Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT)

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Scientific Rating:
Promising Research Evidence
See scale of 1-5
Child Welfare System Relevance Level:
See descriptions of 3 levels

About This Program

The information in this program outline is provided by the program representative and edited by the CEBC staff. Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT) has been rated by the CEBC in the areas of: Interventions for Abusive Behavior and Trauma Treatment - Client-Level Interventions (Child & Adolescent).

Target Population: Caregivers who are emotionally or physically aggressive or abusive with their children, children who experience behavioral dysfunction, especially aggression, or trauma-related symptoms secondary to their as exposure to physical discipline/abuse, and high conflict families who are at-risk for these problems.

For children/adolescents ages: 5 – 17

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 5 – 17

Brief Description

Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (originally named Abuse-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) is designed for families who are referred for problems related to the management of anger and/or aggression, which include several behaviors on a continuum reflecting the use of coercion and/or physical force. Specifically, AF-CBT seeks to improve the relationships between children and their parents/caregivers who experience any of the following clinical concerns:

  • Anger and verbal aggression, including emotional abuse
  • Ongoing family conflict
  • Child behavior problems, including physical aggression
  • Threats or use of harsh/punitive/ineffective physical discipline or punishment 
  • Child physical abuse

Any and all of these patterns may be demonstrated by an individual caregiver or a child/adolescent, but they also may characterize the interactions of the family. Accordingly, AF-CBT targets individual caregiver and child characteristics, as well as the larger family context.

AF-CBT is a treatment based on principles derived from learning and behavioral theory, family systems, cognitive therapy, developmental victimology, and the psychology of aggression.

Program Goals:

The goals of Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT) are to:

  • Improve caregiver-child relationships.
  • Strengthen healthy parenting practices.
  • Enhance children’s coping and social skills.
  • Maintain family safety.
  • Reduce coercive processes (anger, verbal aggression, threats of force, emotional abuse) by caregivers and other family members.
  • Reduce use of physical force (aggressive behavior) by caregivers, child and, if relevant, other family members.
  • Reduce child physical abuse risk or recidivism (prevention of child welfare system involvement or repeated reports/allegations).
  • Improve child safety/welfare and family functioning.

Contact Information

David J. Kolko, PhD, ABPP
Agency/Affiliation: University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine
Phone: (412) 246-5888
Fax: (412) 246-5341
Elissa J. Brown, PhD
Agency/Affiliation: St. John’s University,
Department: Dept. of Psychology
Phone: (718) 990-2355
Fax: (718) 990-1586

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: December 2015

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: February 2015

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: May 2006