What to Expect during Family Therapy

This article is by Sherilyn Moore and published by American Addiction Centers


When a family member is struggling with a substance use disorder, it affects the entire family. Their substance use may make others in the family feel like they are dealing with a stranger. It’s not uncommon for the person experiencing addiction to act completely out of character, making the entire family feel out of sync.

If your loved one is in this situation and your family feels upside down, things may start to improve after they begin rehab. In particular, a family therapy addiction recovery program can help your loved one reconnect with and repair the familial relationships they may have damaged during the worst moments of their addiction. These benefits can also help the loved ones of somebody receiving treatment, as group therapy for the family members of addicts can help them find support and understand what their loved one is going through.

How Family Therapy Addiction Recovery Works

A family therapy addiction recovery program will involve group sessions with your loved one and other members of the family. You’ll meet at least once a week for approximately 50–60 minutes with a therapist who specializes in addiction and family therapy. During the sessions, you will have an opportunity to discuss how the family has been affected by addiction. The therapist will likely lead the group sessions with some open-ended questions, allowing everyone to answer.

When an individual is in therapy for substance abuse, the therapist is focused solely on creating goals for their recovery. When the therapist conducts family therapy, however, the dynamic shifts; the therapist must consider the interdependent relationship of the members. Thus, the goals must be focused on the complexity of the family unit versus just on one person. Consequently, this type of therapy may have a greater potential to facilitate healing.

Some programs also offer group therapy focused just on family members. These group sessions aim to help family members of people experiencing addiction understand their loved one, learn how to care for themselves, and connect with other people in similar situations. This can create a mutual support environment that promotes healing among family members.

Benefits of Family Therapy Addiction Recovery Programs

Enhanced Communication Between Family Members

Often in a home with substance abuse, communication is broken. The person who uses the substance may use drugs or alcohol to avoid pain from past trauma or self-medicate when dealing with a mental health disorder. As a result, they don’t communicate about their feelings and fears. Substances are used to numb the problems they’re facing. Family therapy helps reestablish the broken lines of communication, teaching members how to be more open with one another.

Help Prevent Further Substance Abuse Problems

This benefit is especially relevant if there are any adolescents in the home. Family therapy works to prevent substance use from being passed down from one generation to another. A parent’s substance use affects their behavior, which, in turn, impacts the children. One of the main risk factors for predisposition to drug use in young people is a parent’s drug use. When treatment involves the entire family and is successful, it decreases the chances of drug use by an adolescent child.

Discover Patterns of Behavior

Families operate within certain routines or patterns of behavior. Sometimes these patterns are positive and sometimes they lead to negativity. During family therapy, the therapist will help you discover what patterns your family has and how it affects the family dynamic. Understanding the impact of these patterns of behavior will help the family unit operate more effectively together. For example, through the family therapy addiction recovery sessions, you might discover that certain behaviors serve as a trigger for your loved one. Or you may find out that certain times of the year (i.e., holidays), are more difficult for everyone. When you identify these patterns and their impact, each member can work to make changes to improve the family.

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