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Functional Family Therapy - Case Study

The Case Study

A mother and daughter were referred to FFT. The family had been through a very turbulent few years with the father of the girl having recently been sent to prison.  The mother was suffering from an emotional disorder, depression and anxiety. 

After the father went to prison, the mother-daughter relationship broke down. The family was referred to social services and then onto FFT because of the daughter’s physical attacks on her mother; her damaging property; personal insults and poor attendance at school. 

The mother was in a fragile emotional state and often focused inwards due to her own problems. In tandem, the daughter’s emotional literacy skills were low. This caused her to be dismissive of her mother’s condition and cruel in some of their arguments. The FFT therapist had to balance these two emotional positions, supporting the mother while trying to keep the dismissive daughter invested in the therapy.    

To achieve this, the FFT therapist initiated a staged communication improvement process with the family. 


  • The first process was to practice assertive communication, learning to express their feelings, and talking about the reason for arguments when they did occur. 

  • Secondly, mother and daughter practiced calming techniques together. These included relaxation and simple strategies such as introducing timeouts and debriefing conversations. Previously, after an argument the daughter would leave the house and only return the next day, leaving no opportunity to repair relations. 

  • Finally, the therapist built on the previous two steps by working on validation communication skills. This involved building a greater sense of understanding and appreciation of other’s feelings and emotions through activities such as active listening, paraphrasing and by providing positive feedback.  


This produced a significant change in the mother-daughter relationship. Both began asking questions, listening, thinking about and checking in on each other’s emotional state. The daughter’s behaviour improved and she was also able to improve her relationships with peers and an older sibling. Further, she has improved school attendance, and now plays sport at a high level for school and for local clubs.

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