History of FST

From Here to There: A Map of Our Journey

We began in 2001, but our story begins before that.


As a PhD graduate, Scott Sells partners with Jay Haley, the founder of strategic family therapy, and Dr. Neil Schiff to conduct a grounded theory research study or intensive video tape analysis of Haley and Schiff’s most challenging adolescent and family cases.


Research study results in first book entitled: Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Step-by-Step Family-Based Guide (Guilford Press, 1998).


Dr. Sells is a professor at Savannah State University, Savannah Georgia and works with social work students, community leaders, and juvenile justice to use tools in the book to impact inner-city youth and increase parent involvement. A RCT (randomized clinical trial) study is conducted to measure impact.


Dr. Sells publishes second book that is written for parents of out-of-control or oppositional defiant children and adolescents entitled: Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love (St. Martin’s Press, 2001). He establishes Parenting with Love and Limits® (PLL) an evidence-based family systems treatment model.


Dr. Sells, after much prayer, leaves academia to work full time as the CEO of Parenting with Love and Limits® (PLL) and partners with researchers to evaluate PLL outcome effectiveness.


PLL begins to partner with both juvenile justice and child welfare agencies and therapists to achieve better outcomes in areas of trauma, mental illness, and delinquency. The PLL model begins to achieve national recognition for its outcomes in increasing parent involvement in the child’s treatment.


Dr. Sells starts to see in the outcome studies that a percentage of youth are relapsing even after the family unit and hierarchy is stabilized. After interviews, he and his colleague, Ellen Souder, discover that there still exists unhealed trauma that fuels relapse. Dr. Sells and Ellen begin research on a family systems trauma component within the PLL model. PLL is first listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs.


PLL is first listed on California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) evidence-based models and the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention (OJJDP) Model Programs.


Both qualitative ground theory and quantitative research continues to reveal the tools and timing of steps to heal the traumatized family. Traumatized children and parents are intensely interviewed using what are called ethnographic methods and videos of sessions analyzed to determine key moments of change. The first pages of what will become the Traumatized Child book eight years later are written.


The PLL team coins the term “interactional trauma” or sees that ongoing drama or conflict between parent and child prevents the identified traumatic event(s) from healing and that the conflict must first be stabilized before active trauma work can begin in earnest.


PLL continues to test out and refine the trauma strategies and names the model PLL- FST (family systems trauma). We coin the term “wound playbooks” which are key strategic directives or techniques used by the PLL-FST therapist to help the traumatized child and family heal trauma in the here and now.


One of the first quasi-experimental studies published on how to work effectively with high risk juveniles returning from residential treatment and back into the community. FST trauma model principles are used to impact change.


Research evidence is re-reviewed by both SAMHSA and CEBC and PLL is again listed on these registries. Two more large scale quasi-experimental studies are published. One study with (SED) severely emotionally disturbed children and adolescents and the other with high risk juveniles.


Treating the Traumatized Child: A Step-by-Step Family Systems Approach (Springer, 2017) is published by Sells and Souder together in December after 8 long years of work.