Multi-Systematic Therapy (MST)

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an intensive family- and community-based treatment program that focuses on addressing all environmental systems that impact chronic and violent juvenile offenders -- their homes and families, schools and teachers, neighborhoods and friends. MST recognizes that each system plays a critical role in a youth's world and each system requires attention when effective change is needed to improve the quality of life for youth and their families. MST works with the toughest offenders ages 12 through 17 who have a very long history of arrests.

  • MST clinicians go to where the child is and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • They work intensively with parents and caregivers to put them in control
  • The therapist works with the caregivers to keep the adolescent focused on school and gaining job skills
  • The therapist and caregivers introduce the youth to sports and recreational activities as an alternative to hanging out

MST is based on evidence

This means it has been proven to work and produce positive results with the toughest kids. It blends the best clinical treatments—cognitive behavioral therapy, behavior management training, family therapies and community psychology to reach this population.    

After 30 years of research and 18 studies, MST repeatedly has been shown to:

  • Keep kids in their home, reducing out-of-home placements up to 50 percent
  • Keep kids in school
  • Keep kids out of trouble, reducing re-arrest rates up to 70 percent
  • Improve family relations and functioning
  • Decrease adolescent psychiatric symptoms
  • Decrease adolescent drug and alcohol use

MST model

The goal of MST is to break the cycle of anti-social behaviours by keeping young people safely at home, in school, and out of trouble. MST works to increase the skills and resources of the parents and carers to manage their young person’s behaviours more effectively.

MST therapists go to where the young person lives and attends school. This is because there is overwhelming evidence that all the components in a young person's life - family, friends, school and neighbourhood - contribute to serious anti-social behaviour. 

MST therapists work intensively with families, meeting with the family and other people in the young person’s life several times a week. MST teams are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Such an intensive service is possible because therapists work with a limited number of families at any given time.

Visiting the family in their home and community increases the likelihood that they will successfully engage in MST because appointments are arranged at convenient times and locations making it easier for them to attend.

Therapists receive a high level of training and supervision and use approaches, such as behavioural therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and structured family therapy to work with young people and their families.

In the home and the community

MST works with families and other agencies, such as social work teams and Youth Offending Services, to safely keep young people with their families and in the community. Placing young people out of home in custody or care is usually not effective in reducing their offending or problem behaviour and MST works to prevent this happening where possible by strengthening parents’ skills in keeping their child out of trouble and working to change young people’s behaviour.

MST interventions work to:

  • increase parents or carers  skills and confidence
  • improve family relationships;
  • enable  young people to have  positive friendships
  • increase young people’s involvement with education and/or training;
  • help young people participate in positive  activities, such as sports or after school clubs;
  • create a support network of extended family, neighbours and friends to help the parents and carers maintain the changes.

Family members collaborate with MST therapists in designing a treatment plan over 3 to 5 months. The plan make sense to the family and builds on the strengths in their lives, which makes it more likely the family will be successful in the future and that any changes made are maintained.  

Numerous research studies have proven that the MST approach achieves excellent, long-term results for young people and families. For more information about this research, please visit the MST outcomes section of the website.