Addiction is often described as a “family disease”, and this is why family therapy is so crucial. Although only one person may actually struggle with an addiction, the entire family is affected by it to varying degrees. The presence of an addiction can create significant changes in family dynamics, altering how family members interact with one another and affecting the quality of their relationships overall. Addiction can cause substantial pain, anxiety, and frustration to develop making it imperative to address during the recovery process.
The Importance of Family Therapy
While much of the recovery process focuses on individual needs, involving family members and close friends can improve outcomes. Not only is it vital to promote healing and improve family dynamics, but it also can be a valuable educational resource as well. Some of the ways family therapy helps in addiction recovery include:
- Education about the nature of addiction: Addiction can fundamentally change the way a person views and interacts with the world around them. For this reason, it can be sometimes difficult for family members to identify when thoughts and behaviors are driven by addiction and not necessarily by their loved one’s own beliefs. Because substance abuse changes the way the brain works, someone with an addiction may experience significant changes in interests, motivations, and boundaries. Understanding the impact addiction has on a person can help family members come to terms with their actions or behaviors and provide clearer insight.
- Understanding enabling behaviors: Family therapy creates a safe place to learn about enabling or dysfunctional behaviors that allow addiction to thrive. This can help family members learn how to better support their loved one’s recovery. In many cases, addiction continues to thrive partly due to the fact that family members may provide a layer of security or protection from consequences of use. Even when their actions are well-intended, they can actually be harmful because they prevent a person from experiencing the real consequences of substance abuse. If there are no negative repercussions because they are shielded by loved ones, it can make it harder to convey the seriousness of the situation and encourage them to accept help.
- Creating healthy boundaries: A lack of healthy boundaries can create numerous problems for the entire family. Similar to enabling behaviors, a lack of boundaries can blur the lines between what is acceptable behavior and what is not. A desire to help your loved one may cause you to compromise on boundaries, but this only enables continued substance abuse. While establishing boundaries can be difficult initially, family therapy creates a safe space to explore, identify, and create healthy boundaries that are clearly communicated. This not only helps the person with an addiction understand where their loved ones’ limits lie, but it also can help family members minimize enabling behaviors and protect their own needs as well.
- Mending relationships: Addiction takes its toll on relationships and can make it difficult to trust your loved one. An important component of family recovery is spending time exploring past experiences that have led to breakdowns in relationships. While these can be difficult topics to explore, it is vital to the healing process that everyone is given space to explore the way addiction has impacted them. Being truly heard and understood can significantly improve the healing process. While relationships and trust cannot be rebuilt overnight, family therapy provides a method of addressing underlying issues in a productive, restorative way.
- Learning about self-care: While the recovery process is primarily focused on helping your loved one overcome addiction, it is important to not lose sight of yourself. Many people find that they lose a sense of self and put their own needs on the backburner in favor of caring for their loved one. While this is understandable, it can lead to unhealthy dynamics and the development of resentment, anger, and other negative emotions. Family therapy encourages the family to heal together but also urges everyone to prioritize self-care. This may include individual therapy or spending time exploring one’s own interests. Self-care looks different for everyone, but finding a way to care for your own physical and mental health is vital to the healing process.
Types of Family Therapy
There are numerous types of family therapy available and some may be more effective than others depending on your unique circumstances. Much like individual therapy, not every form of family therapy will be equally effective, making it important to find the structure and approach that works the best for you. Some forms of family therapy include:
- Structural: This approach to family therapy focuses on behaviors, relationships, and interactions displayed in therapy sessions to explore the structure of the family. While there is a greater family structure to explore, there are also sub-structures, such as relationships between siblings or between parents, that may influence the bigger picture. Sessions explore all of these dynamics and utilize exercises, such as roleplaying, to promote healing and growth.
- Strategic: Strategic family therapy primarily focuses on communication, patterns, and behaviors of families outside of therapy. Many sessions focus on exploring specific events or situations that occurred outside of therapy and dissecting them together. Sometimes, the therapist may suggest that they reframe the problem and explore differing stances to ultimately achieve goals. This can help family members better understand one another’s point of view, improve communication, and strengthen problem-solving.
- Intergenerational: Utilized in multigenerational families, this form of therapy explores the influences generational differences have on a family or individual behaviors. The differences between generations and how they manage difficult experiences, negative emotions, and communication can sometimes lead to the development of issues. In this form of therapy, family members are encouraged to express their own opinions and viewpoints, only using “I” statements. Describing situations from their own perspective rather than making accusations about others’ intentions can help improve communications in the family.
Family Therapy Works
Family therapy looks different for everyone. The duration, number of sessions, and approaches to problems will all differ based on the family structure and the types of problems that must be addressed. Family therapy is often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy to ensure individual needs and unique circumstances are adequately addressed. Regardless of these differences, those in family therapy can expect to find numerous benefits that include improved communication, a better understanding of the family structure, and the development of goals and strategies to overcome challenges. All of these benefits will strengthen the family overall and can improve recovery outcomes for those in addiction treatment as well.
Nexus Recovery is an addiction treatment center, and we’re passionate about bringing families back together. Through our family therapy program as part of the recovery process, you and your loved ones can begin to heal. Contact us today for more information about how we can help.