Substance abuse and addiction are well known to have devastating effects upon their hosts, both physiologically and mentally. However, equally devastating and no less important, is the effects these conditions have upon people close to the afflicted individual. Due to this exceptional affect, family therapy can be a beneficial and important part of the recovery process.
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is a broad overarching term that encompasses, quite simply, therapy that extends beyond an afflicted individual. That is to say, a typical therapy session will involve the professional, the patient, and one or more people related to the patient. For instance, the term ‘family therapy’ can encompass couples therapy. Suzy Anderson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and therapist at Authentic Insights, Inc. explains, “Support groups and group therapy can help differently than individual therapy, and sometimes people will do a combination of all types of treatment to help them get better.”
The Importance of a Supportive Network
If concern about an addiction’s impact upon someone’s family is the major motivator for seeking treatment, family therapy is likely to be not only effective, but helpful. In this scenario, the addict will have even greater motivation to ditch the habit, whatever the cost. Additionally, the addicted individual will also have access to the strength and energy of his or her family to draw upon.
Kathryn Martin discusses the process, “Even before an addicted individual seeks treatment, if he or she does at all, I am a resource to the family and friends of the substance abuser. I support partners, parents, children and friends of those who abuse alcohol, drugs, food or behaviors in finding sanity and safety, wherever in the process the loved one is, if they are at all.”
This is a practical method if any children involved in the situation are of a mature age. Their presence in the therapy session may be difficult, but it exposes them to the raw truth of what is going on. Children can be some of the most profoundly affected in a parent’s struggle with addiction, whether they are aware of it or not.
However, depending on the nature of the family, of course, it may be more appropriate to use a couples-oriented format. Proposed by Gregory Bateson and colleagues in the 1950’s, communication is a key facet of family therapy that is far more important in group-oriented therapy structures. Marriage & Family Therapist, Mark DeYoung, talks about the importance of relationships, “Family systems work is strongly supported in literature as a model for helping those struggling with substance abuse issues, find healthy and supportive relationship networks that move them away from addictions.”
Alan Schneider of Houston discusses the timeliness of therapy, “I believe that a person should seek treatment when they experience their life as living them rather than them living their life.”
When asked about substance abuse and mental health, local therapists seemed to have similar perspectives. By far the common consensus examined the overlap between mental health and substance abuse. Many therapists have witnessed individuals self-prescribing medications in the form of drugs and alcohol for various issues, which often turn into an addiction. Most agreed that mental health is most assuredly related to substance abuse.
As Counselor Barbara Fountain of Lifeline Family Enrichment in Austin put it, “Mental health and substance use/abuse go together like the chicken and the egg. We are constantly searching for which came first; did the individual become overwhelmed with emotional issues to the point they began self medicating or were they using substances that triggered a dormant mental disorder.”
With addiction known as a “Family Disease” it’s important that patients, as well as their loved ones, are well-educated as to the struggles associated with substance abuse in order to more fully understand the recovery process. Family members, partners, children and parents of those suffering with addiction need support and resources.