What is multidimensional family therapy?

Multidimensional Family Therapy is a comprehensive family and community-based therapy for adolescents with drug abuse problems. The model focuses on the relevant social and emotional needs at different stages in adolescent development.  It is designed to treat both addictive and antisocial behaviour.

The family is recognised as important to the adolescent’s social behaviour and recovery from drug abuse. However, as each individual’s behaviour and family situation varies widely, Multidimensional Family Therapy recommends flexible programs that can be tailored to the specific needs of both the adolescent and family.

Multidimensional Family Therapy looks at what is out of balance in the family relationships and works on ways to change to create a more harmonious relationship with more open dialogue.

The Multidimensional approach

A Multidimensional approach works within the family system, focussing on the experiences of the adolescent and the family and working towards a more balanced alliance. The therapy itself opens up space for everyone to be heard and both in and through this dialogue that each person can draw hope for the future – through hope-inspiring relationships and interchanges.

Adolescent problems such as drug abuse and antisocial behaviour each have multidimensional causal factors.  The term ‘multidimensional’ is used to indicate that many perspectives can contribute to the understanding of behaviour problems. These may include behavioural, emotional, biological, environmental, developmental or cognitive perspectives. The multidimensional treatment approach attempts to address the interconnected relationships between emotions, cognitive processes and behaviour.

The Family and Adolescent Change Therapy program at Arrow Health follows the Multidimensional Family Therapy approach. Therapists work individually with your family and your teen, as well as with the family as a whole to facilitate new relationships and positive change. There is a focus on addressing sources of ongoing influence such as school or juvenile justice systems to address current behaviour, and to provide new solutions for the adolescent.

What is the aim of Multidimensional Family Therapy? 

The overall aim of this therapy is to foster family relationships, and create a balanced alliance between family members, by providing education and encouraging healthy communication between the adolescent and the rest of the family.

The objectives for the adolescent are to transform from a drug-using lifestyle into a healthy lifestyle that meets the social and emotional needs for their age. This includes helping them to develop a stronger sense of self, positive peer relationships, and positive relationships with school and other prosocial institutions.

For you, as parents of adolescent addicts, the focus is on building commitment and trust, as well as improving your overall day-to-day relationship with one another. To do this, it’s important to learn how to set healthy boundaries, allow your son or daughter to develop their independence, and gain a deeper understanding of adolescent development.

Recognition as an effective treatment

Multidimensional Family Therapy has been recognised as an evidence-based drug abuse treatment for adolescents and their families.

Studies have shown that Multidimensional Family Therapy resulted in a significant reduction in the frequency and the severity of adolescent drug use, as well as a reduction in emotional distress and troubled behaviour twelve months after abstinence (Liddle et al., 2008; Liddle et al., 2009).

Multidimensional Family Therapy has been effective in some of the most severe cases of substance use disorders, including as part of supporting young addicts back into the community following time in jail due to substance abuse related crime.

When it comes to treating drug addiction, early intervention is best. This means talking with your teen about drugs and seeking treatment as soon as you discover that they may be using drugs.  The first step toward helping your adolescent is to create a trusting relationship with them. To find out more information about our Family and Adolescent Change Therapy program, call 03 9533 7888.


  • American Psychological Association (2018). Multidimensional Family Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310853.aspx?tab=2
  • Liddle, H.A., Dakof, G.A., Turner, R.M., Henderson, C.E., & Greenbaum, P.E. (2008). Treating adolescent drug abuse: A randomised trial comparing multidimensional family therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. Addiction, 113(9). doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02274.x
  • Liddle, H., Rowe, C., Dakof, G., Henderson, C. and Greenbaum, P. (2009). Multidimensional family therapy for young adolescent substance abuse: Twelve-month outcomes of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77(1), pp.12-25.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Behavioral Therapies Primarily for Adolescents. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-6