Family Therapy

Why is family therapy important?

Family therapy is based on the idea that a family is a system made up of separate but inter-related parts. That means that a change in any part of the system (the family) will create changes in all the other parts.

As a result of this inter-connectedness, family interactions and relationships can change in unhealthy ways. Lies and secrets can build up, and some family members may take on too much responsibility, while other family members might act out or shut down and withdraw.

Once these unhealthy and unhelpful patterns start within a family system, a family can get stuck. This can happen within a single family unit, or it can happen across multiple generations.

These unhealthy patterns may contribute to someone developing an addiction, and they can continue even after the addicted person moves into recovery.

In other words, when one member of a family is affected by an addiction, everyone is affected.

Even supportive and relatively healthy families can struggle when one or more individuals within the system develops an addiction.

The addiction can cause problems within the system as family members react to the addicted person, and the damage that can be caused when that person is driven to do whatever it takes to get and use drugs.

Recovery can also cause changes in the family system and family members may find it hard to adjust to the recovering person because they are behaving differently than they were before.

Family therapy can help because it considers the family as a whole and helps everyone in the system recover and heal. It can help all members of the family make specific, positive changes that allow the person in recovery to feel supported, and the family system to move toward greater health and happiness.

Studies have consistently shown family therapy to be an important, and sometimes necessary, component of addiction treatment.

What is family therapy?
Family therapy is a collection of therapeutic approaches that share the belief that treatment should include:

  • Viewing the family as a system and treating the addicted person within the context of that system.
  • Using the family’s strengths and resources to find and develop ways to live without substances.
  • Lessening the impact of addiction on both the addicted person and the family as a whole.

In family therapy, a therapist will facilitate discussions and problem solving, often with the entire family group or subsets of the group (different combinations of family members). That means that sessions may or may not include the person abusing the substance.

There are a number of historical models of family therapy. These include:

  • marriage and family therapy (MFT)
  • strategic family therapy
  • structural family therapy
  • cognitive–behavioral family therapy
  • couples therapy
  • solution-focused family therapy

Studies have indicated that there are four predominant family therapy models specific for substance abuse and addiction. These include:

  • the family disease model
  • the family systems model
  • the cognitive–behavioral approach
  • multidimensional family therapy

Who should I ask to be involved in family therapy?

There is no single definition of family. Different cultures and belief systems have varying views on what makes a family. In general, “Family” means a group of two or more people with close and long-standing emotional ties.

That means that sometimes members of a family live together, but sometimes they live apart. Either way, if they are considered family by the person in treatment, they can be included in family therapy.

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