By: Allison Konovalova, M.S. MFT

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, it is my experience that family of origin issues play a central role in the cycle of addiction. Therefore, if family issues are addressed both in the context of individual and family therapy, everyone involved can be helped to find their new role in the family and move to a closer place. Family therapy is often a crucial role in recovery because it allows the family to work through their issues together. The family environment is often damaged by years of addiction and may become hostile or negative, which can push the addict away. A supportive family is a huge benefit, but often family members need guidance on how to set healthy boundaries with their family member suffering from addiction.

The Role Of Family Therapy In Addiction Treatment

Often family therapy can be overlooked as the person seeking treatment focuses on individual therapy, group therapy, and building a sober support network. But issues within the family can help keep the perpetual cycle of negativity affecting everyone in the family, especially the person trying to recover. Drugs and alcohol have a huge impact on family and relationships with co-workers, friends, siblings, etc. and it very useful for important relationships to be a part of the recovery process. Family members often struggle with trust, betrayal and plenty of negative feelings that need to be dealt with before anyone can move on and begin the process of forgiving the addict and rebuilding a relationship. Family therapy is the best way to start healing the interpersonal hurts caused during addiction because it brings everyone together and forces people to face the feelings and issues they might otherwise avoid. Particularly, family members need a safe environment with an impartial figure that can help navigate the difficult issues that arise out of the years of poor communication, decision making and distanced relationships.

Some of the many benefits of family therapy include learning how to set boundaries with other family members, as well as the person recovering from addiction, identifying underlying family dysfunction and bringing it to the light for everyone to understand, helping families understand how the family functions as a system and the importance of envisioning it as one, and identifying which interpersonal relationships need to be altered to support the recovering addict. For example, if the addict has always had a distant/conflictual relationship with his father the clinician would address ways to bring about more understanding, compassion, love and closeness to this specific relationship.

The family therapy process works like this:

  1. First the family is brought in together to discuss the main issues they are facing in the present, and to openly discuss their feelings about what they perceive as the problem. The clinician will make sure that each family member has the chance to voice their feelings and concerns.
  2. Then the clinician will work together with the family to identity what kind of goals they can make individually and as a family to change the environment, patterns of negative interaction, and address resentments.
  3. In additional future sessions the clinician will process what kind of change is happening in the family, and what can be done to continue to promote positive change for family members and the addict.

It can be difficult to make changes in ways of relating within families, as often these patterns have often been set many years ago. But change is always possible, and family therapy can greatly increase the likelihood of families being able to work together to achieve a happier, healthier family structure overall. Family therapy is one of the most important modalities of therapy in the addictions recovery process, which is why we embrace it wholeheartedly at our care facility.