Addiction rarely impacts only the addicted person.
In most cases, it also affects those close to the addicted person. Anyone with a family member with addiction problems will understand this. Often, it is the most intimate relationships of an addicted person which will be most impacted by their struggles. The family can also be a crucial support network for someone working to achieve lasting recovery. For this reason, addiction treatment should also offer support for the families of addicted people.
Family members of addicted people will often deal with the emotional and practical consequences of their family member’s addiction while also coping with their own commitments and problems. This puts them in a complex position and can be extremely draining for them. The naturally heightened emotions of family relationships also contributes to this. However, the family can also be a powerful resource in addiction treatment. The strength and compassion of the family unit can be a crucial support to an addicted person. It can prevent them from becoming isolated as a result of their problems.
Addiction and Family Therapy
As the National Centre for Biotechnology (NCBI) note, “People who abuse substances are likely to find themselves increasingly isolated from their families.” This can occur for a range of reasons. Both the addicted person or their family members may feel let down or abandoned. An addicted person may feel judged or controlled by a concerned family. Both parties may also feel guilt. There is often substantial emotional damage created by addiction both for the addicted person and those close to them.
Family therapy can restore trust and honest communication in families. It can identify issues that contribute to addictive behaviour and can replace frustration and resentment with compassion and understanding. Due to the mediating influence of the family therapist, it also provides a space in which family members can raise sensitive issues in a calm, constructive way, rather than a confrontational one which may only make matters worse. In the family context, expressions of anger and resentment are often manifestations of deep care and concern. Family therapy can help families to express this concern in a more progressive way. This helps families to move beyond judgment, resentment or frustration to understanding and compassion.
Setting Objectives in Family Therapy
At the outset of therapy, the therapist will develop an understanding of the family dynamic and the reasons for attending therapy. They will also get an idea of each family member’s place within this dynamic. The therapist will also use initial discussions to form an idea of objectives and the therapist’s role in the process. Rules for the sessions might also be established. These might focus on the manner in which those present will communicate, who will attend meetings, and issues of confidentiality.
The objectives of family therapy in the context of addiction are generally similar across families. NCBI state that the aim is “to use family’s strengths and resources to help find or develop ways to live without substances of abuse,” and “to ameliorate the impact of chemical dependency on both the identified patient and family.” This captures the basic objectives of family therapy for addiction.
However, families may also work with their therapist to establish more specific objectives at the outset of therapy. This will allow them to focus on particular issues that they are experiencing. For example, a family might resolve to use therapy to improve their communication and to resolve to be honest with one another even when this is not easy. Objectives can also be updated as treatment progresses and important issues are identified. The roles of individual family members in contributing to conflicts and difficulties can also be identified and worked upon, so that all members’ behaviour can actively contribute to the addicted person’s recovery.
Harnessing the Healing Power of the Family
We should not consider family therapy in the context of addiction simply as a method for fixing family problems. It can function as a positive way to engage the strengths of a family unit to help an addicted person to achieve recovery. Regardless of any issues in family relationships, the family unit is often one of the most powerful resources available to an addicted person. As Psychology Today state, “Family therapy is effective because it harnesses the power of the family to heal itself.” This means that, even in families with a compassionate and understanding attitude to their loved one’s struggles with addiction, therapy can be a powerful resource.
Family therapy also helps those close to an addicted person to identify their own needs and how to meet them. Often, people close to someone with addiction problems will be so focused on helping them that they will neglect their own needs. However, attending to your own needs adequately is essential, and allows you to support those around you more fully.
Family Therapy Process
Trafalgar’s clients can choose to make family therapy a part of their treatment at our residential or outpatient centres. This therapy is provided by experts in the field, as all of our clinical staff are of at least master’s level qualification. They also have extensive experience treating addiction through family therapy.
Describing the family therapy process, NCBI writes, “With the practitioner’s help, the family should refrain from blaming, but still be encouraged to reveal and repair family interactions that create the conditions for continued substance abuse.” Avoiding blame and judgement is crucial to building a progressive form of communication in the family. The guidance of a family therapist will help to achieve this.
Approach to Family Therapy
All members of the family may not necessarily attend every therapy session. Rather, treatment may be divided between individual sessions, sessions featuring different subsets of the group, and sessions with all of the family. This helps individuals to understand how they interact with their family members and their role in the family unit. This is the most effective system for repairing damage done to the family unit and finding a better path forward.
Identifying Problems in Family Therapy
Family therapists can identify issues that the family themselves may not. Often, with such serious issues, we are too close to a situation to properly analyze it. This makes it difficult to understand everything going on within it. Therapists can provide an evidence-based analytical approach to provide true insight into a relationship. Members of the family are also provided with an opportunity to express themselves in a calm environment with the support of the therapist. This facilitates better communication. In this way, you can identify and develop methods for coping with them.
Therapists can also identify patterns of behaviour from other members of the family that may negatively influence the addicted person’s behaviour. This might include enabling behaviour. This often involves family members unintentionally contributing to the addictive behaviour by supporting the person emotionally or financially in a way that is not truly helping them. Therapy can help to change this behaviour, using the same basis of support and care to help a person confront and overcome their addictions.
Establishing Boundaries in Family Therapy
Therapy also helps to establish clear boundaries and consequences should the addicted person fail to take the necessary steps toward recovery. For example, a family might establish that they will no longer support their loved one financially if they do not commit to treatment. While these are difficult discussions, an experienced therapist will be able to maintain a calm environment. They can also offer advice and suggestions on how to negotiate clear boundaries. Once you have established boundaries and consequences, it is very important that everyone involved follows through on them. Otherwise, you will encourage the addicted person to feel that they can carry on in their behaviour without real consequence.
Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres provides clients with expert aftercare support. Clients can attend aftercare counselling sessions at any of our residential centres or our outpatient centre in midtown Toronto. They can also arrange for some or all of these sessions to incorporate family members. This allows families to continue working together to maintain their loved one’s recovery.
Addiction issues can cause enormous pain and complication for a family. However, the family unit can also be a powerful resource in helping a person to overcome their addiction problems and achieve lasting recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and you feel that family therapy would be of benefit, Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres is ready to offer expert, evidence-based support. Contact us today to take the first step towards restoring order. We offer family therapy as part of our inpatient and outpatient programs. All of our treatment is evidence-based and client-centred. All of our clinicians are experts in addiction treatment. Our programs provide clients with the strongest possible foundation for recovery.