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What is Multisystemic Therapy?

Most teenagers act up from time to time. Unfortunately, for some adolescents, inappropriate actions exceed the boundaries of acceptable social behavior. If your child has gotten in trouble with the law or demonstrated troubling anti-social behavior at school or home, Multisystemic Therapy may be a path toward recovery.

Understanding Multisystemic Therapy

A family-based mental health treatment model, Multisystemic Therapy (MST) was developed to treat youths presenting serious antisocial behavior. MST works by addressing the cumulative impact of all environmental systems, including a juvenile's home, family, school, teachers, neighborhood and friends. Recognizing the way each system influences a child's world, MST requires that each be given attention and assessments, making changes to help create a more effective social system that improves the quality of life for the youth and his or her family.

MST is inspired by scientific evidence that seriously troubled children have multidimensional behavioral problems that are best confronted using multiple strategies. These behavioral problems usually stem from a combination of influences, including deviant peer groups, family issues, unique individual characteristics, and problems in school or the community. In the MST model, therapies simultaneously address all of these inter-related areas.

Program content of MST

The main goal of MST is empowering parents with resources and skills needed to address the difficulties associated with raising teenagers, while empowering the youth to better cope with peer, family, school and neighborhood problems. Within the context of skill and support building, therapists impose developmentally appropriate requirements on the youth and family for responsible behavior. Intervention tactics are integrated into a social context that include cognitive behavior therapies, behavioral parent training, structural family therapy, and strategic family therapy.

MST is typically provided through a home-based delivery model that helps to overcome barriers to service access, while increasing family retention during and after treatment. The service model also encourages maintenance of treatment gains, while allowing for the provision of intensive services, thanks to low caseloads for therapists.

Desired outcomes

Typically lasting about four months, Multisystemic Therapy aims to promote positive behavior change in the adolescent's natural environment, using the strengths of each relevant social system. The treatment has received accolades from numerous federal and private entities for delivering the following positive outcomes:

  • Reduced arrest rates in serious juvenile offenders

  • Substantial improvements in overall family functioning

  • Reduced instances of out-of-home placements for juveniles

  • Reduced dropout rates

  • Decreases mental health issues for juvenile offenders

  • Decrease adolescent alcohol and drug use

Making the program work

While MST boasts an impressive track record, it works best when juveniles and family members commit to the program, stay strength-focused, and view caregivers as the keys to favorable outcomes. MST is also predicated on quality assurance systems that promote treatment fidelity. Treatment plans should also incorporate evidence-based intervention techniques, primarily from pragmatic family therapies, cognitive behavior therapies, and behavior therapies.

To help determine if Multisystemic Therapy can give you and your child the tools to improve behavior problems, read more about MST at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina.