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Family therapy

01 Jun What to Expect from Family Therapy

One of our most important functions as an addiction recovery center is offering family therapy. We believe that the key to recovery from addiction is connection. Often, the most powerful resistance to relapse is found in healthy relationships with family members.

Family therapy has two primary purposes: (1) to enable communication between family members to help us be sympathetic to others’ needs and challenges, and (2) to troubleshoot harmful patterns and introduce more productive habits. In the case of addiction recovery, we need to acknowledge that addiction affects more than one person, and that recovery takes more than the efforts of one person.

For many families entering therapy, it can be scary. How can we be sure that the counselor will be helpful instead of just stirring up problems? What kinds of discomfort and adjustment will we have to deal with? Will we end up saying things we regret or hearing things that are hurtful?

Here are four very important points to remember about family therapy:

1: The Counselor is There to Enable Communication

There are a lot of things that we have a hard time saying to each other. Often it takes a third party and a little bit of nudging in order to reveal the things that we’ve been holding on to. Therapy provides a safe space where we can be fully honest with each other. However, the therapist isn’t a magic fairy that will just make all the troubles go away. His or her job is to help you communicate with each other. This way, you can better understand each other’s behaviors and motivations. You can also start having more productive conversations instead of constantly butting heads or freezing each other out.

2: Do Your Homework

Bring questions, learn more about each other’s needs and wants, and do the exercises at home that the therapist recommends. This might mean communicating to each other in a certain way at home, doing certain writing or personal projects that help you come to new realizations, or simply being kinder to each other. Therapy is most effective when it’s not just an isolated event. We need to try to practice new habits and techniques in our interpersonal relationships.

3: Refrain from Blame and Stonewalling

It’s essential to family therapy that everyone go in with an open mind. We ALL have something to learn; this isn’t an opportunity to simply vent all of your frustrations on other family members.

4: Change Doesn’t Come All At Once

Some people are disappointed when they leave the first session of family counseling and feel more raw than healed. Or, you might be expecting big cataclysmic events and cathartic experiences between your family during the first session, and find yourself underwhelmed. However, family therapy is a process, not an event. It will take time to get to the heart of the situation and find effective techniques in order to meet your goals. Keep coming for the recommended length of treatment, and be patient.

Some Practicalities on What to Expect

  • The counselor won’t just talk about the presenting problem (i.e. a particular behavior like addiction that brought the family to therapy in the first place) We know that family issues are multi-faceted and there’s always more than one concern going on at any given time.
  • The counselor will talk to some people separately, individually, or in units (like talking to the parents alone) in order to get more of an understanding of the situation.
  • The counselor will also set forth the guidelines of confidentiality. Nothing shared with them during a one-on-one discussion will be brought out for group discussion unless the individual is ready to share.
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