Teens and Parents Differ in Evaluating Family Therapy

Parents and teens each develop their own relationship with a therapist during family therapy. The overall outcome of treatment is dependent not only on these relationships, but on the other family members’ relationships with the therapist, and their level of success.  Myrna L. Friedlander of the University at Albany, State University of New York, and lead author of a new study examining which perspective predicts therapeutic outcome more accurately, believes these dynamics are all unique and important indicators of therapeutic outcome. Previous research has shown that the success of therapy is not predicted by reports of either the parent or teen, but rather a combined assessment.

In order to capture an integrated perspective, Friedlander and her colleagues used the Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM) as a means to gauge the effect of self-reports on treatment outcome for the teen and the parent. Using the APIM, the researchers evaluated the actor element as the parent’s and teen’s outcome based on their individual perceptions of the therapeutic alliance. For the partner effect, the team examined how each family member’s perception of alliance influenced therapeutic outcome of the others.

The researchers interviewed 20 families at the end of three different sessions of family therapy. They found the actor effects to be similar for both teens and parents, with both parties seeing the treatment as positive when they felt the alliance was strong. However, the partner effects were quite different. “Notably, when adolescents saw the alliance as strong, the parents reported the session to be relatively less valuable,” said the researchers. “The latter finding suggests that, in judging the worth of a session, parents were closely observing their adolescent’s reaction to what was taking place. Apparently, very strong adolescent alliances were seen as relatively less productive by the parents.” Friedlander believes these findings have important clinical implications. “As demonstrated by this exploratory study, a systemic perspective is essential for understanding how family members are reacting to what goes on in conjoint therapy.” She added, “Skilled family therapists are not daunted by the complexity but rather use it to full advantage to do what needs to be done—maximizing each and every client’s personal and relational experience in the family.”

Friedlander, M. L., Kivlighan, D. M., Jr., & Shaffer, K. S. (2011, July 4). Exploring Actor–Partner Interdependence in Family Therapy: Whose View (Parent or Adolescent) Best Predicts Treatment Progress?. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024199

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sue


    October 4th, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    I tell you, it must take a very talented person to be able to be a success at family therapy. You have to have a whole different mannerism and interaction to deal with the intricacies of each family individual as well as coming up with a valid path for treatment for the whole family together as a whole. While I think that this line of work could be incredibly rewarding, I also think of what a challenge it must be and how fortunate any family would be to find a therapist who could help them deal with all of the minutae of the entire family experience.

  • DA


    October 5th, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    The mental make up of teens and parents is different,their expectations from therapy are different and so their views and relationship with the therapist are bound to be different too. That is all okay.

    What is required is that each member of the family needs to feel that he it she gained something from the therapy,that there was some benefit from the therapy. Nothing else matters. And when that happens the family therapy is really a successful one. Because being a therapist for one person is difficult enough. Providing family therapy must be a tough job for sure!

  • Wendy.F


    October 5th, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    The same thing said to two people of different ages is never interpreted the same way.And especially so for two people of the same family as they may hold different view points of something family-related that is being discussed with the therapist.

    Also,younger people may not be able to assess the interaction as well as the parents can.So again there are differences.

    But really, our focus should not be on whether their evaluation of the therapy was the same or different, but whether whatever was conducted in therapy was beneficial to each one in the family. Because that is what is the objective of family therapy, isn’t it?!

  • Celeste


    October 5th, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    Surely I am not the only parent who feels like if I developed a good working relationship with the therapist, that my teenager is going to be bound to hate him no matter what? Please tell me I am not the only parent on this site that feels this way! I know that my child is going to do and say and feel exactly the opposite of anything that I do, if only to spite me. And this is so frustrating to me as a parent who wants nothing more than to make our family tight and strong. But I am really beginning to struggle with that and am having a hard time regaining any sense of normalcy, or what could even pass for normalcy, these days.

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