My Blended Family is Imploding–Will Functional Family Therapy Help?

Posted February 25, 2013 by

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My family is imploding! We are in such a negative cycle that I am afraid we will never get out of it. My friend calls it “Big Toe Syndrome.” She explains it as the point you get to before a divorce where you have had it with your spouse — to the point that even if their big toe touches you in the bed, you want to cringe. Well, this is how all of the members of my family feel about one another. We do not do things together on the weekends and we do not even eat together as a family anymore. The kids all go off in their own rooms and isolate themselves from one another. When they do cross paths, it is, “Stop staring at me,” “Close your mouth when you chew!” or just arguing about nothing and constantly proving each other wrong.

Each child has individual therapy, and my husband and I have met with the therapist alone as well to discuss how to cope with all that is going on in our family. We are dealing with health issues with our 16-year-old and he is not compliant most of the time. He is also depressed and angry. The 13-year-old is on probation for scratching cars and recently was suspended from the bus for throwing something out the window and hitting a car. He is angry most of the time and very defiant and oppositional. He lies to us frequently and sometimes steals things from family members.

How will we get through this? I have to be optimistic and say we will, but I know we need help. I found out that my county offers several options for therapy, some through the Health Department, some through the Department of Social Services and some through other avenues. What I have learned is not to assume anything! I thought we had to be hooked up with some agency in order to access certain services, or have Medical Assistance. As it turns out, there is Functional Family Therapy in my county, and all you need is a pre-delinquent teen or a teen with behavior problems. Lucky for us, we have at least one of those. This is a grant-funded program and a social worker will come to the house for 3-4 months, once a week to work with our family. Families are told to continue individual therapies with their own therapists and they will focus on working with the family as a unit.

Functional Family Therapy, an evidence-based practice, is an empirically grounded, well-documented and highly successful family intervention program for youth. Target populations range from at-risk preadolescents to youth with very serious problems such as conduct disorder, violent acting-out and substance abuse. Intervention averages from eight to 12 one-hour sessions for mild cases and up to 30 sessions of direct service for more difficult situations, usually spread over a three month period. FFT also provides treatment to the younger siblings of referred adolescents.

I know better than to put all of my eggs in one basket, and I know there is no miracle cure for anything. Children also need to buy into what we are offering them.

One change I made before we started FFT: I decided to step out of this negative cycle and focus on the positive. It is so hard to see the positives when there are so many negatives, but I am determined to do it. The 13-year-old has not stolen anything in several weeks. The 16-year-old went to school this morning without arguing with me.  Usually I am focusing on the negative, (for example, the suspension last week from the bus), and I cannot even see things like the fact that the stealing has decreased. I’m starting to realize that if I can focus on one positive thing each day and praise the children as well, maybe it will be contagious.

Last night was our first session (we were on a waiting list for several months) and the therapist was awesome. It really was only an introductory session to get to know us a little bit, and all of the children survived. She asked each child what they thought about the family and my 16-year-old said, “We are all so incompatible, except for Mom and my stepdad.” To me, that was priceless. My husband’s first marriage was full of arguing. The reason my husband left his ex was because he did not want the children to think that was what a normal family was.

In spite of all the craziness, the children can say, without even realizing the deep meaning, that they are growing up in a home where mom and dad get along, work together and love one another, as well as the children.


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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