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It is common for families to feel overwhelmed by the idea of family therapy. If their loved one gets better, the familiar dynamic will change as the dysfunctional family system begins to rebalance itself. It’s common for families to make excuses, complaints, and objections to getting help because of the fear of change. Often, they have a preconceived notion that their loved one will resist and wish to avoid stirring the pot.
In this blog, we will be looking at the following:
- What is family therapy?
- What is family-based therapy for substance abuse?
- Why is family therapy effective for addiction?
- What is the primary goal of family therapy?
- What is an example of family therapy?
- How to set up family therapy
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is also known as family systems therapy. Family therapy is often called family counseling and often includes marriage & family therapy and behavioral couples therapy (BCT).
A goal of family systems therapy is to try and understand the substance user. It addresses the family of origin and the current family roles compromising the recovery efforts of the substance user. Family systems therapy believes that:
- The addiction serves a purpose for the family
- The addiction goes unaddressed as it benefits the newly formed dysfunctional family roles and processes
- The family knows no other way to live other than with the addiction
- That family of origin and learned dysfunctional behaviors passed on from generation to generation
Family therapy and intervention preparation help families understand the why of their behaviors. There is more to the story when families avoid finding help for a loved one and continue to enable their behavior.
Many family members fear that asking for help means losing their role of being needed by the substance user. Holding off on receiving professional help can also mask the fear of helplessness. If a family does an intervention and it works after years of waiting, what does that say? It can hurt to discover that our ways of handling a loved one’s addiction did more harm than good.
Taking that first leap of faith toward professional help can feel like losing control, but it’s necessary to grow awareness of the gravity of the situation.
What is Family-Based Therapy for Substance Abuse?
Family therapy looks at many aspects of the family and how the family can affect the substance user. The family dynamic of a substance user can be broken down into four pieces:
- The individual family member and their role
- The relationship between other family members in relation to the role
- What purpose each role serves the family member
- How it impacts the entire family and the substance user
A family therapist also considers other factors of a family dynamic, including:
- The power and control they have
- How they align with or detach from one another
- How they develop
- Family structure
- Beliefs and culture
A common form of family therapy used to address these areas is called the multi-layered process of family therapy. The clinician can use many different family therapy strategies in this strategy and consider four movements.
The movements consist of:
- Forming a relationship with the client
- Conducting an assessment and genogram
- Hypothesizing and sharing meaning from the information gained in the assessment and genogram
- Facilitating change
(Corey, G., 2017. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy).
A genogram shows family relationships, medical history, generational behavioral patterns, and psychological considerations. When a genogram is performed with the substance user and the family members, it can often help identify patterns of behavior from past and present generations that may contribute to the current behaviors of both family members and the substance user.
Identifying these patterns can help the substance user and the family see the behaviors affecting both sides and allow them to make the necessary adjustments to change or stop the generational dysfunction.
Although identifying the hereditary patterns will not immediately fix the current situation, it can significantly impact how each person is affected, how they move forward, and how the next generation of the family will learn and behave.
Why is Family Therapy Effective for Addiction?
Family therapy is effective for addiction because it addresses the whole broken family system. How often has it been said that the addiction is not the family’s fault? While it may be true that the family did not intentionally or maliciously cause the addiction, they can still play a more significant role in the problem than the solution.
Some contributing factors that can hinder the substance user include:
- Family roles that form
- Generational dysfunction
- Ego, pride, and fear of change
When family therapy is implemented into an addict or alcoholics recovery program, it can significantly impact the overall outcomes. Improvement in family dysfunction can also increase the likelihood of the substance user’s recovery.
Much of addiction is the substance user acting out the family’s untreated guilt and shame. Addicts and alcoholics use substances for many different reasons. One of those reasons is to cause harm to the people around them because they feel their family has caused them the pain they are experiencing. Whether or not it is entirely accurate, it is often how the addict or alcoholic feels, and if the substance user chooses not to enter recovery, the family still can.
