What is Multiple Impact Therapy?


Multiple impact therapy (MIT) is a group psychotherapy technique most often used with families in extreme crisis.

It was one of the first group therapy programmes developed in the United States. In multiple impact therapy (MIT), families are seen concurrently by a number of multi-disciplinary medical professionals. The duration of the therapy is short, typically ranging from one to two full treatment days.

The focus of treatment is to find and evaluate structural patterns within the family, evaluate those patterns to see if they are the source of the problem, then modify the structure to alleviate the problem.


MIT as a therapy technique was developed at the University of Texas Medical Branch in the 1950s. At the time, Texas had very few psychoanalysts and those that were available were unaffordable to most families. Because treatment was scarce, there were few specialised programmes for adolescents, many were admitted as patients to psychiatric hospitals. Beginning in 1957, parents began bringing their troubled kids to the University of Texas Medical Branch for treatment.

Dr. Robert MacGregor, the lead researcher of group psychotherapy at the University of Texas Medical Branch, began developing MIT by interviewing entire families together in a single session. MacGregor and his team established their main goal as highlighting and emphasizing the parent’s concern to the disturbed child. Between 1957 and 1958, the team saw 12 families as the procedures were being developed. The initial sessions showed that therapy with individual members, together with group sessions, produced the most effective results. The individual sessions gave members the opportunity to voice their personal resentments while the group sessions gave therapists the opportunity to repair poor communication between family members. The therapy’s short, intensive time frame was originally due to life constraints involving time and travel; however, researchers kept the structure because the momentum created in the two day meetings reduced the overall number of sessions needed for the family to improve.


MIT may be prescribed to families as a treatment option for a number of reasons: when conventional therapy fails to show results, as an alternative to hospitalisation, as a final course of action before hospitalisation, or for families who were already in group therapy but were seeing few results.

Treatment occurs in approximately seven steps over a two-day period.


Because many families participating in MIT are unfamiliar with the treatment and with psychotherapy, the planning phase informs the family about what is to be expected over the two days of treatment. Therapists use this time to review current information about the child and interview the community representative (or inpatient staff member) to gather personal details.


After the family arrives, the therapy team and family meet for an initial conference to establish why they are gathered there. Intergroup conflict may be high in this phase. Blaming, criticism and aggressive accusations are commonplace. Therapists typically look for signs of defective communication among the family members and make note for later meetings. At the end of this group meeting, each member meets with an individual therapist.

Pressurised Ventilation

In individual meetings with the parents, parents are under a high degree of stress from the full group meeting. Therapists specifically look for the hardships the parents have faced in dealing with their child’s delinquency.

Initial Interview with the Child

The brief initial interview with the child takes place to match family patterns with the child’s behaviour.

Multiple Therapist Situation

After the initial group meet and individual meetings, therapists meet with any member or any number of members together as they see fit. Notes and other data collected (some studies video recorded the group meetings) are used in this procedure to address behavioural patterns and breakdowns in communication. This phase takes up the majority of the first day.

Team-Family Conference

A final group meeting convenes at the end of day one. Family members face each other again for the first time since the initial meeting. The sharing of the revised attitudes the group have towards one another takes place. The shift from conflict in the initial interview to the improved attitudes in the final team conference leads to the creation of a climate of change among the group.

Second Day Procedures

The second day attempts to begin in the same climate that created in the first. Day one often illuminates many of the breakdowns the family has experienced while day two focuses on retention of improved attitudes and application to the family’s unique situation. On day two, logistical considerations are often discussed such as: should the child remain hospitalised, continue schooling, or consider a different method of treatment. A two-month and six month follow up appointment is typically scheduled.

Potential Positive and Negative Outcomes

The use of an interdisciplinary team allows the parents, the child and the group as a whole to be seen from multiple viewpoints and through the lens of professionals with different experience and expertise. A typical interdisciplinary team as used in Macgregor’s studies at the University of Texas consisted of a psychologist, an associate therapist, a social worker, a nurse, and a member of the family’s community or inpatient clinic, however, other researchers have used up to 9 therapists in a single session. By including the community or inpatient staff member in MIT, trust and respect with the child’s parents increases.

Fifty-five additional families were seen between 1958 and 1962 when MacGregor first published his findings on MIT. Within the fifty-five families, only seven were considered unsuccessful cases. Despite the apparent success of MIT, two major drawbacks, the relative efficiency of the programme and conflict between the interdisciplinary team, were noted.

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