The Five Phases of Functional Family Therapy


Functional Family Therapy has been proven to reduce adverse behaviors in adolescents between 10 and 18 years old. It even has the potential to improve the lives of families and their communities. These changes are made possible by the five phases of functional family therapy: engagement, motivation, relational assessment, behavior change, generalization

What Is Functional Family Therapy?

This high-quality and evidence-based intervention method for youth and their family is currently implemented in 45 states and 10 countries throughout the world. Functional Family Therapy is so widely accepted and practiced because it shows positive results both in the short-term and long-term. It’s designed for at-risk youth or young individuals who have been referred due to behavioral and/or emotional issues.

Functional Family Therapy assesses family dynamics that may have contributed to the young person’s behavior and works to increase motivation for change among family members. This model, which supports and practices positive reinforcement, has the potential to improve family communication, behaviors of individual family members, and parenting skills.

Who Could Benefit From Functional Family Therapy

While many families could benefit from receiving functional family therapy, this model could be especially helpful for at-risk youth and their families, young people in the child welfare system, youth involved in gangs, adolescents under probation or parole, children who have run away, and teens who have experienced curfew violations. It can also be beneficial for young people who are experiencing behavior problems, conduct disorder, substance abuse, and delinquency.

How Functional Family Therapy Works

Functional Family Therapy sessions can take place at clinics, a family’s home, schools, child welfare facilities, probation and parole systems, and mental health facilities. Sessions are held at least once per week for anywhere from three to six months.

A therapist will work with a young person and their entire family, as well as some extrafamilial influences like teachers, to initiate development and growth. This is possible through the five phases of Family Functional Therapy, which all build on each other to deliver positive results.

What Are the Phases of Functional Family Therapy?

The five phases of Functional Family Therapy are Engagement, Motivation, Relational Assessment, Behavior Change, and Generalization. Here is how all the phases work:


During this phase, the therapist will listen to and help family members. They do this with respect to a family’s beliefs, culture, values, and perspectives. The goal of the phase is that each family member will desire getting help from the therapist.


In the Motivation phase, the therapist will emphasize possible hopeful alternatives while remaining non-judgemental and accepting. This phase is done to create motivational content, increase hope, build relationships with family members, and begin to change family relationships for the better.

Relational Assessment

During the third phase, the therapist will work to analyze patterns of interaction among the family and gather an understanding of the motives behind family members’ behaviors.

Behavior Change

In the Behavior Change phase, the therapist will use strategies that address conflict, emotional issues, and conditions like substance abuse or depression when applicable. This phase is important because it can improve skills development and family functioning to reduce problematic behaviors.


During the final phase, therapists will introduce family functioning into new situations, plan for relapse prevention, and incorporate other members of the community into treatment. The goal is to bring the improvements made during the Behavior Change phase into multiple areas and prepare for future challenges.

Getting Started With Functional Family Therapy

In most cases, young people are referred to Functional Family Therapy by the juvenile justice system, mental health professionals, schools, or child welfare systems. But sometimes, families make the choice to start Functional Family Therapy on their own.

While the services are short-term, the effects of this type of therapy can last a lifetime. To learn more about Functional Family Therapy, contact our team of mental health treatment specialists by giving us a call at 866-552-3758 or sending an email to


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