If your family member is trying to overcome substance abuse, you know that they are not the only one affected. The situation stretches wider than the individual. Just as your loved one should not go through it alone, your family does not have to bear the weight without help. Family therapy is a beneficial tool for the family as a whole as well as for each individual.

Why Is Family Therapy Important?

When your loved one enters treatment for addiction, there is certainly room for celebration and relief. It is the beginning of a new, more positive chapter in their life as well as in the lives of the other people involved. This is also an important time for the family as a whole, as there are many positive changes that are possible. 

When addiction strikes a family, many unhelpful and even harmful dynamics can spring up. One such dynamic is when family members enable a loved one’s addiction by not challenging their substance use. Often this occurs because of a desire to maintain the relationship, as challenging the addiction could push the loved one away. In reality, this is a temporary solution for a problem that will continue to worsen.

It can be difficult to recognize these patterns and even harder to change them. As your loved one progresses in recovery, however, learning to unravel those dynamics and establish new ones will be important in supporting their continued sobriety. Additionally, creating healthier behaviors and relationships will benefit the family as a whole by promoting harmony and well-being. 

What to Expect When Starting Family Therapy

There are a number of things to keep in mind when beginning family therapy. Some tips include:

Be Vulnerable

It can be uncomfortable to start therapy of any kind, as opening up to a stranger does not come naturally to most people. Furthermore, family therapy involves honesty and vulnerability not only with a therapist but with your family members as well. When there is underlying tension and instability, talking about what is going wrong can feel like rocking the boat. Those feelings are normal, and your therapist will likely anticipate some of your hesitations. Coming into therapy with a willingness to share and hear what others have to share can go a long way. 

Be Prepared to Make Changes

Understanding the goals of family therapy can also help you approach the situation with the proper headspace. While therapy typically involves a family setting their own unique goals, there are some general themes you can anticipate. The first involves learning how the family unit can best support the loved one in recovery from addiction. Another aspect of therapy is helping the family to repair relationships and develop better emotional health. 

Remember It’s a Process

Family therapy is a process that involves several different components. There will be sessions where the entire family meets to discuss matters that apply to everyone. You can also expect to work with the therapist individually at times so they can get a better idea of each family member’s needs. Additionally, your therapist might decide to work with pairs or groups apart from the entire family to work more intensely on specific relationship dynamics. 

You May Be Asked to Do Homework

In order to promote growth and reinforce what is discussed during sessions, your therapist may assign “homework.” The purpose of family therapy is to promote lasting change that will persist once therapy is over. This is why practicing skills and strategies between sessions and reflecting on progress is a crucial aspect of the process. 

It Will Require Practice

Homework can take many forms depending on the needs of the family. If your family is struggling to have positive interactions, homework that encourages the family to engage in fun activities together can promote warmth and connection. Perhaps your family does not spend much time together on a consistent basis. In this case, your therapist could suggest scheduling and committing to family dinners once or twice a week.

Individual Therapy Can Also Help

Part of what makes family therapy unique is its focus on families as a unit. Families are more than the sum of the people that form them. They are also composed of the relationships between various members. It is in these relationships and interactions that unhealthy dynamics can develop. Therapists can help navigate those tricky situations and repair relationships that have been strained. 

With this said, it is important to recognize how we experience life as individuals. We are not just another person’s spouse, parent, or child. For this reason, individual therapy can be a helpful supplement to family therapy. Your loved one will undergo individual counseling as they address their substance use, but it can benefit loved ones as well. 

Substance abuse can cause strain not only on relationships but on the mental health of family members as well. Watching a loved one endure the burden of addiction can bring forth sadness, anxiety, and anger. You might find yourself feeling guilty, attributing their pain to your actions. There might be a sense of betrayal if you have witnessed someone relapse after seemingly having everything under control. Overall, it is likely that stress is a routine part of your life. Much of your time might be spent supporting your loved one and other family members. This might lead to feeling like your sense of purpose and joy is tied into their recovery, with not much time or energy reserved for yourself.

Discussing the painful emotions you are experiencing with a professional can help you develop coping skills to confront and handle those feelings. Individual and family therapy can coexist as powerful tools to help you better support yourself and your loved one in recovery. 

Addiction can tangle a family up in guilt, anger, fear, and grief, and sometimes unraveling those threads can make things feel worse before they get better. This is why the choice to start family therapy can be one of the best decisions your family will ever make. Working with a licensed professional experienced in providing services to families will set your family up for success. This is our specialty at Family-Centered Services. Our comprehensive services will provide you and your loved ones with the opportunity to reclaim your lives and relationships. We offer a Family Recovery Program in addition to individual and family therapy and case management. Please call (509) 991-5822 to learn more.