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In Functional Family Therapy, Dr. James F. Alexander demonstrates his approach to working with families with youth at risk. This approach focuses on the strengthening relationships in the family by opening up communication and reframing negative behaviors by putting them within a positive relational context.
In this session, Dr. Alexander works with two daughters and their mother and stepfather. Initially, he assesses the state of family relations and works with the family to highlight the strengths they exhibit and ways they can work toward understanding and improving their relationships.
Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a family-based prevention and intervention program that has been applied successfully in a variety of contexts to treat a range of high-risk youth and their families. This approach draws on a multisystemic perspective in its family-based prevention and intervention efforts. The program applies a comprehensive model, proven theory, empirically tested principles, and a wealth of experience to the treatment of at-risk and delinquent youth.
FFT is a good example of the current generation of family-based treatments for adolescent behavior problems (Mendel, 2000; Sexton & Alexander, 1999). It combines and integrates the following elements into a clear and comprehensive clinical model: established clinical theory, empirically supported principles, and extensive clinical experience.
The FFT model allows for successful intervention in complex and multidimensional problems through clinical practice that is flexibly structured and culturally sensitive—and also accountable to youth, their families, and the community. Although commonly used as an intervention program, FFT is also an effective prevention program for at-risk adolescents and their families.
Whether implemented as an intervention or a prevention program, FFT may include a combination of diversion, probation, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry programs for youth returning to the community following release from a high-security institutional setting.
FFT targets youth between the ages of 11 and 18 from a variety of ethnic and cultural groups. It also provides treatment to the younger siblings of referred adolescents. FFT is a short-term intervention—including, on average, 8 to 12 sessions for mild cases and up to 30 hours of direct service (e.g., clinical sessions, telephone calls, and meetings involving community resources) for more difficult cases. In most cases, sessions are spread over a 3-month period.
Regardless of the target population, FFT emphasizes the importance of respecting all family members on their own terms (i.e., as they experience the intervention process).
About the Therapist
James F. Alexander, PhD, received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Michigan State University in 1967. He is currently a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Dr. Alexander is the progenitor (with B. V. Parsons) of Functional Family Therapy (FFT). FFT is a nationally and internationally acclaimed and empirically demonstrated intervention model for juvenile delinquents, oppositional and conduct disordered youth, and substance-abusing youth. FFT was designated by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence as a Blueprint Program (one of 11 such programs nationally) for the successful treatment of delinquency, substance abuse, and violence for high-risk youth.
A fellow of Divisions 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology) and 43 (Family Psychology) of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Alexander was named Family Psychologist of the Year by Division 43 in 1994 and was granted the Presidential Citation/Lifetime Achievement Contributions to Family Therapy Research Award by Division 43 in 2001. He received numerous other honors including the Distinguished Contributions to Family Therapy Research Award from the American Family Therapy Academy and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy's Distinguished Award for Lifetime Contributions to Family Therapy Research.
Dr. Alexander is the author of two books and over 90 chapters and journal articles on family therapy and the treatment of adolescents with alcohol, drug abuse, and mental health problems. He served on the editorial board of seven major family-related journals and was senior consulting editor for The Family Psychologist from 1992–1995.
Dr. Alexander has a reputation for excellence as a presenter at over 150 conventions and academic colloquia and over 300 clinical training workshops.
Alexander, J. F., & Parsons, B. V. (1973). Short-term family intervention: A therapy outcome study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2, 195–201.
Alexander, J. F., Pugh, C., Parsons, B. V., & Sexton, T. L. (2000). Functional family therapy. In D. S. Elliott (Ed.), Blueprints for violence prevention (2nd ed., Book 3). Boulder: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado.
Alexander, J. F., Robbins, M. S., & Sexton, T. L. (1999). Family therapy with older, indicated youth: From promise to proof to practice. In K. Kumpfer (Ed.), Center for substance abuse prevention science symposium: Bridging the gap between research and practice. Washington, DC: Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention.
Alexander, J. F., Sexton, T. L., & Robbins, M. S. (2000). The developmental status of family therapy in family psychology intervention science. In H. Liddle, D. Santisteban, R. Leavant, & J. Bray (Eds.), Family psychology: Science-based interventions (pp. 17–40). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Aos, S., Barnoski, R., & Lieb, R. (1998). Watching the bottom line: Cost-effective interventions for reducing crime in Washington. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Barton, C., Alexander, J. F., Waldron, H., Turner, C. W., & Warburton, J. (1985). Generalizing treatment effects of functional family therapy: Three replications. American Journal of Family Therapy, 13, 16–26.
Gordon, D. A., Arbuthnot, J., Gustafson, K. E., & McGreen, P. (1988). Home-based behavioral-systems family therapy with disadvantaged juvenile delinquents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 16 (3), 243–255.
Gordon, D. A., Graves, K., & Arbuthnot, J. (1995). The effect of Functional Family Therapy for delinquents on adult criminal behavior. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 22, 60–73.
Hansson, K. (1998). Functional family therapy replication in Sweden: Treatment outcome with juvenile delinquents. Paper presented at the Eighth Conference on Treating Addictive Behaviors, Santa Fe, NM.
Klein, N. C., Alexander, J. F., & Parsons, B. V. (1977). Impact of family systems intervention on recidivism and sibling delinquency: A model of primary prevention and program evaluation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45, 469–474.
Mendel, R. A. (2000). Less hype, more help: Reducing juvenile crime, what works—and what doesn't. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.
Sexton, T. L., & Alexander, J. F. (1999). Functional Family Therapy: Principles of clinical intervention, assessment, and implementation. Henderson, NV: RCH Enterprises.
Sexton, T. L., & Alexander, J. F. (2000, December). Functional Family Therapy (NCJ Publication No. 184743). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.