Multi-Family Group in DBT

If you are looking into DBT for your teenager, you may have read about something called Multi-Family Group (sometimes written as Multifamily Group), or MFG for short. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Adolescents (DBT-A), Multi-Family Group is one of the four modes of treatment that together make up “comprehensive,” or full, DBT – the other three being individual therapy (which teens attend weekly in addition to the weekly group), phone coaching (read more about what that is here!), and the clinician consultation team (something that is essential to DBT, but does not involve client participation).

MFG is not what people often think of when they picture group therapy in their minds or what we tend to see on TV. Similarly to DBT for adults, who also attend a group as part of comprehensive DBT, MFG is instead more of a class format. In the MFG “class,” therapists teach the various acronyms and vocab terms of DBT skills. Every week there are small homework assignments, which should not take up extensive time to complete, and are really there to help people practice the DBT skills they learn during MFG in their day-to-day lives. There is a little bit of sharing expected from group members, mostly centered around the practice of skills learned in the prior week’s group, with very minimal discussion or processing of the specific details of group members’ lives.

In MFG, therapists lead the “class” through five units, or modules, of skills: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Walking the Middle Path. Them modules together target various areas of one’s life, including:

  • Reducing confusion about self-image
  • Building and improving focus and awareness
  • Reducing impulsivity and increasing tolerance to stressful situations
  • Reducing conflict in relationships and increasing communication skills
  • Reducing family conflict and increasing flexible thinking

Now let’s talk about what we mean by “Multi-Family.” As opposed to adult DBT groups where family members are not present, in MFG at least one parent or guardian is required to participate with each teen. Because there will be a few sets of teens and parents in each group, we use the phrase “Multi-Family” to represent that there will be multiple families present in the “class.”

Parent participation is extremely important to the process, with MFG being the group format recommended by Dr. Jill Rathus and Dr. Alec Miller, the authors of the DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. Research indicates that teaching adolescents and their parents the same skills can elicit powerful change. Parents will be learning and practicing the skills alongside their teen, and thus be better able to support them as they apply DBT strategies to their daily lives. Not only does parent participation allow for parents to learn the language of DBT to be on the same page as their kids – it would be very confusing if your teen came home talking about doing TIPP, ACCEPTS, opposite action, and practicing a dialectical stance if you had no idea what those acronyms and phrases meant! – but it also allows parents to learn skills for their own use managing difficult emotions and in interactions with their teen. After all, DBT skills are really life skills for anyone, not just people with “problems,” and few of us are taught these life skills growing up.

Learn more about DBT by clicking on this video!

Hopefully this helps you better understand how Multi-Family Group works within comprehensive DBT for Adolescents (DBT-A). If you have any questions, or are interested in learning more about having your family join an upcoming MFG at the DBT Center of Orange County, give us a call at 949-480-7767 and we would be more than happy to provide more information about our services.

Written by,  Kevin Rowen, PsyD

PhotoCredit: Alexis Brown @alexisrbrown

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