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Family Therapy: Definition, Application, Process and Effectivity

    Family Therapy for Addiction Treatment 

    Substance use can significantly impact not only the individuals afflicted but family dynamics as well. The behaviors of an addicted individual cause an erosion of trust, breakdowns in communication, and a myriad of painful and difficult emotions to process as family members wonder what to do to help the one struggling with addiction. 
    Family members of someone who struggles with substance use may experience feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and grief at the thought of having to pick up the pieces after treatment. 

Life After Addiction

While it is the responsibility of the individual to seek out treatment and relief from addiction, family members can play a significant role in the healing process while they find healing and hope for themselves once more. It is easy to slip into dysfunctional patterns and play roles that allow them to cope with the impact of drugs and alcohol. Those surrounding someone who is considering treatment should avoid taking on some of these roles as you all seek healthier ways of relating to one another.
Marriage counseling session


The savior is the family member who tries to hold it all together in the throes of addiction. Trying to compensate for feelings of shame and blame, they try to cover up for an individual by drawing attention to achievements and covering up incidents and problems that indicate a need for professional intervention. They often feel that they can handle everything on their own.


mascot provides comedic entertainment for a stressed, grieving family. This individual uses humor to minimize pain in situations and conversations, deflecting hurt away from the family and onto other topics. This person also refuses to take anything seriously as the comic response is a defense mechanism.

Lost Child

The lost child hides, emotionally and physically. This individual seeks to keep the peace while suppressing their emotions. While they do nothing to stir up trouble during an uncertain time, they tend to suffer the most when substance use is present, for their inner conflict is rarely seen by others.


Everybody in the family blames the scapegoat. This individual creates other problems to deflect attention from the real issue of substance use. They act out in their ways by picking fights to cause deliberate conflict or even getting in trouble with the law.


The enabler is perhaps the most dangerous role in the family struggling with substance use. This individual is unwilling and unable to hold the addicted individual accountable for actions and behaviors. Smoothing things over and doing everything to avoid confrontation, they seek to keep the person suffering from experiencing the natural and logical consequences of poor choices. This prevents someone from seeking treatment, for they learn to see their behavior as “normal.” The enabler often feels like holding an addict accountable for their actions will cause the enabler to “lose” that person. The enabler does believe that they are helping the addict even as their codependence does consistent harm. 

    Taking on Healthier Roles as Your Loved One Recovers 

    Family members have the important and exciting opportunity to help support and encourage someone struggling during recovery. Healthy actions to take include:
  • Holding a member accountable for their actions and behaviors
  • Encouraging their loved one to seek support and treatment
  • Refusing to engage in past behaviors that supported and enabled addiction
  • Seeking additional help and support for all family members involved in the process of recovery
The creation of these healthy habits and boundaries will create a solid and strong foundation for continued recovery for all.

Family Involvement in Substance Abuse Treatment

Young grumpy couple at marital counseling therapy

Family therapy is an integral approach to substance use treatment where the focus is placed on strengths and available resources that will open the door to a life without drugs and alcohol. Additional issues may surface in treatment that impact an individual’s substance use, such as:

  • Family history
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Untreated mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Family conflict
  • Unemployment and financial struggles
As family members learn to relate to one another again, identifying ways to rebuild trust, improve communication, and forgive past hurts will be an essential part of healing and a return to health for all involved. 

Benefits of Family Therapy

Addiction impacts the entire family, so all family members must be involved in an individual’s recovery process. There are a vast number of benefits of family therapy for addiction.

Improved Understanding

Families that engage in addiction therapy gain a better understanding of what addiction is and how it ultimately affects the behavior of everyone in the family unit. Through education on the different aspects of addiction, family members have the opportunity to take self-assessments and gain insight into matters that were not clear before.

Improved Communication

Addictive habits and patterns are often associated with a communication breakdown. With little talking and emotional distance between family members, an investment in turning these patterns around will lead to healthier relationships and the opportunity to break patterns that led to substance use in the first place.

Awareness of Family Dynamics

Unhealthy patterns of behavior can sometimes contribute to substance use and abuse. If these patterns exist, then all members of the family should receive counseling to yield the most positive outcome for everyone.