Family therapy informs families of substance users that treating addiction is not about learning how to control, change, or fix the substance user; it is about the family understanding they only have control of themselves. The family’s intentional changes can impact the addict or alcoholic’s choice to change their behavior and enter a recovery program.
What is the Primary Goal of Family Therapy?
Family therapy for substance use helps the user and their family recover from the negative impact of addiction. There are several therapeutic intervention strategies that interventionists and clinicians can choose from depending on the dynamics of the situation.
Some of the most effective strategies entail helping families understand their role in the family system and why they act and behave the way they do.
Interventions and family therapy exist to help a family understand they cannot control the substance user directly and must let go of believing they can.
Understanding the formation of dysfunctional family roles can provide new insight and a change in perspective for the family.
Family therapy helps each family member identify which role they have acquired, why they have acquired it, and how the role works against other family members and the substance user. Following this, the family can begin to make strives toward positive change.
What is an Example of Family Therapy?
There are two common approaches to family therapy, individual and systemic. The individual therapist looks at the individual, and the systemic therapist looks outside of the individual at the family system.
For example, an individual therapist treating addiction focuses on developing a treatment and discharge plan for their client with little consideration for the family’s role in the problem. This common practice is a problem in today’s treatment curriculums. Therapists must consider family dynamics because the family often has more detail and insight than the substance user is willing to discuss or disclose.
A systemic approach to therapy treats the substance user individually and considers the family’s role in the problem. This includes input from the family and consideration of the family dysfunction that could compromise the substance user’s recovery efforts.
With systemic therapy, the treatment is a much broader approach and considers other factors that might have contributed to the addiction and kept the situation from improving.
How to Set up Family Therapy
Setting up family therapy involves looking at what your needs are. Marriage and family therapists are often able to help with family therapy needs. Suppose you are seeking family therapy as the result of addiction. Choosing a therapist who is well-versed in addiction is vital, with supplemental licensure in addiction being a plus.
If you are looking for a treatment center for a loved one or they are exploring options, be sure to ask the center if they have a family program. If they do not, it might be helpful to continue your search for centers that do.
For facilities with a family program, ask the questions you need answers to, such as what the curriculum is, how often the program is, etc. Many clinicians can help family members with individual therapy. Likewise, consider finding a therapist who takes the systemic approach to addiction.
Family First Intervention’s Family Recovery Coaching Program
Family First Intervention has the most extensive Family Recovery Coaching program available for families and substance users.
Many interventionists and intervention companies try to offer similar programming, and many cannot provide a complete program. Some family programs provide advice as needed, while others offer a long-term program that is nothing more than monitoring your Al-Anon experience.
Family First Intervention has built its S.A.F.E™ (Self Awareness Family Education) Family Recovery Coaching program based on a missing piece of many treatment centers. While intervention centers often take an individual counseling approach, we take a systematic approach.
When the intervention is over, we work with the family for an extended period while monitoring the substance user’s progress or lack thereof in treatment. We have weekly calls with the substance user’s treatment team while meeting weekly with the family. This process allows us to draw discrepancies between what the center sees and what the family reports.
We also encourage families to seek individually licensed therapists in their areas and to attend self-help groups such as Al-Anon, ACOA, and Open Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.
Many centers treat the client and discharge them home with the mentality that everyone is good and they need to follow discharge instructions. In a perfect world, this would be a great thought.
Family First Intervention knows and understands how much work is involved in obtaining, maintaining, and growing in sobriety. We also understand the importance of family improvement. If the substance user is ready and the family is not, this could suck the substance user back into the family dysfunction. If the family is ready and the substance user is not, this could backfire on the family and bring them back to where they started.
They say that it takes a village to help someone with an addiction, and it does. Family therapy needs a systemic approach that considers all factors, including the importance of family recovery, therapy, and self-help groups.
Please reach out today to learn more about how Family First Intervention can help you and your family recover from addiction.