Multisystemic Therapy helps teen beat drug abuse
Grace is a 15-year-old who was referred to Multisystemic Therapy (MST) after her truancy led to a Family With Service Needs (FWSN) petition. An FWSN petition allows the state of Connecticut to address the needs of children younger than 16 who have committed what’s considered unlawful behavior. MST was the program of choice because of its proven effectiveness with teen drug abuse and delinquent youth.
Grace had totally skipped the alternative-education program she was placed in after being expelled from her regular school for drinking with friends. She also had been smoking marijuana for several years. On top of that, she would disappear for days at a time, had screaming fights with her mother, and was meeting up with older men.
Early in the course of her MST treatment, Grace’s probation officer became concerned about her safety. The officer suggested a residential placement for her, but Jessica, the MST supervisor, disagreed. She advocated for giving MST more time with Grace. Jessica took advantage of the positive working relationship between the MST team and the probation office to successfully avoid placement.
Building a strong bond with the family is crucial to MST’s success. The MST therapist, Matt, did just that. He worked with Grace and her mother to reduce the arguments that typically exploded and led to the girl leaving the house. At home, Grace was less likely to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. With the help of Matt and Grace’s aunt and uncle, the mother worked to increase her monitoring skills to stop Grace from leaving the house without permission, which eliminated her hanging out with older men.
Grace had one instance during the treatment when she took several of her mother’s pain pills. The girl said she wanted to get high, but Matt and his team were concerned about signs of depression. In addition to a change in her medication, a safety plan was set up that included her aunt and uncle helping out. Matt assisted family members in identifying changes in Grace's mood that indicated that she would need additional support. Her mood stabilized over the course of treatment, and her depressive symptoms decreased.
Grace’s mother enrolled her daughter in an educational program and took steps to ensure that the girl attended daily. By the end of treatment, Grace was back in regular high school with perfect attendance.
Matt, Grace, and her mother took steps to maintain Grace’s sobriety over the course of treatment. He taught the mother how to make a consistent practice of collecting drug tests. She learned more about the telltale signs that Grace was abusing drugs, and Grace identified some of the things that contributed to her drug abuse. Matt, Grace, and her mother planned family strategies to avoid places where drugs were offered. Grace joined the church choir and volunteered at the Salvation Army, which expanded her positive peer group. Her mother established rewards and consequences that were based on drug-test results. Grace did not test for illegal substances for the last two months of her MST treatment, and the family had a clear plan to maintain her sobriety after MST ended.
Mike Williams is vice president of programs and Shani Alexander is an MST expert for Advanced Behavioral Health