Adolescents who exhibit antisocial behavior often continue to do so even after undergoing treatment. But a new study, conducted by Andrea Tighe of the Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at the University of London in England suggests that multisystemic therapy (MST), a home-based family intervention designed to improve the behaviors of significantly antisocial youth, has a positive effect on the youth and their families. MST aims to transform not just the behavior of the youths, but also their peer associations and family relationships. Therapists who offer MST visit with the families several times a week, which allows the children and families to develop an intense and thorough working alliance with their therapists. Although there is some existing research on MST outcomes, Tighe wanted to better understand which areas were most influenced in therapy and saw the biggest gains.
For her study, Tighe interviewed 21 families, including 16 antisocial youths, and asked them to report their experiences with MST. She found that although the families had mixed results, overall, the participants found MST to be very positive. Due to the close and constant involvement of the therapist, the parents reported feeling accepted, cared for, and valued, which decreased their feelings of defensiveness and increased their confidence. Even if their children did not make dramatic improvements, the parents still reported that their relationship with their children had improved as a result of the MST.
Two factors that had the most impact on outcome were the development of prosocial aspirations and empathy. MST helped the children identify positive future goals, such as completing school, which increased their self-esteem. Additionally, recognizing the negative effects their behavior had had on others, including family members, helped the children understand the consequences of their antisocial patterns and develop a sense of empathy. Together, these two factors significantly increased prosocial behaviors in the children. The results of this study demonstrate that positive outcomes achieved through MST are multifaceted. Tighe added, “They also suggest some adaptations that may increase the impact of the intervention, including more attention to the influence of deviant peers, and ongoing support for families struggling to maintain strategies beyond the prescribed treatment period.”
Tighe, A., Pistrang, N., Casdagli, L., Baruch, G., Butler, S. (2012, February 13). Multisystemic Therapy for Young Offenders: Families’ Experiences of Therapeutic Processes and Outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027120
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