Open Sharing

Families that have experienced hurt and betrayal through addiction can find it hard to share feelings openly. Difficult emotions like anger, fear, hurt, and frustration must be shared to find reconciliation and healing. Processing these dark feelings is much easier in a therapeutic environment when are all allowed a safe place to speak and receive feedback. 

Restored Trust

In families suffering from addiction, there is broken trust and hurt that makes it difficult to move forward. Therapeutic approaches to healing help loved ones open their hearts once more and learn to see that the positive changes that their loved one is experiencing will lead to lasting healing.

Healthy Boundaries

Setting natural, healthy boundaries is foreign to a family in the throes of addiction. Drawing these boundaries and returning responsibilities back to your loved one is an essential first step to recovery for all. Clarifying these boundaries may not be easy, but it must be done for the benefit of all family members.

A Return to Self-care

Addiction treatment focuses solely on the person with a substance use issue. However, family therapy involves identifying needs and finding resources for all people who have been impacted by the experience of addiction. As families move through the process of identifying self-care needs, members are better equipped to handle the road ahead with the resources they need to become healthy.

Types of Family Therapies

There are a variety of therapy styles that cater to family needs. Talking to all family members will ultimately reveal the best course of action that you must take to allow everyone to safely voice thoughts and feelings without fearing the consequences. Here are some effective types of family therapy used in substance use treatment.

Behavioral Contracting

With behavior contracting, a therapist helps a family develop a written agreement that is focused on maintaining a substance-free home. The counselor may help family members identify triggers for substance use, predict problems, and create solid strategies to minimize these occurrences.

Multidimensional Family Therapy

Multidimensional family therapy is often used for families of adolescents suffering from addiction. The therapy involves several types of treatment for substance use and behavioral issues and a mental health evaluation that seeks to improve quality of life. Young adults work on improving relationships, setting goals, and developing coping skills while parents and other family members focus on their addictive tendencies, unhealthy relationship patterns, and interpersonal skills that can help support an individual in their recovery process.

Behavioral Marital Therapy

With behavioral marital therapy, a therapist helps a couple to create a substance-free environment. Extensive attention is given to creating coping skills, better communication, and relapse prevention as healthier life patterns are developed.

Solution-focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy focuses on solving issues identified by the family. Focusing on the future of the family and not emphasizing how problems were created gives family members a feeling of hope that they can take an active role in creating a better future.

Treatment Center Options  

Most inpatient treatment centers incorporate a family therapy component as part of treating substance use issues. Family members may have to visit treatment centers as part of committing to the program. Outpatient counseling involves meeting with a group facilitator to work out a plan for ongoing care and goal-setting. 

White Light Behavioral Health: Helping the Whole Family  

Your family is the most valuable source of support and lasting love. Though the damage done by drug and alcohol use can be substantial, there is hope for those families and individuals who seek help and support from professionals. White Light Behavioral Health Services is a group of caring, committed professionals who seek to find solutions for hurting families in need. Cutting-edge mental health practices, a commitment to ongoing care, and follow-up with all family members ensure that you and your family will find peace and happiness once again. Contact us today to set an appointment, and look forward to a brighter and more peaceful future.
Ryan Wakim MD
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Dr. Wakim is a board-certified psychiatrist with a passion for and expertise in addiction, mood disorders, trauma-related disorders and the subspecialty of interventional psychiatry. He obtained his medical degree from West Virginia University where he also completed his residency training, finishing as chief resident. Dr. Wakim co-founded and served as the CEO of Transformations leading to a successful merger with Shore Capital in May 2021. He is purpose driven towards improving the standard of and removing stigma related to behavioral healthcare. Dr. Wakim enjoys golf, traveling and time spent with his two dogs, Lulu and Rayna.

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If you or a loved one is grappling with addiction, don’t face it alone. White Light Behavioral Health is here to guide you on the path to recovery. With a compassionate team and a proven approach, we’re dedicated to helping you reclaim your life. Reach out to White Light Behavioral Health today and take the first step towards a brighter, addiction-free future. Your journey to healing begins with a single call. Please reach out to us today at (844) 297-3995 to book your appointment! And start your healing journey at our convenient facility.

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