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Family Therapy

Family therapy involves a therapist and family members to improve relationships and resolve family conflict and dysfunction. Expressing and processing feelings in family therapy improves communication skills and develops stronger and healthier family dynamics. Addiction is a family disease. Providing family support via therapy can be an integral part of recovery for both the person with an addiction and the family as a unit.

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The Value of Family Therapy

Family therapy is beneficial to help resolve family issues and maladaptive transgenerational patterns. Facing issues that have created resentments, misunderstandings, and estrangement can help  restore balance and the wellbeing of the family in therapy. Addiction is a family disease. Family can unknowingly hurt a person with a substance use disorder by enabling or they can play a vital role in helping their loved one recover from substance abuse with the help of a family therapist. Providing family support via therapy can be an integral part of recovery for both the person with an addiction and the family as a unit.

Family therapy can be especially helpful for families affected by substance abuse. Sharing difficult emotions (e.g. fear, anger, disappointment, stress, shame, and frustration) in a safe therapeutic environment  can prove to be transformational for family and individual recovery. Family therapy can focus on varying presenting problems and themes as deemed appropriate by the family therapist to include, but not limited to:

  • Marital strain
  • Substance abuse
  • Conflict resolution
  • Relationship dynamics
  • Eldercare
  • Health concerns
  • Mental health
  • Parenting
  • Domestic violence
  • Trauma
  • Grief
  • Infidelity
  • Addiction stigmas
  • Cheating
  • LGBTQ challenges (e.g. acceptance, problems at home and school)
  • Financial problems
  • Communication problems
  • Improved family functioning

How Is Family Therapy Helpful In Addiction Recovery?

As stated earlier, addiction is a family disease. Family therapy allows for all members of the family unit to be present and active in counseling and intervention. Family therapy may include one-on-one counseling to provide individual insights with the therapist in preparation of all the family members coming together in family therapy. Family therapy provides family members opportunities to share how its members have experienced each other and their feelings related to those experiences. During family therapy in the recovery process, relatives can learn if they have been helpful as they intended or unknowingly harmful in their loved one’s addiction.

Each family member subconsciously takes on a role that can often be codependent. An example of a family role in a dysfunctional family is the “scapegoat,” the member who gets blamed, sometimes wrongly, for all of the family issues. The scapegoat  often feels rejected and unloved. Another family role is the “hero,” appears to be well-adjusted and high functioning. The hero gives the appearance that the family does not have any issues and is often the one who attempts to resolve family problems. All family roles impact the family system and how addiction/recovery is experienced. For example, the scapegoat may take most of the responsibility for an addicted relative’s behavior or even be the member with the addiction and the codependent parent can be considered an enabler. Such family dynamics can be complex and difficult to identify; however, professionals can better assess each members role. With a medical professional or interventionist present, everyone from the relative to the person seeking treatment become aware of ways they have contributed to various problems within the family dynamic. In such cases, family members can have structured sessions to improve communication, resolve conflicts and promote healing and growth.

Family therapy includes relatives to provide insight to facilitate resolution. The end result can be closer relationships and resolved conflict.

Types of Family Therapy

Treatment for underlying problems that emerge in therapy exists in several formats. They include specific techniques to repair and strengthen family connections and repair the overall wellbeing of family members. There are 4 main types of family therapy practices, all focusing on specific problems and providing solutions. According to Laney Cline King, a social worker credited for developing types of family therapy, the 4 main commonly used approaches include:

  • Bowenian
  • Systemic
  • Structural
  • Strategic

Bowenian family therapy is ideal for people who do not want family involvement in their treatment and recovery process. Systemic therapy hones in on unconscious communication and underlying meanings behind certain actions. Additionally, the therapist may observe how the family interacts with each other but takes a neutral or distant approach. Structural therapy enhances the family dynamic by keeping parents in the position of authority. Furthermore, it can include boundary setting and active therapist involvement. Lastly, strategic family therapy provides members of each session with tools for growth like “assignments” and the therapist has a direct approach. Other methods of problem solving exist depending on the family therapist and can include more approaches to therapy.

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Practices in Family Therapy

Family therapy introduces new ways of relating to family members, or close friends who may be embraced like family. Aside from the therapist observing and notating subconscious or challenges within dynamics, the therapist can also introduce approaches like:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Journaling
  • Role playing
  • Open emotional expression
  • Writing letters to self or others
  • Communication techniques
  • Providing step-by-step methods for improving relationships
  • Including holistic care to support growth
  • Increased family connection
  • Restructuring of dynamics

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is frequently used in the family programs of rehabilitation facilities. This method allows for emotional regulation by allowing someone to become aware of how their thoughts (cognition) lead to behaviors and other factors involved with the presenting problem. CBT is effective in the treatment of addiction and the reduction of symptoms related to depression and anxiety. In the case of family intervention for substance abuse, family members would have a qualified specialist present, to assist in getting their loved one with the addiction to agree to get help.

As a result of the above techniques, family members can reframe anger, pain, and other emotions and gain a deeper awareness of how to resume a healthy family function. Furthermore, family members can gain self-awareness and transform relationships with themselves and others.

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Regain Family Connection

Finding and working with a qualified family therapist can be instrumental in healing families hurt and wounded by the disease of addiction. Addiction is a family disease. If a loved one is abusing harmful chemicals, utilizing a family therapist can be beneficial to the recovery of the family system. Contact a treatment provider risk-free and talk about your rehab options.

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