problems, and emotional difficulties. It can be implemented in substance abuse and mental health treatment, child welfare, and juvenile justice systems, including detention centers and juvenile drug courts. In addition to its strong research outcomes, MDFT has high satisfaction ratings from teens and young adults, parents, therapists, and community collaborators.

Objectives of MDFT
Treatment Settings of MDFT
Treatment Principles
Who We Serve

An Evidence-Based Practice

Multidimensional Family Therapy has 30 years of research supporting it. Today, clinicians implement and sustain MDFT programs in over 100 public and private settings throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The MDFT research program is consistently identified as exemplary among evidence-based practices.

Objectives of MDFT

The principle treatment objectives of Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) are to eliminate substance abuse, crime, and delinquency, and to improve mental health, school, and family functioning. MDFT improves the adolescent’s coping, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, and enhances family functioning, a critical ingredient in positive youth development.

The effectiveness of the MDFT program comes from its focus on known determinants of adolescent problems. Interventions are collaborative and treatment emphasizes compassion and respect from highly trained clinicians.

MDFT promotes change:

  • Within the heart and mind of the adolescent
  • In how parents relate to and influence their children
  • In how the family solves problems and loves one another
  • And in the family's interactions with school, juvenile justice, and their community

There are several fundamental treatment objectives:

  1. Treatment Engagement and Completion - Treatment dropout remains a challenge for many adolescent treatment programs. MDFT engages young people and their families and motivates them to enter and complete treatment.
  2. Family Functioning - MDFT enhances family functioning by avoiding fault finding and accessing the natural healing power of families in individual and family sessions at home, in the clinic, community, and at school.
  3. Substance Abuse - MDFT uses several methods, including adolescent-focused individual sessions and drug testing, to focus on the youth's drug use and dependence. Teen drug abuse treatment is more effective when it is built on strong evidence, is family-oriented, developmentally appropriate, and delivered by qualified healthcare professionals.
  4. School Performance - Parents and youths are coached about how to reestablish contact with school personnel and have productive meetings at school that focus on de-escalating conflict, action plans, next steps, and getting to positive outcomes in behavior and academic work. MDFT therapists develop an ongoing relationship with schools to troubleshoot problems and readjust interventions as needed.
  5. Criminal and Delinquent Behavior - MDFT promotes prosocial alternatives to delinquent behavior and works with members of the juvenile justice system to advocate for the teen and coordinate interventions.
  6. Family Stability - MDFT works to keep adolescents in the home and out of placements by strengthening parent-child relationships and developing new ways of resolving family problems.
  7. Mental Health Symptoms - MDFT reduces stress, depression, and anxiety by teaching adolescents  new skills, and helping them see life in a new perspective with a fresh set of eyes.

Treatment Settings

Multidimensional Family Therapy has been implemented in a variety of levels of care and treatment settings, and can be mapped onto any program.

MDFT has been researched and implemented:

  • In drug abuse and mental health treatment settings including outpatient, in-home, intensive outpatient, day treatment, and residential
  • Among adolescents in juvenile justice, drug court, and child welfare settings
  • As a culturally-responsive and gender-sensitive approach across cultures and countries
  • As an early intervention or preventative approach for young adolescents
  • In urban and rural settings

Treatment Principles

  1. Teen problems are multidimensional.
  2. MDFT addresses the individual, family, and environmental factors that contribute to drug use and related problems.
  3. Family functioning is instrumental in creating lasting change for adolescents.
  4. Motivation to change is alterable, and it is the therapist’s responsibility to create the conditions that motivate youth and parents.
  5. Therapists create individual working relationships with the adolescent, individual parents or caregivers, and collaborating professionals.
  6. Individualized interventions harness family member strengths to foster developmental competencies.
  7. Therapist attitude and skill are fundamental to success.

Who We Serve

  • Youth between the ages of 9 and 26 (note that the treatment approach adjusts to different developmental and biological ages) 
  • Have at least one parent/guardian, or parental figure able to participate in treatment (Note that the parent/guardian can be another family member or adult. They may not always reside together, but the parental figure is a person of significant influence in the youth’s life). 
  • Not actively suicidal (ideation and plan) requiring immediate stabilization 
  • Not suffering from a psychotic disorder (unless temporary and due to drug use) 

Individual MDFT programs can restrict program eligibility beyond these guidelines. For example, some programs are not able to serve people over the age of 18, and others do not have the capability to serve opiate users. MDFT International, Inc. will work with programs to help them find the best eligibility criteria for their particular circumstances. 

Introduction to MDFT by Howard Liddle, from the Hazelden Clinical Innovators Series, “Adolescent Drug Abuse: A Family Based Multidimensional Approach