Addiction almost never affects only the addicted person. Those close to them can be deeply impacted as well. This can include a spouse or life partner, children, parents and siblings, coworkers or classmates, and close friends. As the addiction progresses, these relationships begin to crumble, until they eventually fall apart.
The Goal Of Family Therapy
Family therapy provides a way to start the process of healing the relationships that can be healed, and letting go of those that can’t. The process generally includes family members who live with you, and close friends and family members who are a significant part of your life.
The goal is to support not only the person with the addiction, but those in their inner circle who are feeling hurt, overwhelmed, afraid, angry, or sad. Families can also learn how to work as a unified team as they deal with challenges like bereavement, job loss, spousal separation, trauma, and other stressful life events.
In an addiction rehab setting, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that family therapy is a case of the family vs the addict, but this is not the case. The goal is not for the addicted person to do all of the work of making changes while family members talk about how the addiction has impacted them. The goal is for all participants to be actively committed to the process of growing as individuals and as a family. The addicted person should never feel as if they are being attacked or ganged up on.
It should also be noted that not all relationships can or should be saved. For example, if the addiction stemmed from domestic abuse, it would not be beneficial for the recovering addict to return to that abusive relationship. Instead, they should be supported through the process of letting that relationship go and establishing a new life in a safe environment.
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How Family Therapy Works
Over the course of counseling, the therapist may meet with different configurations of the group. There will be sessions that include everyone, and there are also likely to be sessions for specific members of the group. There may even be times when the therapist feels that talking to just one person would be beneficial.
The therapeutic goals and processes vary widely from one family to the next. Some things the therapist may help the family explore include the following:
- What each participant hopes to accomplish in therapy, and in life
- How to communicate without blame, anger or manipulation
- Ways in which words can affect people
- The idea of listening not in order to react, but in order to understand
- How to make compromises and resolve conflicts
- How to support vulnerable family members, such as children
- Ways in which loved ones can support the addict without enabling them, once the inpatient addiction treatment program is over
- Ways in which the loved ones can themselves be supported when they feel vulnerable
- How family members can work as a team to overcome obstacles
- How relationships and living arrangements will change when the addict leaves rehab
Through this process, the recovering addict and their family members learn how to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts and work together to deal with challenges.
Should Participants Continue To See Their Own Therapists?
Something that families and their therapist may have to work through is how the therapeutic process will work if any one of the participants is also receiving individual therapy services.
In the case of the addict, family therapy is an integrated part of an overall treatment plan, but other family members may need to evaluate whether it will be beneficial to pause their individual therapy or continue with it. This is a discussion that should be made together with both the family therapist and the individual therapist.
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Is Family Therapy Always Part Of Addiction Treatment?
There are no hard and fast rules as to what forms part of an addiction treatment program. For the majority of our clients, family therapy is a productive, positive process that contributes to recovery and sets the family up for long-term success. But this is not always the case.
As an addiction treatment provider, our number one responsibility is to provide a treatment plan that is in the best interests of the client. Sometimes the family is not willing to participate in the process, and sometimes their participation may stand in the way of the client’s recovery efforts.
If families are unable to attend therapy sessions due to distance and other logistical constraints, virtual options may be explored.
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