How our Functional Family Therapy program helps at-risk kids

A father and son speak with a therapist.
UK HealthCare's Functional Family Therapy program helps at-risk youth overcome behavior problems, including substance use, through a whole-family approach. It is a concerted effort among members of the psychiatry department faculty and staff.

FFT works in conjunction with the SMART Clinic, which stands for “Supportive Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Treatment,” but accepts referrals from across UK HealthCare and other local institutions and organizations.


The SMART Clinic provides addiction and recovery treatment services, including but not limited to medication assistance, group therapy, individual therapy, trauma-focused therapies, and case management support—knowing that recovery is an incredibly vulnerable and difficult time for individuals. 

FFT is an approach that has grown internationally. 

“We started here about nine years ago in coordination with FFT Partners. That's a group currently based in Bloomington, Indiana, and they have programs all over the world,” said Jennifer Connor Godbey, a licensed clinical social worker and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky. “In Australia, Ireland, across the U.S., Canada, Hawaii. It’s pretty exciting to see all the different applications of FFT with different populations.” 

This strategy has been studied and used in various programs with juveniles who are at risk and struggle to live at home or who are dealing with abuse or neglect situations. In FFT, Connor Godbey notes they often see multiple members of a single family. 

“If you ask people what is most important to them in their lives, family is at the top of the list," Connor Godbey said. "Sometimes, we don't focus much on this level of intervention in mental health treatment, but it can be the most effective way of helping motivate and move people towards sobriety or recovery, as well as helping them get motivated to deal with other issues around anxiety, depression, having reasons to live, or deal with eating disorders and other issues affecting families.”

A whole-family approach

Engaging the whole family and making it about everybody reduces blame and negativity and helps adolescents to be more willing and open to engaging. Connor Godbey compares the work to a digital device network that’s been infiltrated by a virus. 

“We can't just fix one device. They're all connected, they're all interacting. The family or the system will keep getting the virus again. Parents tend to keep trying to do their best when their kid is struggling. But, when the family is the target of the intervention, they have an opportunity to directly see the impact they're having on the system and possibly be more aware of alternatives they could use to generate the desired effect.”

Real-time feedback aids the effort

FFT utilizes a clinical system that helps professionals like Connor Godbey receive real-time feedback about how a family is functioning, the problems they’re experiencing, and how much of a strain those problems are putting on the family unit. 

“We want to identify how each of them see the situation differently; how we can revisit what their common goals and values are. Then, we create a theme to help us work on moving together on those common goals. We identify where the problems and issues or behaviors each person has. Then, we start to identify how to practice self-awareness to stop doing the things that are making it worse and start practicing new skills to try instead.”

Strategies that work

Connor Godbey’s hope is that FFT provides an option for family members to get “un-stuck” from the vicious cycle they may be in. The clinic currently offers services to families with children, young adults, or adolescents aged 12 to 25. Individuals can call the clinic directly at 859-323-6021. 

“If they have questions, though, they can also talk to their psychiatrist here in our department or a therapist,” she notes. “Generally, folks who have participated have told us that this has given them hope, that each family member knows what to do — not just one person has the burden of trying to make things better.

“They know going forward how to get unstuck when they feel really overwhelmed or emotionally dysregulated and have in the past turned to substance abuse or other more destructive behaviors. Now, they have an alternative and know what to do instead.”

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

Topics in this Story

    Children-Mental Health