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The Importance Of Family Therapy

Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling that focuses on issues that interfere with the functioning of the family or the home environment. “Family” is a broad term encompassing many definitions and is up to the individual to define. A family’s pattern of behavior can influence many aspects of an individual’s life: their self-worth, communication skills, money management, etc. Substance use disorders (SUD) and mental health disorders cluster in families. So, implementing family therapy and other forms of treatment can improve the conditions that chronic behaviors may stem from. Nearly a third of American families are directly affected by alcohol use disorders (AUD). Still, family therapy can help manage and improve family relationships that have become strained due to alcohol abuse. 

Family conflict usually involves transgenerational issues that go beyond an individual’s “personal problem,” so involving participating family members in therapy can result in a well-rounded solution. The shift from treating alcohol abuse on an individual level to acknowledging the family’s role in drug and alcohol abuse development and maintenance highlights how substance abuse treatments are adapting. The circumstances that can lead individuals to abuse alcohol are multifaceted, and family therapy aims to address these conflicts through the lens of family dynamics. Beyond alcohol addiction, family therapy can address a wide range of topics, including:

  • Child and adolescent behavioral problems
  • Substance abuse 
  • Grieving
  • Depression and anxiety
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Trauma
  • Infertility
  • Marital conflicts

How Is Family Therapy Useful In Alcohol Addiction Recovery?

As mentioned before, AUDs are a family disease, so incorporating the family in recovery benefits the individual and the family as a unit. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), positive family support is connected to long-term abstinence and recovery. Family therapy provides a safe and mediated environment for family members to address difficult emotions (like shame, regret, fear, resentment, and anger) resulting from an individual’s alcohol abuse. 

Additionally, family therapy teaches family units how to unlearn harmful behaviors and ideas related to a loved one’s alcohol addiction. Often families learn to cope with alcohol abuse in unhealthy ways; they may adopt enabling or codependent behaviors to keep conflicts “at bay” with the individual abusing alcohol. Enabling behaviors can include denial, justification, taking over responsibilities for the individual with an addiction, or even using substances with the individual. Codependent behaviors include learned thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that neglect a person’s own needs in favor of being concerned with a loved one’s problems. Through counseling with a certified therapist, family members can examine these dynamics, improve communication, shift familial roles, and further educate themselves on alcohol addiction. 

Types Of Family Therapy

Family therapy is often short-term, and it can include all family members or just those able to participate. Specific treatment plans will depend on a family’s situation. Family therapy sessions can teach skills that deepen family connections and conflict-management skills. There are several methods and approaches to family therapy, but according to Laney Cline King, a licensed clinical social worker, these are the most common types of family therapy:

  • Bowenian: This form of family therapy works in situations where an individual does not wish to or cannot involve family members in treatment. This practice focuses on 2 core concepts: triangulation (the tendency to divert anxiety or distress by talking to a third party) and differentiation (learning to become less emotionally reactive in relationships with family members.)
  • Structural: Structural therapy focuses on redefining and strengthening the family system so that the parents are in authority. This method focuses on setting different boundaries between family members with active therapist involvement.
  • Systemic: This form of family therapy focuses on unconscious communication and the meanings behind family members’ behaviors. The therapist adopts a distant and neutral approach allowing members to evaluate behaviors that contribute to recurring conflicts.
  • Strategic: Strategic therapy is a direct and brief approach where a therapist uses assignments to assess and adjust how the family communicates and makes decisions.

When Not To Partake In Family Therapy

While family therapy has many benefits, there are certain circumstances where family counseling would be inadvisable or counterproductive. Before family counseling begins, treatment professionals will screen for several cases that would impact the outcomes of treatments. According to SAMHSA, these factors include: 

  • Domestic Violence: Families can learn how to express or manage anger appropriately and safely through counseling, but extreme anger or threats of violence can rule out family therapy. 
  • Abuse: Including children, partners, or elderly family members in family counseling sessions is not advised if there is abuse or risk of abuse occurring by family members.
  • Substance Use Withdrawal: Due to the intense physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal, it is best to not partake in counseling sessions during this process.

Treatment professionals will also screen for co-occurring mental health issues and significant cognitive impairment before beginning therapy, but family therapy is generally appropriate for these circumstances. 

Finding Recovery With Family

Family therapy will not immediately solve family conflicts or make the uncomfortable reality of alcohol addiction disappear. Still, it can provide the skills needed to navigate and cope with the trials of addiction. Family therapy, coupled with other forms of treatment, can lead to long-lasting recovery from addiction and help repair family bonds that have become strained. If you or a loved one is considering treatment, contact a treatment provider for options today. 

  • Author: Carmen McCrackin | Last Updated: March 17, 2022

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    Carmen McCrackin

    Carmen McCrackin earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Auburn and has over 3 years of professional writing experience. Her passion for writing and educating others led her to a career in journalism with a focus on mental health and social justice topics. Her main mission is to be a platform for all voices and stories, and to provide tangible resources to those seeking recovery for themselves or loved ones.

  • Medical Reviewer: David Hampton

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