FTTIM Implements the Brief Strategic Family Therapy Model to Help Deaf Families With Troubled Children

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Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT®), an award-winning evidence-based practice, is found remarkably successful in improving the lives of behaviorally disturbed and at-risk deaf youth and their families. The Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami is effectively training family therapists who use sign language to provide BSFT, showing yet another dimension of BSFT’s flexibility within minority cultures.

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BSFT has been more successful with our deaf families than traditional therapy

The Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami (FTTIM) today announced its successful implementation of the Brief Strategic Family Therapy Model in the Deaf Services Program at Five Acres of Los Angeles County. The program has been recognized nationally for work with BSFT, which is being used to treat deaf youth with behavior problems while strengthening family interactions.

The Deaf Services Program is unique in that it caters to a segment of society often neglected due to lack of trained experts in the field. To effectively train their therapists in Brief Strategic Family Therapy, the FTTIM trainers conquered two important challenges.

One challenge was to learn the core idiosyncratic dynamics of deaf families from a systemic perspective, and how to reverse dysfunctional transactions in these systems. The second was to train the model with fidelity within the context of a multi- language environment – English, Spanish, and American Sign Language (ASL).

BSFT has been more successful with our deaf families than traditional therapy,” said Amy Kay, Deaf Services Supervisor. “It helps the family structure to change quickly, even in cases that at first feel overwhelming and hopeless.”

FTTIM trainers noted important yet differing systemic dynamics in the families. Typically, deaf children have hearing parents, and deaf parents have hearing children. Thus, a great gap occurs between the subsystems which exacerbate the normal intergenerational gap in families. This in turn opens more possibilities for conflict and dysfunctionality. Communication gaps as well as leadership role conflicts were very apparent, though exemplified differently in each subgroup. Furthermore, in families where deafness occurs in both generations, additional challenges for treatment appear.

BSFT therapists working with these families need to find a balance with the parents when reversing dysfunctional transactions in all of these systems. As a result, at Deaf Services engagement by the families in the BSFT therapeutic sessions has remained high, with few session cancellations. “Therapists feel that BSFT gets to the heart of the matter and issues are resolved in a timelier manner,” said Kay.

Another challenge was training and working with interpreters.

“While no changes were made to the Brief Strategic Family Therapy model in either its form or core elements, it was, however, necessary to make minor adjustments to its implementation such as using and training interpreters, and adapting different ways to Highlight and Micromanage restructuring changes”, explains Olga Hervis, co-developer of BSFT, who as Founder of the Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami is dedicated to the dissemination of BSFT.

An important development arising from this implementation is that the BSFT trainers from FTTIM learned how to use ASL interpreters effectively without risking that the interpreters become a part of the therapeutic system. Because the BSFT therapist is using specific language in order to reverse the dysfunctional dynamics, the interpreters learned 2 key concepts to employ when interpreting for a BSFT family therapy session. First, when voicing, the interpreter cannot change the words or the therapeutic reversal will not occur. Secondly, the interpreter must stay true to the concept (or use the client’s words) when signing so that the BSFT therapist can utilize the correct intervention.

These concepts have sparked positive change within the therapy sessions, in which therapists have traditionally acted as interpreters themselves. Now the families are able to take on that role, and the therapist can guide them in clearing up the communication themselves. This paves the way for creating healthy family relationships while helping to decrease youth risk factors such as drug use, truancy, and association with antisocial peers.

“BSFT has once again shown its cultural flexibility where specific skills are required, particularly as it pertains to the use of interpreters,” said Hervis.


The Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami (FTTIM) is the training home of the Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT®) co-developer, and creator of the BSFT Training Program, Olga Hervis. Hervis has been teaching and consulting on the model since its inception 30 years ago. FTTIM provides onsite award-winning quality training and consultation to the behavioral health community.

For more information about FTTIM and its training programs, including Brief Strategic Family Therapy, visit http://www.bsft-av.com/why-fttim.

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Lisa Bokalders
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