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The Family Empowerment Program: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Working with Multi-Stressed Urban Families


  • Authors are noted alphabetically to reflect equal authorship.
  • The authors would like to acknowledge the families served by the Institute for Community Living whose strengths and resiliency are continually inspiring. Further, we'd like to thank ICL's leadership at all levels, most significantly the agency President & CEO, Dr. Peter C. Campanelli, and Chief Operating Officer Stella V. Pappas, as well as the Clinic Director where this program was sited, Raymond Alberts, for their ongoing leadership and support for this project and their overall dedication to creating an environment wherein best practice work can flourish.

Correspondence concerning this article should be address to Elizabeth N. Cleek, Institute for Community Living, Inc., 40 Rector St., 8th floor, New York, NY. E-mail:


The family empowerment program (FEP) is a multi-systemic family therapy program that partners multi-stressed families with an interdisciplinary resource team while remaining attached to a “traditional” mental health clinic. The rationale for this model is that far too often, families presenting at community mental health centers struggle with multiple psychosocial forces, for example problems with housing, domestic violence, child care, entitlements, racism, substance abuse, and foster care, as well as chronic medical and psychiatric illnesses, that exacerbate symptoms and impact traditional service delivery and access to effective treatment. Thus, families often experience fragmented care and are involved with multiple systems with contradictory and competing agendas. As a result, services frequently fail to harness the family's inherent strengths. The FEP partners the family with a unified team that includes representatives from Entitlements Services, Family Support and Parent Advocacy, and Clinical Staff from the agency's Outpatient Mental Health Clinic practicing from a strength-based family therapy perspective. The goal of the FEP is to support the family in achieving their goals. This is accomplished through co-construction of a service plan that addresses the family's needs in an efficient and coherent manner—emphasizing family strengths and competencies and supporting family self-sufficiency.




El programa de empoderamiento familiar (PEF) es un programa de terapia familiar multisistémica que asocia a las familias multiestresadas con un equipo de recursos interdisciplinarios mientras continúan ligadas a una clínica de salud mental “tradicional”. El fundamento de este modelo es que muy a menudo, las familias que se presentan en los centros comunitarios de salud mental luchan con múltiples fuerzas psicosociales, por ejemplo, problemas con la vivienda, violencia doméstica, cuidado de los niños, ayuda social, racismo, abuso de sustancias y hogares de tránsito, así como con enfermedades médicas y psiquiátricas crónicas, lo cual exacerba los síntomas y repercute en la prestación de servicios tradicionales y en el acceso a tratamientos eficaces. Por lo tanto, muchas veces las familias reciben una atención fragmentada y participan en numerosos sistemas con agendas contradictorias y opuestas. En consecuencia, a menudo los servicios no aprovechan los puntos fuertes inherentes a las familias. El programa de empoderamiento familiar (PEF) asocia a la familia con un equipo unificado integrado por representantes de servicios de ayuda social, apoyo para la familia y asesoría a los padres, y personal clínico de la clínica de salud mental ambulatoria de la agencia que prestan servicios desde el punto de vista de la terapia familiar basada en los puntos fuertes. El objetivo del PEF es apoyar a la familia para que cumpla sus objetivos. Esto se logra mediante la co-construcción de un plan de servicios que aborde las necesidades de la familia de una manera eficaz y coherente, haciendo hincapié en los puntos fuertes y las competencias de la familia y apoyando su autosuficiencia.