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Practitioner Review: The effectiveness of systemic family therapy for children and adolescents

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Background: Systemic family therapy has become a widely used intervention in child and adolescent mental health services over the last twenty years. Methods: This paper reviews the development of systemic family therapy, briefly describes the theory and techniques associated with the most prominent contemporary strands of systemic practice, and examines the empirical justification for using systemic family therapies with children and adolescents. Results: There is a paucity of well-designed randomised controlled trials of systemic therapies with children and adolescents and those trials that do exist evaluate older structural and strategic therapies. Methodological limitations of existing research include the use of unrepresentative participants, small sample sizes and wide age ranges. There is a lack of credible no-treatment or alternative treatment controls, tests of clinical as opposed to statistical significance, and conceptually relevant outcome measures that examine underlying interactional mechanisms. The term `family therapy' encompasses a wide range of interventions and it is not always clear what treatment intervention has been delivered. Nevertheless, there is good evidence for the effectiveness of systemic family therapies in the treatment of conduct disorders, substance misuse and eating disorders, and some support for their use as second-line treatments in depression and chronic illness. Conclusions: Systemic family therapy is an effective intervention for children and adolescents but further well-designed outcome studies are needed using clearly specified, manualised forms of treatment and conceptually relevant outcome measures.
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Keywords: Family therapy; adolescence; children; outcome

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leeds, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2002

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