Functional Family Therapy Coming to Excelsior

Thanks to a generous grant from The Anschutz Foundation, Excelsior is thrilled to begin training our therapists in Functional Family Therapy! This widely-recognized and respected therapy model will deepen the skills of our therapists and enhance the quality of the community-based and in-home treatment that we provide our youth and families.

What is Functional Family Therapy (FFT)?

FFT descriptionFFT is a short-term, high quality intervention program that works primarily with 11- to 18-year-old youth who are struggling with behavioral or emotional problems. Specifically FFT has demonstrated success in helping adolescents with conduct disorders, violence and substance abuse. Services are conducted in many different settings, but this therapy model is especially conducive to in-home and community-based service environments.

This strength-based therapy model is built on a foundation of acceptance and respect. By focusing on addressing risk and protective factors within and outside of the family, therapists help youth and their families limit disruptive influences and enhance their strengths.

FFT consists of five major components: engagement, motivation, relational assessment, behavior change and generalization. Each of these components has its own goals, focus and intervention strategies and techniques. The phase-based goals of FFT are to:

  1. Engage youth and family members into treatment by establishing therapist credibility by being responsive and available.
  2. Motivate youth and their families by decreasing the intense negativity (blaming, hopelessness) so often characteristic of these families. Rather than ignoring or being paralyzed by negative experiences (e.g., cultural isolation and racism, loss and deprivation, abandonment, abuse, depression), FFT acknowledges and incorporates these powerful emotional forces into engagement strategies through respect, sensitivity, and positive reattribution techniques.
  3. Assess interpersonal functions (i.e., payoffs) within the family to organize/match interventions.
  4. Behavior Change: Reduce and eliminate the problem behaviors and accompanying family relational patterns through individualized behavior change interventions, including cognitive/attributional interventions, systematic skill-training in family communication, parenting, problem solving, and conflict management.
  5. Generalize changes across problem situations by increasing the family’s capacity to utilize community resources adequately, and to engage in relapse prevention.

(Source: FFT LLC, 2014)

Benefits for Youth, Families and Communities

The FFT treatment model has been proven to help youth and families manage behavioral and relational challenges and lead to lasting positive change. Data from numerous studies suggests that FFT can reduce recidivism (the tendency for a person to reoffend) between 25% and 60% (FFT LLC, 2014). A study conducted by Thomas Sexton of the Center of Adolescent and Family Studies at Indiana University, demonstrated that the positive outcomes of FFT remained stable after five years, an impressive statistic compared to the outcomes of many other treatment models. Plus, this study found that the positive effects that treatment had on the youth in question, also positively impacted that youth’s siblings (Sexton & Turner, 2011). Now that’s what we are looking for when we talk about family-focused treatment and family preservation.

Additional studies suggest that FFT can also reduce treatment costs. When implemented properly, FFT costs less than traditional services and other family-based interventions. Plus, FFT is also proving to save money at the state-level through crime reduction. In fact, Washington State found that for every dollar spent on FFT, $18.98 was saved through reductions in felony recidivism (, n.d.).

Summing Up

Our therapists are very excited to begin their FFT training, which is kicking off this Friday, March 24th! Complemented by their many other specialties and areas of expertise (e.g. trauma-informed care, EMDR, CPT – Child/Parent Psychotherapy), FFT will enhance their ability to provide the best treatment to our youth and families. We believe that FFT is the most effective treatment model for our community-based and in-home therapy services. We are immensely grateful to The Anschutz Foundation for their incredible support in this venture and cannot wait to get started!

The Anschutz Foundation



Sexton, T. & Turner, C.W. (2011). “The Effectiveness of Functional Family Therapy for Youth with Behavioral Problems in a Community Practice Setting.” Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice 1(S), 3-15. (n.d.) Functional Family Therapy. Retrieved from