Families experience a great deal of turmoil when a loved one struggles with addiction, leaving many family members feeling as though there’s nowhere to turn. When primary caregivers – such as parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles – are the ones fighting addiction, the entire family structure can become severely debilitated. New roles must be taken on from other members in the family, oftentimes with children picking up additional responsibilities in effort to keep the family system strong. If your family is currently trying to find peace and balance during a time when a loved one is seeking treatment, family therapy is one of the most beneficial treatments to get involved in.
What is Family Therapy?
According to the European Family Therapist Association (EFTA), family therapy is,
“…A well established and evidenced based approach…[that] addresses the problems people present within the context of their relationships with significant persons in their lives and their social networks.”
Dr. Anthony Siracusa, a psychologist in Massachusetts and a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association (APA), told Very Well Mind that family therapy acknowledges the fact that there are a number of people experiencing an issue – and thus everyone should come together to support those who are having problems. With substance abuse specifically, family therapy can help family members to address a number of concerns:
- Helping family members understand how addiction has impacted the family as a whole
- Recognizing the shifts that have taken place as a result of substance abuse occurring
- Acknowledging pain, heartache, sadness, anger, despair and hopelessness that family members may feel as they attempt to reconcile with their loved one, or at least come to terms with what has happened in light of addiction
- Exploring communication patterns that are currently taking place within the family, and helping family members to identify whether or not these patterns are promoting or hindering the success of the family
- Discovering new perspectives from family members that may otherwise be difficult to talk about
- Gaining knowledge on what addiction is and how it’s affected a loved one, so that family members can have a better understanding of the disease
- And so much more
There are unhealthy behaviors that family members may also struggle with, which can be addressed in family therapy. They are:
When codependency is present, it is often the result of a dysfunctional family system. Codependent behaviors are essentially learned – through thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that become wrapped up in a loved one’s problems. Signs of codependency include worrying constantly about a loved one’s drug use as well as their consequences, living in denial about a loved one’s addiction, reacting violently to events related to a loved one’s addiction and more. Family members who struggle with codependency may even neglect their own mental, physical and spiritual health because they’re self-esteem has become low from tending to their loved one’s needs so often. For these family members, mood is often based on their loved one’s mood – and because of this unhealthy pattern, anger can manifest deep down, going unexpressed.
Family members who enable their loved one with addiction tend to remove the consequences of their actions out of love or fear – and because of this, their loved one is much better able to keep using. Signs of this may be using substances with a loved one to try and keep them “even keeled” or even suppressing thoughts or feelings in order to avoid conflict with a loved one. If reasons are given for why a loved one “needed to abuse substances”, family members who enable will accept those reasons – and will work to protect their loved one by minimizing the consequences of their addiction.
Altogether, codependency and enabling behaviors can only perpetuate the addictive actions taken by the loved one. Family members often don’t recognize they’re doing this – and that’s when family therapy can shed some light.
Healing in Recovery
There are 4 elements that are part of family therapy which help everyone move forward:
- Family engagement – at the beginning stages of family therapy, a therapist will help guide family members to open up with one another as well as see one another’s point of view.
- Relational reframing – with this element, therapists help family members to notice not just the quick, critical judgments that family members have of one another – but also by focusing on the relationship aspect that everyone truly cares about.
- Family behavior change – new skills are taught so that family members can begin changing their behaviors to those that are more conducive for family healing.
- Family restructuring – individual family members are encouraged to gain perspective on this new dynamic their family has, so that the family can work together to heal.
Cumberland Heights in Murfreesboro Tennessee is a 12-step based outpatient alcohol & drug rehab program. Cumberland Heights’ Intensive Outpatient Program is designed for individuals age 18 and above who may be in the early stages of dependency or are experiencing problems with alcohol or drug use. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.