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

Research Findings

Research FindingsMST is an Evidence-Based Practice

MST is a well-validated treatment model (Kazdin & Weisz, 1998), with 16 published outcome studies (14 randomized, two quasi-experimental).  MST is the only family-focused and community-based treatment program for youth with delinquent and unmanageable behavior that has been the focus of several major research studies and has demonstrated clinical- and cost-effectiveness for youth with complex emotional, social, and academic needs. 

Highlights of the Research Results

The first controlled study of MST with juvenile offenders was published in 1986, and since then, three randomized clinical trials with violent and chronic juvenile offenders have been conducted. In these trials, MST has demonstrated long-term reductions in criminal activity, drug-related arrests, violent offenses, and incarceration. This success has led to several randomized trials and quasi-experimental studies aimed at extending the effectiveness of MST to other populations of youth presenting serious clinical problems and their families.

Evaluations of MST have demonstrated:

  • reduced long-term rates of criminal offending in serious juvenile offenders,
  • reduced rates of out-of-home placements for serious juvenile offenders,
  • extensive improvements in family functioning,
  • decreased mental health problems for serious juvenile offenders,
  • favorable outcomes at cost savings in comparison with usual mental health and juvenile justice services.

Multisystemic Therapy Long-term Effectiveness

Summary of the Research Supporting These Findings

Following treatment, youth who received MST reported significantly less aggression with peers and less involvement in criminal activity than youth receiving usual services (Henggeler et al., 1992). Moreover, families receiving MST reported significantly more cohesion than non-MST families. Importantly, MST was equally effective with youth and families with divergent   socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

Follow-up studies with children and families two years after referral (Henggeler, Melton, Smith, Schoenwald, & Hanley, 1993) and four years after referral (Borduin et al., 1995) supported the long-term effectiveness of MST.  Despite its intensity, MST was a relatively inexpensive intervention, with the cost per client being about one-fifth the average cost of an institutional placement.

Another follow-up study (Schaeffer and Borduin, 2005) examined the long-term criminal activity of 176 youth who had participated in multisystemic therapy in a randomized clinical trial.  Outcomes from this study indicated significant reductions in arrests and days spent in out-of-home placement.


Borduin, C. M., Mann, B. J., Cone, L. T., Henggeler, S. W., Fucci, B. R., Blaske, D. M., & Williams, R. A. (1995). Multisystemic treatment of serious juvenile offenders: Long-term prevention of criminality and violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 569-578.

Henggeler, S. W., Melton, G. B., & Smith, L. A. (1992). Family preservation using multisystemic therapy: An effective alternative to incarcerating serious juvenile offenders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 953-961.

Henggeler, S. W., Melton, G. B., Smith, L. A. Schoenwald, S. K., & Hanley, J. H. (1993). Family preservation using multisystemic treatment: Long-term follow-up to a clinical trial with serious juvenile offenders. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2, 283-293.

Kazdin A. E., & Weisz, J. R. (1998). Identifying and developing empirically supported child and adolescent treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 19-36.

Schaeffer, C.M., & Borduin, C.M. (2005). Long-term follow-up to a randomized clinical trial of multisystemic therapy with serious and violent juvenile offenders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73 (3),445-453.


If you would like to read more about the research base for Multisystemic Therapy treatment, please go to for general information and for more in-depth coverage.

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