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Family Therapy in Addiction Recovery

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

April 1, 2024

Table of Contents

Addiction typically unravels relationships of all kinds, so it’s unsurprising that family therapy and addiction recovery are often beneficial in combination.

When a family unit wants to learn how to better communicate and how to resolve internal conflicts more effectively, they often turn to the assistance of a family therapist. A family member grappling with addiction is one of the most common reasons people seek family therapy.

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Psychologists, licensed therapists, and clinical social workers can all deliver family therapy.

We’ll look today at family therapy and all it entails, from group therapy for family members of addicts through to family therapy in addiction treatment and family group therapy for addiction.

Firstly, what is family therapy, exactly, and what should you expect from family therapy at a California rehab?

What is Family Therapy Addiction Treatment?

Family therapy is a form of addiction therapy, more specifically psychotherapy or psychological counseling. The overarching goals include streamlining communication and resolving conflict. Other aspects of addiction therapy can include things like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectal behavior therapy.

Family therapy differs from individual addiction counseling in that it seeks to address and treat the behaviors of the family as a whole rather than as separate components.

While each person does bring something different to the table in a family setting, it’s imperative that the family group is addressed in a psychotherapy setting as well.

In family therapy, the therapist will typically spend time with members of the family individually, and also as part of the family unit. During this time together, the therapist will be examining family relationships as well as the overall dynamic.

Often, in addition to individual therapy and whole family therapy, therapists might recommend marriage therapy for the parents of the family. Issues with children could be arising in response to something happening between the parents, or perhaps the parents are having trouble communicating because they are trying to figure out what’s happening with their children. Further insight can often be gained through marriage therapy. The therapist may also recommend therapy for family members of addicts

There are myriad elements at play in the family dynamic, and if unity is to be achieved, the family needs to work together cohesively.

So, this is where family therapy comes into play.

There are many varying methods used for family therapy including:

  • Structural Family Therapy
  • Bowenian Family Therapy
  • Strategic Family Therapy
  • Systemic Family Therapy

These forms of therapies have been shown to help clients dealing with addiction which, in turn, helps them overcome the negative health effects of addiction like mental health problems, overdose, liver problems, and even cancer. And while there are services and programs, like psychologists and mesothelioma caregivers, available to help with these problems, avoiding them to begin with is the best solution.

Let’s take a closer look at these different forms of family therapy.

Structural Family Therapy

When utilizing the structural method in family therapy, the therapist helps family members to reassert their roles as they relate to power within the family. In structural therapy, the hierarchy of the family is vital with the parents in complete control as the head of that family.

The goal here is to ensure the family is working as a team with the parents setting rules and boundaries for the children. The children will be encouraged to communicate whether or not they’re comfortable with those boundaries.

The structural family therapist tries to join the family system in therapy to better understand the rules and functioning of the family.

Bowenian Family Therapy

In this method of family therapy, the therapist works with the members of the family following the eight concepts of the Bowenian approach. The two most commonly used concepts are those of triangulation and differentiation.

Triangulation is the innate tendency to involve a third party when there’s a need to vent or de-stress. Most people unthinkingly pull friends and family members into situations of conflict.

With differentiation, the goal is to become more in control of your emotions when relating to your family members.

Many therapists have patients write letters to each other in order to diffuse emotional reactions.

Generally, therapists employing the Bowenian method of family therapy are working with people who would sooner not be in the same room with each other.

Strategic Family Therapy

For families who want quick and dramatic results, the strategic method of family therapy is an ideal approach because it’s so brief and direct.

In this approach to therapy, the therapist often assigns homework to family members to assist in changing the interactions between them. The family works alongside the therapist to address hierarchies, communication concerns, and problematic coalitions formed among family members.

Therapists often assess what the problem is – for example, yelling all the time – and then they advise the family members to do this more often.

Counterintuitively, by reframing things in this way, previously negative communication patterns are seen in a different and more positive light.

Systemic Family Therapy

When approaching family problems with the systemic model, therapists look at the underlying causes of the family’s actions and behavior. They reason that much of what is happening on the surface is stemming from the unconscious.

Without taking sides, the therapist talks with the family about their actions, behaviors, and family rituals.

Using their outside perspective, the therapist is able to help the family see their problems from a different standpoint, hopefully helping them to better understand why certain problems are occurring.

In the systemic method of family therapy, the problems a family is facing are seen as an unconscious “game” being played by the family. When the family members stop playing the game, the problems also cease.

people who have been through a family therapy session

Benefits of Family Therapy for Addiction

In 2013, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of different treatments used when problems arise in families. While the majority of these studies are geared toward reducing substance abuse, it’s clear that family therapy is the most effective tool against these issues.

Another study showed that family therapy is an excellent supplement when treating youngsters with other conditions such as depression, ADHD, and anxiety.

When problems arise in families, family therapy can be counted on to help establish the root cause and then alleviate these issues.

There are further benefits to family therapy addiction recovery beyond clinical and research-based benefits.

A family attending therapy together can receive help with developing healthy boundaries and then maintaining these boundaries once they are established.

Helping the family to realize that they are a cohesive team can alleviate many problems within the family unit.

Often, different members of the family simply don’t understand one another. Family therapy can help to further understanding and help family members better empathize with one another.

Better communication, enhanced empathy and understanding, and firm boundaries can all lead to better communication and a better family dynamic.

So, when should you consider engaging in family therapy?

Well, there are some clear-cut signs that point to needing an outside voice of reason in the family debates. If your family is experiencing the following issues, it might be time to seek outside help in the form of family therapy.

Consistent breakdowns in communication among family members are a surefire sign that there’s a serious problem. If communication is a struggle in your family, you should seek help to make it better.

Almost all routines become boring at some point, but if you find that family life is monotonous and burdensome, you might consider talking to someone. If your family seems as though they are all draining one another’s energy and not functioning well, you need help.

When members of your family start to withdraw from family life, something is amiss and needs to be addressed.

If excessive emotional outbursts and reactions are normal in your home, someone needs to step in and help your family get to the root of this.

Threats of violence to self or others, depression, major changes at school or in behavior, traumatic events, life-changing events, substance abuse problems, life throw endless curveballs.

The point here is that at some point, it’s likely your family might need to seek outside help to get it pointed down the right path again.

That’s why we are here, and we can help you with family therapy addiction treatment here at Renaissance Recovery Center.

a man who went through family therapy at Renaissance Recovery

Family Therapy at Renaissance Recovery

To reiterate, you are not alone, and neither is your family.

Finding family therapy doesn’t have to be complicated, and when you’re ready to seek out help, we are here to help you take further action and to get back on track.

We also offer family therapy for addiction as part of our evidence-based outpatient programs for alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, and co-occurring disorders. Reach out to Renaissance for more information on our drug rehab in Orange County or reach out to our addiction hotline today at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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