The Foundations of Eco-Systemic Structural Family Therapy 2017-2018

This is a skill-focused series designed for family based therapists in their first 12 to 18 months of training. It introduces the basic conceptual foundations of ESFT, highlights common structural patterns in families, and describes concrete skills associated with each of the six mechanisms of change that drive ESFT intervention. Instructors integrate relevant information from a variety of sources which may include readings from the treatment manual and relevant webinars from the online courses.  Self-assessment of personal strengths and challenges related to the specific skills given focus in each workshop is encouraged.

Each workshop is structured similarly.  They begin with a brief didactic where one ESFT concept or skill is introduced and a video is shown that demonstrates the concept or skill.  There are two clinical case presentations, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Although guidance is provided on how the teams might best conceptualize and treat the case, the primary focus of case discussions is on how the “theme of the day” is represented.  The case material is then used to create multiple role plays so that all participants have an opportunity to practice skills.  Everyone role plays.  

When therapists complete all workshops in the Foundations Series, they will be able to:  

  1. Discuss cases in a manner consistent with the strength-based goals, attitudes, and values embodied in FBMHS
  2. Discriminate between process and content in family interactions
  3. Identify family structure in the families they are treating
  4. Discuss (and write-up) cases using an ESFT conceptual framework.
  5. Recognize and reflect upon how their personal actions as therapists impacts family members and vice-versa

The Foundations series workshops are presented in their entirety at three of our training sites, with each series led and taught by faculty specific to that site.  All workshops start at 8:30 am and end at 3:30 pm, with a one-hour break for lunch.

NHS, Colmar, PA
Frani Pollack, MSW, Ph.D.  

Philhaven, Mt Gretna, PA
Michael W. Russell, MA
Marlene N. Reiff, LCSW/LMFT

Pennsylvania Counseling Services
Tara L. Byers, MS, NCC, LPC
Josh Irvine, MA, LPC

Foundations 1: Orienting Families to In-Home, Family-Based Treatment (6 CE)
Colmar: Thursday, 10/19/17
Philhaven: Friday, 10/6/17
PA Counseling Services: Thursday 10/5/17

This workshop is designed to help therapists develop a method for explaining the ESFT treatment approach to families.  One exercise involves practicing an “elevator speech” which describes the essence of the approach in a brief, simple way. Another component of orienting families to the model is the therapist’s use of relational language.  This workshop identifies important relational expressions all family-based therapists should use regularly in their conversations with family members. The importance of gaining meaningful informed consent is stressed, and how this is related to treatment buy-in.  This workshop also reviews basic principles and practices therapists should keep in mind when working in family homes.


As a result of participating in this workshop, therapists will be able to:  

  1. Describe the basics of the ESFT treatment approach, i.e. how it works
  2. Identify relational terms that can be used in questions and comments that underscores a systemic perspective
  3. Explain the link between “buy-in” and informed consent to treatment
  4. Identify personal challenges in learning and implementing family based treatment
  5. Develop and demonstrate an “elevator speech” that simply describes the model in a role play  
  6. Identify basic principles of home based treatment

Foundations 2: Establishing and Managing the Therapeutic Alliance (6 CE)
Colmar: Thursday, 11/16/17
Philhaven: Friday, 11/3/17
PA Counseling Services: Thursday 11/2/17

This workshop describes the nature of a “therapeutic” alliance as it relates to family treatment. This is one of the core mechanisms of change in ESFT.  Therapists are provided with a list of common clues that can alert them to a weak or a rupture in the alliance.  The concept of metacommunication is introduced and how it relates to identifying the quality of the alliance.  Videotape analysis is used to help therapists identify metacommunication and attune to clues about the strength of the alliance in interactions.  Strategies are provided and demonstrated for developing an alliance with children and caregivers living in fragile, multi-stressed families.  


As a result of participating in this workshop, therapists will be able to:  

  1. Identify the nature of a therapeutic alliance and how it differs from “creating rapport”
  2. Describe the role of metacommunication in creating a therapeutic alliance
  3. Identify clues to the strength or quality of the alliance with family members
  4. Describe basic principles for creating a therapeutic alliance with fragile, multi-stressed families
  5. Explain the link between the team alliance and the alliance with family members
  6. Identify personal strengths and challenges in creating and maintaining an alliance with both children and parents

Foundations 3: Using Motivational Interviewing Skills to  Engage from Reluctant Family Members (6 CE)
Colmar: Thursday, 12/21/17
Philhaven: Friday, 11/17/17
PA Counseling Services: Thursday 11/9/17

This workshop focuses on the challenge of engaging peripheral family members in family treatment.  One of the core mechanisms of change in ESFT is ensuring that all key family members have been identified and are engaged and participating in the change process.   The EcoMap is described as a tool for identifying important missing family members.  Common reasons that a caregiver may be reluctant to participate in treatment are identified, along with strategies for addressing each of these challenges.  This workshop introduces Motivational Interviewing strategies that have proved highly effective in engaging people ambivalent or reluctant to participate in treatment. These skills include empathy, open questions, affirmations, reflective listening and summarizing.  


As a result of participating in this workshop, therapists will be able to:  

  1. Explain why it is important that all key family members participate  
  2. Use an EcoMap to build an alliance an identify missing family members
  3. Identify common barriers to treatment for the peripheral caregiver
  4. Identify relational strategies for addressing barriers to engagement
  5. Describe and practice motivational interviewing strategies, such as open questions, affirmations and summarizing
  6. Assess personal strengths and challenges in conveying empathy