How MST Works

MST is a family-based treatment model that has similarities with other family therapy approaches. However, there are several important differences:


  • Changes Social Behavior
    MST places considerable attention on factors linked with antisocial behavior. For example, MST priorities include removing the kids from negative peer groups, enhancing performances in and out of school, and developing a support network for the family to maintain therapeutic gains.
  • Grants Access to Services & Removes Barriers
    MST programs have an extremely strong commitment to helping families access services and removing barriers that may exist.
  • Time-Intensive
    MST services are more intensive than traditional family therapies (e.g., several hours of treatment per week vs. 50 minutes).
  • Positive Long-Term Outcomes
    Most importantly, MST has well-documented long-term outcomes with adolescents presenting serious antisocial behavior and their families.
  • Helps Families Set and Fulfill Goals
    MST-trained clinical therapists will visit families in their homes two to three times each week for a service period of three to five months. Contact will average approximately 60 hours over a period of three to four months with the last 3 to 4 weeks showing a decreased rate of contact as families make more positive changes and grow more independent. A bio-psycho-social assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual, family, neighborhood/community, school and peers will be performed at the outset, with interventions being scientifically based, goal oriented and problem focused. Overarching goals are carried throughout the life of the case. Weekly goal setting, modifications and treatment planning are carried out in collaboration with the families.


  • Gives Individualized Attention to Each Family 
    The MST model specifies low caseloads of four to six families per clinical therapist, each of whom works together with the families to develop an enduring social support network in their own neighborhood. Services are tailored to take into account the context of the individual family’s value system, their beliefs and their cultures.
  • Flexible Schedules for Families
    Flexible schedules are set to accommodate family needs. In addition to regular MST clinical therapist visits, on-call services are available 24/7, addressing crisis needs as well as monitoring daily progress.

A unique feature of MST is its emphasis on constructing present-oriented systems of therapy and building responsible behavior rather than treating pathologies. Specific goals of the program include:

  • the improvement of parenting practices with training,
  • appropriate supervision of children,
  • age-appropriate expectations, choices and consequences, and
  • the importance of displaying affection and trust.

teachIn addition to improved parenting skills, building an enduring social support network within the family, neighborhood and community is essential. This includes moving children from association with negative to pro-social peers, creating opportunities for positive recreational activities, teaching youth how to find positive recreational activities and, as appropriate, helping them find after-school work.

The clinical team is responsible for teaching the family organizational skills and removing barriers to service accessibility, educational, medical, neighborhood and community services building hope and positive expectations while helping families develop networks that will remain in place and promote long-term maintenance of favorable changes.

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