Some types of therapy provided in response to an addiction are offered on an individual basis. For example, people who have an addiction might be encouraged to meet with a counselor in a one-on-one therapy session on a regular basis to talk about how the problem developed and how it could be addressed in the future. These individual sessions can be quite powerful. But sometimes therapists use different techniques to help, and family therapy is one such approach.
According to Everyday Health, family therapists recognize that some issues (like addiction) impact the entire family, not just the person who has the illness. Since the problem impacts multiple people, these therapists reason, the solution should include multiple people too.
How Family Therapy Works
View a step-by-step on how to follow through on a family commitment
Step 1: Choose a provider.
There are a number of different people who can provide family therapy, including counselors, psychiatrics, therapists, and psychologists. Mayo Clinic recommends asking about the credentials of someone who might provide family therapy. Families should ask if the provider has treated these sorts of issues before, and they should find out what sort of training the person has in treating the person’s unique problems. Families should also determine the fees involved, and how much they might be asked to pay once insurance payments have been received.
Step 2: Make an appointment.
It might be obvious, but these are not conversations families can have on the fly. These are planned conversations, and they must be held on an appointment basis. Some therapists prefer to have all family members come to all appointments, but others like to hold grouped appointments that include some people but not everyone. The counselor can guide those discussions and help families know what to do.
Step 3: Prepare to learn.
Addictions can seem mysterious and strange, especially to people who have them. Family therapy is designed to provide a great deal of information about how addictions progress and how they can cause harm to both individuals and families. Early family therapy sessions tend to focus on education and information, so everyone who participates has a good understanding of what the illness has done to a person they love.
Step 4: Develop coping skills.
Understanding an addiction is important, but it is even more important for families to understand what to do in the face of the addiction. They should be prepared to respond to relapses, and they should know how to provide appropriate praise. That means families need to develop coping skills. Therapy sessions will assist with that step, and those skill-building sessions tend to begin when education sessions are complete.
Step 5: Be honest.
Families touched by addiction are often adept at performing in front of an audience. They may know what to say or what to do to hide the fact that an addiction is in play in someone they love, and it can be hard to turn that performance off for therapy. Some families enroll in therapy while continuing to attempt to hide the problems they are facing. It is best, in general, for families to talk openly about their thoughts, feelings, and wishes for treatment. That is the best way to make the most of each session of family therapy.
Step 6: Repeat.
Family therapy comes with many goals, and often, these are not goals that can be completed with just one or two meetings. According to Virtual Medical Care, most families need 5-20 family therapy sessions in order to see real results. That means families that enroll should be prepared to go to meetings on a regular basis, often for a long period of time, in order to get the transformation they have been looking for.
Family therapy is a commitment, and it can be sometimes hard for family members to understand why they should participate at all. By the time they enroll, they may have dealt with years and years of dysfunction. The fabric of the family might seem torn or even ripped apart altogether. But, as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out, most people with substance abuse issues maintain close ties with their families. They love their families, and they feel closer to their families than they do to their peers. That means families can be real agents of change, in terms of an addiction. They can be the catalyst that makes things happen, so the work is valuable. Families in need should enroll.