Family Therapy

Family therapy approaches families as a system instead of just a group of individuals, taking into account the unique dynamics of each family. These dynamics, such as communication patterns, beliefs and points of conflict, may have existed within the family and remained unexamined for a long time.

Family therapy takes the approach that families are intimately connected, and every member’s beliefs have to be considered. Over time, living in close proximity with members of families means patterns of behaviour and communication arise and become stable and embedded. Problems within families can result from these embedded interactions, beliefs and behaviours. Everyone benefits by evaluating these norms, questioning them, and working together to change any that no longer serve you.

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Why family therapy for addiction treatment?

Family therapy for drug abuse involves evaluating and treating the person struggling with addiction within the context of their family environment. This is because group dynamics, the way we communicate with each other, and the quality of our relationships can significantly impact addiction and recovery. Family therapy is a process of reflection, understanding, and change to create a more supportive environment for recovery.

Addiction places great strain on families. As well as supporting the person struggling with addiction, family therapy seeks to help the family of the person as well. The emotional release, improved communication and deeper understandings reached in family therapy can transform family dynamics, creating environments of support and mutual understanding where before there were environments of miscommunication, blame and guilt.

Benefits of family therapy for addiction treatment

Family therapy can be a valuable component of addiction treatment, offering numerous benefits for both individuals struggling with addiction and their family members. Here are some key advantages:

  • Improved understanding: During family therapy, all members will learn more about addiction together, which helps to dispel myths and address stigma. This helps with developing more empathy and understanding towards the family members struggling with addiction.
  • Better communication: Family therapy aims to equip all family members with better communication methods to explain their needs and feelings to each other effectively. Family therapy is a form of communication in itself. Everyone is given permission and space to speak in a safe, supportive environment, with a professional acting as a mediator.
  • Stronger support system: Working through issues in family therapy brings everyone together into a relationship of mutual support. Adversarial relationships may have built up out of stress and resentment prior to family therapy. Engaging in the therapeutic process builds a more supportive environment that benefits everyone.
  • Behavioural change: Boundaries and acceptable behaviours can be decided on and co-created within family therapy, helping to implement new strategies that encourage positive behaviours and discourage substance misuse.
  • Supporting recovery and preventing relapse: Family therapy helps the family unit to uncover and explore any factors that contributed to addiction within the family and to address them – this is vital for creating and fostering an environment that is supportive of long-term recovery. Relapse strategies can be worked on together, creating a proactive plan for maintaining recovery.
  • Healing and forgiveness: Working together to address embedded patterns of communication and dynamics is healing, allowing family members to work through guilt, anger, sorrow and resentment and to forgive each other. Through consistent work done as a family, the trust that has been damaged by addiction can be worked through and healed.

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Accessing family therapy

Family therapy will never be forced on you – a medical professional will liaise with you and help you to decide whether it’s right for you, discussing it in the context of other therapeutic options. Family therapy will only ever be pursued if it will be beneficial for you and your recovery process.

Family therapy will often be offered as one of many options when engaging with inpatient rehab. The decision to start family therapy is never taken lightly, and there are many other therapeutic options available if you decide that family therapy isn’t suitable for you.

What to expect

Your first family therapy session is an opportunity to gather everyone together, meet your therapist, and establish the foundation for confidentiality. While individual therapy ensures confidentiality, family therapy faces unique challenges, and these will likely be addressed in your initial meeting.

During this session or subsequent ones, there will be a discussion to set ground rules, creating a safe space for family members to share their backgrounds and histories openly. Together, you and your therapist will collaboratively establish therapeutic goals, guiding your family therapy experience.

Developing trust and rapport between family members and the therapist is crucial in forming a ‘therapeutic alliance.’ This involves creating a safe, respectful environment where everyone feels heard, beginning from the first session.

Don’t struggle in silence

If you’re struggling with addiction and believe family therapy for drug abuse could benefit you, you aren’t alone. Reach out to an addiction specialist to get confidential advice.

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Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.


How is family therapy used for addiction treatment?
Family therapy recognises that we’re more than just individuals – we’re the product of our circumstances, and our beliefs and actions affect the people we love. This is particularly relevant in addiction, where our behaviours may have developed in the context of certain embedded family dynamics and where our addictive behaviours may have deeply hurt our loved ones. By acknowledging this, family therapy helps us to forge a path to recovery by including our families as part of the solution.
What is the difference between family counselling and family therapy?
Family counselling and family therapy are often used interchangeably, but there are differences, mainly in duration and depth. Family counselling is more short-term and focused on specific goals. Therapy goes deeper, focusing on entrenched patterns, behaviours and interactions, and is more suited to deep-seated issues such as addiction.
How effective is family therapy?
No, there is no magic bullet for treating addiction, as what works for one person may not work for another. However, family therapy has strong evidence supporting its effectiveness. Studies show that family interventions excel in engaging individuals and their families in treatment, leading to significant reductions in drug use and problem behaviours. In some cases, family therapy is more effective than non-family therapy.
When is family therapy not suitable?
While family therapy can be a powerful tool, it may not be the right fit for everyone. If family members are unwilling to participate, tensions can worsen. In cases where families contribute to substance use disorders, individuals may hesitate to involve them in the recovery process. Confidentiality is crucial, and if someone prefers not to include their family or discuss addiction in a group setting, that choice should be respected. Additionally, situations involving abuse, violence, or severe mental health issues within families may indicate the need for individual therapy first, prioritising safety and stability before considering family therapy.
Do family therapists only work with families?

Family therapists understand that the word ‘family’ can mean different things to different people, so family therapy doesn’t mean that only traditional family units (parents, children) are involved. Family means a group of people who care about each other, and family therapy can include grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, carers, and other professionals.