Family Therapy

Family therapy can be a very instrumental component of substance abuse and addiction treatment. The family can act as a source of encouragement and understanding, and may have an important role in both the development of and treatment of a person’s addiction.

This type of therapy may be incorporated into treatment at any point, and consists of meetings with the family and counselors, group family meetings with others who are affected by addiction, and in other ways as well. To include the family in substance abuse and addiction treatment is to recognize that a person’s addiction may be part of a larger family problem, or may be best understood in the context of the larger family dynamic. It is also to move the issue from being entirely centered on the individual to being viewed as part of the family system.

What is Family Therapy?

Family Therapy

Family therapies are helpful to both the person in treatment and the rest of their family.

An important place to start when considering the definition of ‘family therapy’ is with a brief definition of ‘family’ itself. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for practical purposes family is defined as the individual’s closest emotional connections. A therapist may decide who to include in a specific person’s family therapy sessions by asking them who is the most important to them and basing it off of their answer.

Family therapy is based on the principle that the family is a system, and that all parts of a system are related and thus have some effect on each other. When one part of the system changes it will effect changes in other parts, or family members in this case. With this in mind, family therapy involves sessions with various members of this system or the system as a whole. Sometimes sessions may be conducted with subsets of the family, such as the parents, or even sometimes with just one member that may not be the person abusing substances.

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Family Therapy vs. Family-Involved Therapy

A distinction must be made between family therapy and family-involved therapy. According to SAMHSA, in family-involved therapy, attempts are made to educate families about relationship patterns that typically contribute to substance abuse. The family is typically not the primary grouping during therapy, and there is no specific intervention in the system of family relationships. This is more of an educational family approach, which teaches family members about substance abuse, related behaviors, and the behavioral, medical, and psychological consequences of use. Family-involved therapy is found more commonly in substance abuse treatment services, though family therapy is important and useful as well.

Two main purposes of family therapy:

According to the US National Library of Medicine, the two main goals and purposes of family therapy are:

  • To use the family’s strength and resources to help the individual in question find ways to live without substances of abuse
  • To ameliorate the impact of addiction and substance abuse on the individual and the rest of the family

Models of Family Therapy that are Used Today

There are different ways in which family therapy can be implemented in substance abuse and addiction treatment. These different ways focus on different aspects of the family system, and on different ways the family affects the person in treatment. These models were outlined in the US National Library of Medicine:

  • The Family Disease Model: In the family disease model, substance abuse/addiction is looked at as a condition or a disease that affects the whole family.
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  • The Family Systems Model: This model looks at the idea that families become organized by their interactions around substance abuse. The idea here is that family members adapt to the substance abuse of members of the family. They begin to rely on it for things like communication and openness.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches: This model looks at the idea that substance abuse and other behaviors are reinforced through certain family interactions. In this approach, treatment efforts work to change interactions and target behaviors that trigger substance abuse, to improve communication and problem-solving, and to strengthen coping skills.
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy: Several techniques that focus on the relationships among cognition, emotionality, behavior, and environmental input are integrated in this approach.

How Does Family Therapy Help in Addiction Treatment?

Overcoming a substance abuse and/or addiction problem is no easy task. It often requires people to make many significant changes in their lives, such as changing jobs, locations, and friend groups. Your family, however, is something that you cannot really change, and which has a very important role in your development and your life.

Family Therapy

Family therapy helps families heal from the effects of a loved one’s addiction so that they can help each other throughout recovery.

Family therapy helps families to see the importance and magnitude of this lifestyle change and to see their role in it. Furthermore, this mode of treatment helps to clearly define specific goals for therapy, goals for how the family is going to change to help their loved one in treatment. It provides an outline for the changes that need to be made, and how they can be made.

According to the University of Arizona, family therapy is helpful in reducing the risk of relapse in individuals who have high levels of family involvement by addressing interactions that may lead to conflict or enabling. The lessons learned in therapy help a family avoid enabling their loved one, and help them best understand their loved one so that they can be in a position to help them avoid relapse.

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How Family Therapy Helps the Person in Treatment

Family therapy of all kinds helps to ensure that the person in treatment has the support of their family. By teaching family members about the disease of addiction and what the person is going through, as well as involving them in the treatment process, they are more likely to show compassion to their loved one. Having this support encourages patients to enter and to stay in treatment.

Long-term recovery efforts are helped when the whole family understands and is supportive of a person’s efforts, as well. Making the changes that are required for recovery can be tough on your own, but with family support gained in family therapy it is made easier.

How Family Therapy Helps Loved Ones of Addicts

Family Therapy

Family counseling and therapy has many benefits.

During family therapy, the therapist will help each family member work through their situation and help them understand how their actions affect their loved one in addiction. They will help the family to understand the person’s addiction, and how the family dynamic relates to it. In so doing, they help the family focus on the whole system rather than just the individual.

Family therapy helps family members of addicts identify conflicts and anxieties they or their loved ones have and develop strategies to deal with them. According to WebMD, family therapy is an active type of therapy, and family members may receive assignments to help them achieve their goals.

As a whole, family therapy helps people understand the needs of their loved one while on the road to addiction recovery, and their own needs as individuals and as a family. In this way, it helps the family system to heal as well as the individuals that make it up.

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