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  • While individual therapy is important to the recovery process, family therapy can be just as vital. Approaching treatment as a family disease can help the addicted person stick to their recovery and know that the whole family is willing to support them.

    Family therapy benefits both the person with addiction and all family members, making the treatment process more manageable and effective. 

    What Is Family Therapy?

    Family therapy is a type of family counseling or psychotherapy that can help family members improve communication skills and resolve conflicts within the family unit. Family therapy is provided by a psychologist, clinical social worker, or licensed therapist.

    It can be a way for the whole family to talk about how addiction has affected them all. These sessions can happen while the person is still going through the initial treatment program at an inpatient residential treatment center or during outpatient treatment at a mental health clinic.

    Family therapy can also take the form of family interventions. This involves addressing the person with a substance use disorder and letting them know there’s help and support for them.

    Family Therapy & Addiction

    Family therapy helps the entire family talk about how substance abuse problems have harmed the family relationship as a whole. 

    The main goal of family therapy is to help everyone in the family understand how addiction affects them and how their relationships with each other can be improved. It uses the family’s strengths to find a way for them all to live without substance abuse in their lives. 

    It’s also meant to not only inspire each member in the family to support the person struggling with drug abuse, but to also feel like every family member’s needs are met.

    Goals Of Family Therapy

    While the main goal is to support everyone’s needs and understand how addiction has affected them, there are some secondary goals as well, including:

    • providing helpful family support for the individual in recovery: Family therapy decreases someone’s chances of relapse by working to change past behavior and develop new skills or healthier habits.
    • improving the emotional health of the whole family: family therapy sessions can help family members establish trust and forgiveness for past behaviors and resolve conflict or feelings of anger or frustration.

    Family Therapy Treatment Approaches

    There are different forms of family therapy, including:

    • private family sessions involving a family therapist and one or more members of the family
    • group sessions with patients and their loved ones
    • individual counseling for spouses and/or children of recovering addicts
    • 12-step support group meetings for the families of addicts like Al-Anon

    There are also several treatment models in family therapy and addiction treatment that include:

    • structural or strategic therapy: this focuses on what started and enabled substance abuse, emphasizing improved communication and helping family members set boundaries with the addicted person
    • multidimensional family therapy: this works with children to build identities, boundaries, and stability while parents are counseled on communication and boundaries
    • behavioral family therapy: this uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to identify harmful thought behaviors within the family system; family members learn how to replace negative behaviors to create positive changes that support recovery

    What To Expect From Family Therapy

    When first going to family therapy, you might be anxious about what it will be like. Here are a few things you can expect:

    Family Involvement

    Family therapy likely starts after the person has entered substance abuse treatment and made some progress. It involves the person in treatment and at least one family member who is close to the person.

    Life Skills

    The therapist helps family members learn new skills that can help improve their home environment. Family members will learn how to effectively communicate and behave in ways that support their loved one’s recovery.


    Family members are also asked to set goals related to the roles they play within the family unit. These goals and their progress are reviewed during each treatment session.

    Therapeutic Techniques

    Those in family therapy may also practice several different therapeutic techniques, including:

    • journaling
    • role playing
    • open emotional expression
    • writing letters to self or others
    • communication techniques

    Benefits Of Family Therapy

    When viewed as a family disease that affects everyone who lives with or loves the person with addiction, family therapy provides benefits that may include:

    • keeping your loved one engaged and motivated during treatment/recovery
    • learning about addiction and its effects on your family
    • understanding how treatment works and what to expect when it’s complete
    • helping family members voice feelings and ask questions about a loved one’s addiction
    • easing feelings of fear, anger, stress and confusion related to drug or alcohol use
    • developing new skills to help a loved one stay on the path to recovery
    • improving family dynamics and communication skills
    • addressing any mental illness issues within the family
    • dealing with adolescent substance abuse
    • improving chances of long-term success in recovery

    If you or a loved one lives with alcohol abuse or drug addiction, call our helpline today. We incorporate family therapy and counseling into all of our addiction treatment programs as needed.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Family-Based Approaches
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Family Behavior Therapy
    Treatment Improvement Protocol - Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on May 25, 2022
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