Family Therapy in Recovery

Renaissance Recovery logo

By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Family therapy in recovery has played a central role in treating substance abuse. Family work has become a strong and continuing theme of many treatment programs for many reasons. For starters, the family has likely suffered from and in some cases, possibly attributed to a person’s addiction even if unintentionally.  Therefore, the family must be involved in treating substance abuse. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the two disciplines, family therapy and substance abuse treatment, bring different perspectives to treatment implementation. In substance abuse treatment, for instance, the client is the identified patient (IP)—the person in the family with the presenting substance abuse problem. In family therapy, the goal of treatment is to meet the needs of all family members. Family therapy addresses the interdependent nature of family relationships and how these relationships serve the IP and other family members for good or ill. The focus of family therapy treatment is to intervene in these complex relational patterns and to alter them in ways that bring about productive change for the entire family. Family therapy rests on the systems perspective. As such, changes in one part of the system can and do produce changes in other parts of the system, and these changes can contribute to either problems or solutions. In plain English, there are bridges that need to be rebuilt and emotions that must be addressed. It often starts with the obligatory airing of dirty laundry so to speak, but the goal is to quickly get these issues out in the open. After this, the family and the recovering addict can start the process of healing. As time goes on, the patient can retrain his or her brain to deal with the stresses of family interactions where necessary. Both the healing and the learning to cope with potential relapse triggers are important to success in recovery. It is important to understand the complex role that families can play in substance abuse treatment. They can be a source of help to the treatment process, but they also must manage the consequences of the IP’s addictive behavior. Individual family members are concerned about the IP’s substance abuse, but they also have their own goals and issues. Providing services to the whole family has shown to improve treatment effectiveness. In some cases, the family is not a part of the patient’s life and haven’t been in some time. In fact, some patients have literally no immediate family at all.  Where possible though, it’s always better to get the family involved in the recovery process.


What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a collection of therapeutic approaches that share a belief in family‐level assessment and intervention. A family is a system, and in any system each part is related to all other parts. Consequently, a change in any part of the system will bring about changes in all other parts. Therapy based on this point of view uses the strengths of families to bring about change in a range of diverse problem areas, including substance abuse. Family therapy in substance abuse treatment has two main purposes. First, it seeks to use the family’s strengths and resources to help find or develop ways to live without substances of abuse. Second, it ameliorates the impact of chemical dependency on both the IP and the family. Frequently, in the process, marshaling the family’s strengths requires the provision of basic support for the family. In family therapy, the unit of treatment is the family, and/or the individual within the context of the family system. The person abusing substances is regarded as a subsystem within the family unit—the person whose symptoms have severe repercussions throughout the family system. The familial relationships within this subsystem are the points of therapeutic interest and intervention. The therapist facilitates discussions and problem-solving sessions, often with the entire family group or subsets thereof, but sometimes with a single participant, who may or may not be the person with the substance use disorder. A distinction should be made between family therapy and family‐involved therapy. Family‐involved therapy attempts to educate families about the relationship patterns that typically contribute to the formation and continuation of substance abuse. It differs from family therapy in that the family is not the primary therapeutic grouping, nor is there intervention in the system of family relationships. Most substance abuse treatment centers offer such a family educational approach. It typically is limited to psychoeducation to teach the family about substance abuse, related behaviors, and the behavioral, medical, and psychological consequences of use. In practical terms, family therapy is spent first covering the history of the patient’s addiction and how the family was affected or how they impacted the patient’s addictive behavior. From there, it moves on to addressing the feelings of each member of the family. As therapy progresses, the goal is for every member of the family – including the patient – to have a better understanding of the causes and effects of addiction. The early sessions of family therapy can be difficult. There are often years of pent up frustration on both sides of the table that must first be vented and absorbed. Once this painful portion is over, things get much better rapidly. Both the family and the patient have laid out all of their grievances, concerns, and feelings and the real recovery process can begin.

Continuity of Family Therapy in Recovery

Anyone who thinks a few sessions of family therapy in recovery is enough is simply uninformed. The family’s role in recovery treatment is important throughout all stages of recovery. Families are urged to participate in every step of recovery, from Rehab to sober living and with maintenance programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and similar group therapy. Studies show that the more the family is actively participating in a patient’s recovery process, the better the outcomes for the patient.866.330.9449

an image of a fist from someone learning how to fight addiction
Addiction and Recovery

How to Fight Addiction

Learning how to fight addiction is something few people consider when they first start abusing drinking alcohol, using prescription medications, or experimenting with illicit drugs.

Read More »

Share this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
an image of a client

Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

an image of a client

Paige R

“They truly cared for me and the other people that I served with! From this group, I have made 8 new brothers and friends for life! We have continued on, after the program, to take care of each other”

an image of a client

Courtney S

“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country