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Family Therapy for Substance Abuse

Family Therapy for Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Problem? Family Counseling Can Help

Does someone in your family have a substance abuse problem? Family counseling can help. Battling a substance abuse problem is no easy feat, and treatment experts often recommend that family therapy techniques are incorporated into treatment protocol for abusers. Getting family and close friends involved in the process often results in better outcomes for everyone – in fact, if the family does not become involved in learning about substance abuse and their role in the family dynamic, and continue on with dysfunctional or enabling behaviors, it might actually hinder the abuser’s recovery.

Family therapists like to say that problems exist between people, not within people. In the case of addiction, a family therapist explores with the family how substance use is embedded in a cycle of interaction within the family. For example, young adults and parents tend to fall into a fugitive/detective dynamic: the more the young adult hides and lies, the more a parent snoops or reprimands – and vice versa. Family Therapists can also put the substance use in a different context by addressing other challenges and highlighting other resiliencies in the family. Even providing further education about substance use for the whole family works to majorly reduce their unhelpful behaviors and increase their effective behaviors.


All of these ideas are highly supported by data, as there are plenty of research projects that point to family therapy as an extremely effective practice. One such project has been conducted by the Court Appointed Special Advocates, that identifies four of the most important components of these family therapy models:

  1. Family Engagement involves enhancing family members’ involvement and investment in the therapy of the person is struggling. This sometimes calls for the therapist to act as a facilitator between family members. For example, they might encourage a family member who feels reluctant to engage in therapy to hear out the abuser’s point of view. Likewise, they may listen to the feelings of an abuser who is feeling unsure about the value of family therapy for them, and suggest considering a family member’s perspective.
  2. Relational Reframing is designed to move away from individual ways of defining problems and generating solutions, and toward an understanding focused on relationships by removing irrational descriptions and attributions for family members’ behaviors, and instead focusing on the motivations for behavior. For example, a family therapist may want to expand a description of a parent from someone who is critical and judgmental to one who is simply worried, or transform an understanding of a teen’s substance use from one that blames them to one that’s a more meaningful and understanding of their problem.
  3. Family Behavior Change aims to shift the behavior of family members. These interventions are intended to teach new skills and encourage individual behavior changes that will allow for improved family relationships. In this stage, new skills and behaviors are positively reinforced and coached, for both individuals and the entire family. For example, new skills that a family therapist might teach a family could include assertive communication skills, enforcing limits, negotiation of rules and boundaries, expressing feelings more effectively, and others.
  4. Family Restructuring aims to change the way the family system is governed and shift underlying beliefs, premises and family rules. For example, there may be a trend in the family that when someone is upset, they don’t talk about it and are meant to handle it alone. A family therapist might help the family become aware of this premise, and introduce new beliefs about the value in speaking with each other about difficult feelings.

Clearly, family therapy is a very specialized skill set, and thus one should seek a therapist who has received both training and credentials qualifying them to perform this type of counseling. Life Balance Therapy can offer your family guidance in trying times, with a compassionate experience for your therapy services that will help you achieve your family therapy goals. See for yourself how our treatment paves the way to a better and happier life, building healthier connections and improved perspectives – schedule a consultation today!

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