What Should You Know About Therapy Theories for the LCSW & MFT Exam?

By Bethany Vanderbilt on August 8, 2012

Black chess piecesOkay folks, this week we're turning to the topic of therapy theories.  This is one of the topics in which there's a pretty significant difference in the amount of information that you might need to know, and it all depends on your discipline.  MFT's, as I understand it, are tested on minute details of various therapy theories; they must know history, different schools within the same theory, etc.  LCSW's, on the other hand, in most cases need only  to know the major concepts of the theory and how they might apply to a clinical situation.  I'll apologize in advance to all the MFT's out there if this blog post doesn't go into enough depth for you -- hopefully it will still be useful! Okay, here's a sample test item:


All of the following intervention strategies are associated with Strategic Family Therapy EXCEPT:

A. Detriangulation

B. Restraining

C. Positioning

D. Paradoxical Directives

Strategic Therapy, in my humble opinion, is a BEAST.  There are 3 schools within this theory, and they have similarities, but there are some distinct differences, too.  Fair warning: I'm just going to go over the basics.  According to this theory, change occurs as the family learns new communication and interaction patterns.  The therapist's role is to provide directives that encourages these alterations -- it requires a very active stance.  The therapist begins by joining with the family and gaining an understanding of the family's current state of homeostasis and hierarchical structure.  The therapist then works with the family in a prescriptive and often manipulative way to change communication and interaction patterns, which then changes the family's overall functioning (homeostasis and hierarchy).  Some terms or concepts that you may want to know: family homeostasis, circular causality, feedback loops (both positive and negative), first order change, second order change, reframing, therapeutic paradox, prescribing the symptom, restraining. A big THANK YOU to Nicolle Osequeda, another member of the TDC team, who provided all of information above (and more -- we've got a great Quick Study sheet on Strategic Therapy).


The answer to the question above is A: detriangulation is a therapeutic intervention used in Bowenian family therapy (also referred to as Extended Family Systems Therapy or Bowen Family Systems Theory).  B, C, and D are all intervention techniques that are associated with Strategic Therapy.  Here's my trick to remembering some of them: when I think of strategy, I think of something active, something that requires doing, and a fair number of the interventions associated with Strategic Therapy are "-ing" words that imply movement or activity.

Coming up next week: Psychological Phenomena

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your social work or MFT exam? If you're preparing for a social work exam, check out our Social Work Study Materials. If you're preparing for an MFT exam, check out our MFT Study Materials. Learn more about our offerings at The Therapist Development Center.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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