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Multisystemic Therapy:  Alliance for Inclusion and PreventionMultisystemic Therapy:  Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention

How does Multisystemic Therapy work?

How does Multisystemic Therapy work? After a child is referred to AIP’s Multisystemic Therapy Program by the school or by the Massachusetts Dept. of Social Services and the family has consented to treatment, a social worker from AIP’s MST team visits the family 2 to 3 times weekly for 3 to 5 months.  Family members help their MST therapist to design their MST treatment plan.  Home visits remove barriers to accessing services, provide families with intensive services, facilitate family involvement in treatment, and promote long-term maintenance of positive changes.  Between visits, the social worker consults with trained MST supervisors through a structured process that ensures adherence to the MST treatment model. 

The “multisystemic” element of MST refers to the network of interconnected systems that surround each youth (family, peers, school, neighborhood).  The research is very clear that repeated juvenile offending is caused by difficulties in these four systems:

  • Poorly functioning family relations
  • Difficulties with school performance
  • Problems in peer relationships
  • Difficulties in neighborhood and community relations

For this reason, MST interventions focus on key aspects of these areas for each youth served.  Intervention may be necessary in any one of these systems or in a combination of them. 

MST focuses on changing the known causes and risk factors for offending behaviors.  These factors include characteristics of the individual youth, characteristics of the child’s family, peer relations, school functioning, and the neighborhood.  At the same time, MST builds protective factors. For example, MST helps families to develop natural support networks.  MST services are individualized to the family’s strengths and weaknesses, addressing families’ needs comprehensively.

This is done by mobilizing individual, family, and community resources that support and maintain the long-term behavioral changes that occur during MST treatment.

MST interventions typically aim to:

  • Improve caregiver discipline practices
  • Enhance family relations
  • Decrease a youth’s association with deviant peers
  • Increase a youth’s association with pro-social peers
  • Improve a youth’s school or vocational performance
  • Engage youth in positive recreational outlets
  • Develop a natural support network of extended family, neighbors, and friends to help caregivers achieve and maintain such changes.

Specific treatment techniques that facilitate these gains are integrated from therapies with the most empirical support, such as cognitive behavioral, behavioral, and pragmatic family therapies.

To learn more about the Multisystemic Therapy model, go to or contact AIP’s Multisystemic Therapy Program Supervisor.


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