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Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Understanding Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment

The family of an addict can play a vital role in addiction treatment and recovery – and family members themselves can also often benefit substantially from participating in and receiving therapy, both alongside and apart from the addict. The support given by a family can prove the difference between successful recovery and relapse, and family therapy can enable family members to understand their role in their loved one’s treatment and recovery, and what they should – and should not – do to help the addict achieve and sustain sobriety. Meanwhile, family therapy can also help to heal some of the wounds which the family unit may have sustained as a result of their loved one’s addictive and destructive behaviour.

Why is Family Therapy Effective as a Treatment?

Problems resulting from imperfect familial relationships can often contribute to, and exacerbate, the development of substance abuse and addiction – yet individual therapy featuring the addict alone is often insufficient to allow the addict to recognise the impact of their behaviour upon their family, or to give the therapist sufficient understanding of the family environment and dynamics. Family therapy aims to create a setting in which frank and open, yet supportive, dialogue between family members can take place, allowing the addict to comprehend and come to terms with the effects their addiction has had, and strengthening the support network the family can come to constitute.

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When to go for family therapy

There is no single roadmap for addiction treatment that can be applied to every case, and what is right for one addict and their family may be considered extremely unsuitable for other groups. Whether or not an addict’s family should be involved in their treatment at all should be determined by the medical professionals in charge of that treatment, as they may feel that the addict will respond poorly to family involvement and may even abandon treatment. If family members feel that they could benefit from therapy, they should liaise with the relevant doctors to investigate whether that therapy could and should form part of the addict’s addiction treatment plan; if not, separate counselling is likely to be advised.

What happens during family therapy?

Family therapy typically takes place in a group environment featuring family members and the addict themselves, though some sessions may be offered to family members without the addict’s being present, and certain models of family therapy also include individual sessions with the addict alone, encouraging them to explore their relationships with and feelings for family members and how these relate to their addictive behaviour. The therapist will guide and moderate conversation and ensure a calm and positive environment in which frank conversation can take place which is designed to improve communication and bring significant issues to the fore without exacerbating existing difficulties.

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What to expect from family therapy

Depending on the specific approach taken, family therapy may seek to investigate and address family power dynamics; focus on communication (conscious and unconscious) between family members; work to develop communal coping mechanisms; and identify and remediate problematic behaviours. Family therapy should not be seen as a “magic wand” which will immediately resolve all intrafamilial challenges, and is certainly not to be taken as a cure in itself for addiction. However, family therapy can help to build the foundations of stronger and better relationships and greater understanding between family members, and hence create a loving framework within which an addict can be supported through recovery whilst working to ensure they do not damage further their relationships with loved ones.

The Role of Counselling in Family Therapy

Family therapists take various approaches to the treatment of addiction, but generally speaking aim to bring family members together to explore their relationships in the context of their loved one’s addiction, giving the therapist a better idea of the family environment in question and how it has affected the addict and enabling them to involve family members in the treatment of their loved one in an informed manner. Family therapists often act as informed moderators during intrafamilial discussions, guiding the conversation through issues which may have hitherto proved obstacles to fruitful dialogue.

Facts and Statistics about Family Therapy

Family therapy has its origins in the social work movements of the later 19th century which developed in the UK and USA, but as a branch of psychotherapy can be traced back to the early 20th century with the rise to prominence of marriage counselling and child guidance techniques.

A 2006 survey of over 2,500 therapists showed that the marital and family systems therapeutic model was the second most commonly deployed approach to therapy (after cognitive behavioural therapy).

As well as substance abuse disorders, family therapy is considered effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders including anorexia.

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