What is Multisystemic Therapy?


Multisystemic Therapy (MST)Based on evidence and proven to bring forth positive results, Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is a treatment program focused on helping improve the environments and other factors of violent and chronic juvenile offenders. This is an intense system targeting children ages 12 and 17 who are chronic offenders. The program utilizes the family and community around the children in order to provide effective change and improve the quality of the children’s lives.

Multisystemic Therapy is based one nine principles:

  • Fit – It is important to understand the problems of the child and how they are played out and “fit” with the current environment of the youth.
  • Positive Focus – MST is used to emphasize the child’s positives and strengths in order to make effective changes. This is used to help improve confidence and decrease frustration or anger issues.
  • Increase Responsibility – Children can have their confidence and self-esteem improved by having an increase in responsibility and decreasing the family’s irresponsible actions.
  • Focus on the Present, Act on Well-Defined Problems – MST focuses on the problems that are happening in the juvenile’s current life and act based on the immediate needs. You can define specific problems and take action, tracking the progress of the juvenile and the treatment.
  • Target Sequences – This treatment option targets behavior sequences, as well as elements that interact with the juvenile’s life such as teachers, family, peers, school, home, and community.
  • Appropriate Development – All programs should be made appropriate for the age and developmental needs of the juvenile. This is to help the child get along with peers and focus on their vocational and academic skills to promote positive change.
  • Continuous Effort – The program should not stop after one instance. Any type of intervention requires daily or weekly effort from family and friends to help with fine-tuning and evaluations of the progress.
  • Evaluation and Accountability – MST evaluates the progress of the juvenile. The members of the team are held accountable to overcome any obstacles in the way of a positive change and avoids putting blame on the family.
  • Generalization – Caregivers are given the ability to help with the needs of the family post-intervention. This is the key to success over the long-term.

How it Works

Most juvenile offender treatment models require the youth to go into an office and speak with a therapist in that setting. With MST, the therapist goes to the youth in order to observe the home, interactions with peers, the school he or she attends, and the community around the child. There is evidence showing that the community, family, and friends surrounding a child can contribute to the anti-social activities and criminal offenses.

MST therapists don’t just operate during business hours. They are on-call 24 hours a day and will often make visits multiple times a week if needed. This is to help improve the parenting skills of caregivers, work on family relationships, improve the friendships of the youth to prevent hanging out with other offenders, and help with educational and after school activities. The MST therapist and family of the youth work together to build the most effective treatment plan.


According to the MSTServices.com, this system has proven effective. By keeping kids in their home and in school, out-of-home placement was reduced by up to 50%. Improving family relations and keeping the youth out of trouble has helped reduced re-arrest rates by up to 70%. It has also decreased drug and alcohol use, and psychiatric symptoms.

At Koffel Brininger Nesbitt, our Columbus juvenile crime attorneys can help youth who have been charged with various offenses. Contact our firm today to learn how we may be able to help you.