Family-Focused Therapy (FFT)

Family-focused therapy is an outpatient therapy for families where one person (child, teen, or young adult) has bipolar disorder or the early signs of bipolar disorder, and has been having trouble staying stable. It can also be used to treat kids with early signs of psychosis.  It was developed by David Miklowitz, Ph.D. and his colleagues at UCLA and is now practiced regularly in the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program (CHAMP). The therapy is usually 12 sessions long, spread over 4 months, and involves the child or young adult, parent(s), any siblings who are of age to benefit, and other caregivers (e.g., grandparents). It is usually given in conjunction with medication treatment by a psychiatrist, although taking medication is not necessarily a requirement for care.

FFT consists of psychoeducation (learning about the symptoms of mood disorder and how they wax and wane; what stress factors influence new episodes), why taking medication is important, what the early warning signs of a new mood episode look like, and what the child, family, and treatment team can do if early signs are present, to try to prevent the full development of a manic, depressive, or psychotic episode. Later sessions focus on practicing communication skills (e.g., how to listen actively, negotiate conflicts, put feelings into words, speak succinctly, and make diplomatic requests for changes in each other’s behaviors).  Finally, problem-solving rounds out the treatment as families learn steps to identify and define problems, generate and evaluate solutions, and develop a plan for implementing one or more solutions. 

FFT has a solid empirical record. It has been found to delay recurrences of bipolar disorder and speed up recoveries from episodes that have already occurred.  People who get FFT may have less severe symptoms between episodes, and better functioning than those who get comparison treatments.


For more information, please visit our website or call CHAMP central number: (310) 825-2836