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The Importance of Family Programming

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In the past 10 or so years, I’ve noticed a slew of ancillary services to residential substance abuse and mental health treatment, from equine therapy, yoga, meditation to dolphin-assisted therapy. While all these therapies have added value to the identified client, not much has changed for the families. It seems we still look at the family of those identified patients as secondary, although research indicates that family involvement is a key to long term sobriety and mental health stability for the identified patient.

Family programming looks different throughout the gamut of treatment for substance abuse and/or mental illness. Most residential programs offer anywhere from a two to four-day psycho-educational approach for the family component and some brief family therapy.  Outpatient services often offer a time reduced psycho-education and support type services.

The family is a system whose job is to maintain homeostasis or equilibrium. When addiction or mental health issues affect one member of the family, it can and often affects all parts of the family. As the dysfunction grows, the family finds ways of coping by taking on roles to continue homeostasis. Not only do roles form, but so do rules on how the family behaves within and outside of the system. If families do not find ways of healthy healing, the dysfunctional ways will replicate throughout generations.

If each member of the family whether they are the parent, spouse or sibling begins to look at how the addiction/mental health has affected them and what part they have played, the identified patient has more of an opportunity for sobriety and stability, and the family has the opportunity for health.

Much of the healing can happen when families begin to find ways of healthy communication, discover the roots of the disease, and learn how boundaries can be developed and supported. Often when we begin to work with clients, we want to see where they got stuck in their emotional development, which usually has to do with experienced trauma. The same goes when doing family therapeutic interventions.

In our family program at the Center for Recovering Families at the Council on Recovery, an outpatient treatment program, we focus on building relationships with the family by inviting them into our own family. We begin by meeting with the identified client to explain how their family can support them. The family is then invited to attend the family group which consists of psycho-education and brief therapy. Additionally, we meet with the family as a whole to begin working on the collaborative relapse prevention plan, which includes the families’ own responsibilities to their recovery.

Engagement is the key in all of these processes. Once the family is engaged, we often see them joining our interpersonal process groups identified for those that have a family member who has addictive or mental health issues, individual therapy, family therapy, and 12-step meeting attendance/participation.

Although focused family programming may be difficult to add due to costs and staff availability, it seems that this is also a way to build revenue: by focusing on the family members who want to work on themselves. The importance of family healing can be not only an added incentive to getting the identified patient in services but can be attractive to the impacted family itself.

  • Lori Fiester, LCSW-S, MAC, CIP
    Lori Fiester, LCSW-S, MAC, CIP

    Clinical Director of the Center for Recovering Families at the Council on Recovery

    Lori Fiester, LCSW, MAC, CIP is the Director of Treatment Services at The Council on Recovery. Lori has been a practicing social worker for 27 years whose focus has been on addiction and the family. She earned her Masters of Social Work from the University of Houston.

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