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United Nations United Nations

Dr. Jose Szapocznik Provides Family-Based Treatment Workshops on behalf of U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime

Jose Szapocznik, Ph.D., chair emeritus and professor of public health sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has provided capacity-building workshops on family therapy to professionals throughout Latin America on behalf of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

Dr. Jose Szapocznik

Jose Szapocznik, Ph.D.

Widely known for his pioneering work in the field of family therapy, Dr. Szapocznik presented on the United Nations Family-based Treatment Training Package in Peru, Ecuador and Panama.

The UNFT was developed in 2018 after a technical consultation with experts, including Szapocznik, from around the world and is designed for practitioners in the health, social and criminal justice sectors who work with families and communities. The training is built on various scalable, evidence-based approaches to the treatment of substance use disorders and related behavioral challenges in adolescents.

Extolling Family Therapy

UNFT adopts a social systems approach and focuses on the foundational role of the family in child and adolescent development. Family therapy provides a safe framework in which to navigate family dynamics and address the relational interactions that are associated with adolescent substance use.

"Family therapy for treating troubled adolescents provides therapists with the tools to strengthen families, improve family collaboration, heighten family happiness (an under-appreciated value), reduce negativity among family members, and foster parental skills that will launch the youth toward a pro-social adulthood," Dr. Szapocznik said.

Family therapy has been recommended in the International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders developed by UNODC and the World Health Organization. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs Resolution 58/2 also encourages member states to provide evidence-based treatment and care for children and young people with substance use disorders.

Common elements of family therapy include positive reframing, perspective taking, relational questions, reduction of resistance and negativity, and reflective listening. Through the combination of all these different techniques, UNFT enables positive interactions with the family thereby resulting in improved family functioning and family communication.

Family therapies have been proven to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors associated with adolescent substance use, which in turn prevent crime and violence. The overall goal is to improve outcomes related to drug use and problematic behavior in youth, including youth that are at risk or in contact with the criminal justice system.

"Parents are often frustrated and hopeless by the time they bring their out-of-control adolescents to treatment," Dr. Szapocznik said. "I teach that the only leverage that parents have over their children is the love they have for each other. It is by eliciting love in families that teens are willing to collaborate with their parents, and that parents are willing to trade their anger and suspicion for nurturance and support."

UNFT's Core Principles

The UNFT was initially piloted in three regions in Asia. Since its inception, the UNFT training package has also been translated into Bahasa, French, Russian and Spanish. Additionally, the method will continue to be adapted to the cultural context of the countries that are participating in the program.

The core principles of UNFT can be applied in a variety of resource settings, including inpatient, outpatient, and social service settings. To improve access to effective treatment, the UNODC is primarily focused on providing drug treatment and rehabilitation services in developing countries.

Dr. Szapocznik developed Brief Strategic Family Therapy, which is one of a handful of evidence- and family-based approaches to the treatment of adolescent substance use. He is also the founding director of the Brief Strategic Family Therapy Institute at the Miller School of Medicine. He also co-founded the Florida Node Alliance of the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network, which is housed at the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

Written by Veronica Bustabad
Published on August 27, 2021