Family Centered Treatment: Let’s Heal Together

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — August 17, 2021 — 4 min read
Caring for a child is tough.

Caring for a child with serious behavioral health (BH) challenges? For some, it can feel impossible.

“Many families lose hope. They’ve been given the message that nothing they do is right—that they’re the only ones who are struggling,” said Teri Herrmann, CEO of SPARC Services and Programs (SPARC).

Teri and her team at SPARC serve those with serious BH diagnoses. Their mission is to “keep people out of expensive institutional care.”

One service they offer is called Family Centered Treatment® (FCT). FCT clinicians work with the family of kids with BH challenges.

In this article, we’ll learn what FCT is all about. Teri and her team will also share how parents can use FCT principles on their own.

What Is Family Centered Treatment?

Family Centered Treatment is an evidence-based family therapy service. Across the U.S., FCT has kept thousands of children from entering foster care and institutions. Teri herself has witnessed the model’s success for nearly 20 years. But don’t just take her word for it.

Research shows that 9 in 10 families who complete FCT:
  • Stay together or reunite after out-of-home placement
  • Make measurable progress toward their treatment goals
  • Report that FCT improved their family life
For most families, FCT is life changing.

The Client Is Not the Child

“We’re looking at the client as the whole family,” said Megan Anderson, SPARC’s Operations and Clinical Director. “These kids have been through lots of services before, which means so have the parents. It takes a toll on not only the child but also the whole family—on their confidence level.”

Megan noted that many families feel like they’re being judged. The clinician’s job in FCT, she said, is to align themselves with the parents. They advocate for the caregivers as well as the child.

“We take the focus off the kid as ‘the problem,’” Megan said. Instead, the FCT clinician asks: “How as a whole family can we fix this together? How can we partner with you in that?”
Information & Resources

Learn more about our Child Program.

Family Centered Treatment Isn’t Cookie-Cutter Care

FCT has four distinct phases that the family works through at their own pace:
  • Joining and Assessment
  • Restructuring
  • Valuing Changes
  • Generalization
Each phase builds off the one before. And though families follow this “roadmap,” FCT isn’t one-size-fits-all.

“Each family has a unique vision for what they want their family to look like. The model allows us to support them in what’s important to them,” Teri said.

So, the family chooses their goals. The clinician helps them carve their path to the finish line.

Trauma Work Is Central in Family Centered Treatment

Many children referred to FCT have trauma—but often so do their parents.

“You might have a parent who experienced extensive childhood trauma themselves,” Megan said. In these cases, the parent will face a situation that triggers their trauma response. And that response can cause more conflict in the household.

That’s why FCT involves trauma work for both the kids and caregivers.

FCT clinicians help families “dig deeper.” Once family members acknowledge their trauma, they can begin healing.

“We’re also training the caregiver to take over that trauma work after treatment,” said Matt Hill, SPARC’s Director of Training and FCT Master Trainer.

Matt shared that some families keep up their trauma work years after completing FCT. Taking the work into their own hands, he said, “becomes even more healing to that person.”

Advice From FCT Clinicians

Maybe your child has been in and out of treatment. Maybe you’re involved with the Department of Social Services. Or maybe you’re struggling to just make it through each day.

But you can begin to make progress, even if you’re not in FCT. Below, we share FCT strategies to help families start their healing journey.

Take a Pause

When things get heated, Teri wants parents to “take a deep breath.” Then, they can use that moment to figure out why they’re reacting so strongly. Many times, the parent’s reaction comes from their own unresolved trauma. Self-reflection can keep conflicts from exploding.

Embrace the Wins (However Small)

“You’re going to hit a pothole at some point. But that doesn’t mean you fall off the cliff,” Megan said.

She urges parents to not let bad days feel like failures. Instead, parents should “celebrate small victories and small steps forward.”

Recognize the Cycle

“We’re all just trying to do a little bit better than our parents did with us,” Matt said. He wants parents to know that they’re not alone. “Your family’s not broken.”

He explained that family challenges often repeat themselves over generations: “It’s not an end and a start. It’s a cycle.”

Once parents recognize the cycle of conflict, they can be more proactive to break it.

Why FCT Is Different

Teri cherishes every family that comes into SPARC’s FCT program.

“The families referred to us aren’t having their best day. They’re not having their best week, best month, or even best year,” she said. “So, it’s been a privilege to walk alongside them and show up when the going gets tough.”

Unlike some other treatment models, FCT recognizes the family’s strengths. It builds upon them. And it values partnership and trust above all.

“To see families find hope and believe in themselves and create that change …”

Teri smiled.

“… It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
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