Family Behavior Therapy
Engaging Family Members in the the Healing Process
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What Is Family Behavior Therapy?According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, addiction is a family disease that affects the functioning of the family system.5 Chaos, stress and negative experiences are common in households where a family member has an addiction, and this leads to unhealthy behaviors. Non-addicted family members often compensate for the chaos by living in denial, enabling the addiction or developing their own unhealthy behaviors as things spin out of control. Family behavior therapy (FBT) is a comprehensive evidence-based behavioral therapy that is effective in treating substance abuse and other co-occurring problems, such as family conflict, depression, and unemployment. Family behavioral therapy treats the family as a system wherein a change in one part of the system brings about changes in the other parts, for better or for worse. Just as the addicted individual is in recovery from the addiction, so, too, are the affected family members, who need to replace their own unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors with healthier ones in order to effectively support their loved one.
Family therapy helps restore function to the household and family system by:
- Improving communication among family members
- Working to restore broken trust and repair damaged relationships
- Reducing family stress
- Educating family members about relationship patterns that may contribute to substance abuse
- Setting goals
- Developing coping strategies
- Eliciting meaningful, long-term change within the family system
How Families Cope with AddictionThrough it all, family members develop unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving. They may manipulate or deny reality in an attempt to maintain order, and they may become co-dependent or engage in enabling behaviors that make it easier for the addicted family member to continue on his or her current trajectory of self-destruction. For example, loved ones may focus all of their energy on the person with the addiction in an attempt to control the chaos, neglecting each other in the process. They may constantly walk on eggshells in an attempt to keep the addicted person happy, or they may cover for the addicted person, making excuses for him or taking care of his problems in order to protect him from the consequences of the addiction. These unhealthy behaviors often make the situation worse. Family behavioral therapy treats the family as a system wherein a change in one part of the system brings about changes in the other parts, for better or for worse. Just as the addicted individual is in recovery from the addiction, so, too, are the affected family members, who need to replace their own unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors with healthier ones in order to effectively support their loved one.
Family Therapy is EssentialEveryone in the family needs help recovering from a loved one’s addiction, whether or not he or she is getting help, too. By working through the various complex issues surrounding the addiction and curbing enabling and codependent behaviors, family members can better support a loved one in recovery or improve the chances of helping the person agree to treatment down the road. Re balancing the family dynamics and learning healthier ways of communicating will be essential for helping your loved one succeed in recovery. Just because he or she is getting help doesn’t mean that other family members will automatically adjust their own harmful ways of thinking and behaving, and continuing old patterns of thought and behavior can contribute to a relapse of the addiction. Individual therapy for each family member is essential for restoring function to the family and working through the fear, anger and resentment that’s built up over the course of the addiction. Therapy helps you restore your own mental health and clarity so that you can help your loved one in the most effective possible ways while improving your own quality of life and sense of well-being. Therapy can also help reduce the likelihood that younger family members will turn to substance abuse later on.
Benefits of Family Behavior Therapy
- Repairs damaged relationships
- Helps family members develop healthy coping skills
- Helps clients develop an awareness of family dynamics
- Teaches parents, spouses, and siblings how to develop self-care practices
- Helps rebuild trust within the family unit
- Aids in setting healthy boundaries
How Family Behavior Therapy Is Used in Addiction TreatmentFamily behavior therapy is offered to all clients at Nova but not everyone chooses to participate. FBT typically involves the client and at least one significant other, such as a cohabiting partner or a parent. Clinical counselors engage families in applying the behavioral strategies taught in sessions and in acquiring new skills that will improve the home environment. Sessions also include discussions about family roles, communication, and healthy ways to interact with one another. Clients are also encouraged to develop behavioral goals for preventing substance use, which is anchored to a contingency management system. Family members and parents are prompted to set goals related to effective parenting behaviors. These goals are reviewed in each session, with rewards provided by significant others when they are accomplished. At Nova, we also provide a Family Program for clients and their loved ones. This three-day intensive experience combines a variety of therapeutic tools, methods, and models that are designed to promote healing among all family members. These tools include:
- Therapy groups
- Educational lectures
- Experiential work
- Deeply moving family encounters
The More Support You Have, The More You Can GiveThe National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence points out the importance of a support group like Nar-Anon for helping you and other family members navigate the day-to-day reality of living with someone who is addicted to drugs, whether or not he or she is in recovery. A support groups offers you a place to vent, find resources and get practical advice from other people who have been in your shoes or who are currently going through similar circumstances. Joining a support group from the beginning will help you better support your loved one and it can better help you lead your loved one to choose treatment if he or she remains ambivalent to recovery or in denial that there’s a problem.
Aftercare for the FamilyContinuing to engage in family therapy and participate in your support group are also critical during the initial period of recovery after rehab. Treatment is only the beginning, and there’s still a long way to go. Healthy communication among family members is important for improving the chances of long-term recovery, and family therapy is crucial for restoring function to the household. Continuing to engage with your support system during this time will also be very useful for helping you support your loved one in early recovery, and it will help you maintain your own sense of well-being. Once he or she returns from treatment, your loved one will have to make a number of lifestyle changes, and understanding how these affect addiction recovery and learning how you can best support him will help ensure a smooth transition from addiction to sobriety.
Lifestyle Changes Help Improve Recovery OutcomesTriggers are powerful things, and avoiding them or learning to effectively cope with them are central to long-term recovery. Perhaps the most powerful trigger is stress, and keeping stress under control in the weeks and months after treatment will be extremely important for helping to prevent a lapse or relapse. Staving off boredom and feelings of isolation will also be crucial for successful recovery. You can help your loved one by supporting or even initiating lifestyle changes that will help him or her to navigate early recovery as effectively as possible. These include letting old friends who use fall away, adopting a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Spending quality time together doing activities you enjoy will help your loved one find enjoyment in life and reduce feelings of isolation, and new traditions, such as taking a walk after dinner or spending Sunday doing the crossword over brunch, gives the family something to look forward to and fills the time with enjoyable and productive activities to help prevent boredom.
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