Addiction is well-known as a disease of relationships. When one member of the family suffers, the rest of the family also feels their suffering. Although the addicted individual is the one who needs to give their best to fight the addiction, family members also need to do their fair share of hard work. By transforming dysfunctional family patterns into healthy patterns, the addict and the family can thrive in recovery. Family therapy offers just this, a way to develop a nourishing and fully-functional family through means of psychological counseling.
Usually provided by a psychologist, licensed counselor or clinical social worker, family therapy aims to help family members improve communication, resolve conflicts and deepen family connections. This type of beneficial therapy can include all members of the family or just those who are willing to take part. The duration of the therapy and its specific plan will depend on the family’s circumstances.
What is the core belief of family therapy?
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The core belief of family therapy is that each family is a unique system with its own patterns of communication. These patterns are formed by a wide range of things, such as the family’s beliefs and values, the members’ personalities, and the impact of the wider family (aunts, uncles, grandparents).
For this reason, each family is different and has its own distinct personality. As Tolstoy quoted in his book Anna Karenina, there are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy. In this case, the cause for the unhappiness is addiction at one of the members. The goal of family therapy should be to strengthen all family members so they can work on their problems together.
Another concept of family therapy is that by treating the addict only, it’s like treating the symptom of a disease but not the disease itself. This might result in another family member getting sick and the cycle repeating itself unless the family resolves and successfully treats all issues.
What is the responsibility of the family counselor?
Each family counselor has completed training, formal education, and testing to ensure that they are up to this difficult task. To become a certified family counselor, one needs to earn a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a mental health field. During this period, the individual completes coursework and internships in their chosen field. Most family counselors also have a master’s degree in counseling and family therapy. These family therapy programs usually require 2 to 2.5 years of full-time study.
In addition, it’s common for family counselors to seek a doctorate in the field. All family counselors have a minimum level of experience in the treatment of domestic violence, infertility, marital conflicts, LGBTQ issues, grieving, substance abuse or child and adolescent behavioral problems.
After completing their education, the therapist will have the skills to offer guidance for a wide range of issues, including:
- Unexpected illness or death
- Personal conflicts within couples or families
- Behavioral problems in children
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Mental health problems
- Divorce or separation
The role of a counselor is to teach families about how families operate in general and how their own operates. A counselor helps the family focus less on the addict and more on the entire family as a whole. Furthermore, the family will receive the help they need to identify conflicts and anxieties and develop the best strategies for resolving them. The family will work on the problem together which will lead to a strengthened relationship.
How can a family counselor enhance a family unit?
- A family counselor can improve communication. With the help of a counselor, all family members will understand the importance of their roles in the family. They will get to understand how they all contribute to the overall health and well-being of the family unit. They will learn how to be more open with each other, honest about their feelings, and understand each other more effectively without creating conflicts.
- A family counselor can strengthen bonds. A family counselor can improve the family relationships through bringing the family together after a crisis and helping family members forgive each other. The therapy sessions will ignite conflict resolution for family members and deeper empathy.
- A family counselor will reduce conflict and improve anger management skills. With the help of a counselor, families will learn how to address issues without stress and tension that disrupt the family’s efficiency and functioning. This will lead to reduced tension within the family and healthier ways of resolving issues.
- A family counselor can help develop a supportive family environment. In cases where there was little support among family members and the relationships were characterized by apathy, now a caring and encouraging family environment will be installed.
- A family counselor can prevent the addiction spread throughout the family. By treating the family as a whole, and not just the addict, the family counselor can help treat the disease itself. This will prevent the disease from spreading to another family member.
How to find and choose a family counselor?
Here are some tips on how to find and choose the best family counselor:
Check your insurance. How well does your insurance cover family therapy? Family therapy is not always considered as mental health care. Check with your employer to see if your health insurance covers some local marriage and family therapists.
Look into social workers and counselors available in your community at community health centers and organizations. These health centers and organizations might be centered around helping people with the problems your family is facing. Keep in mind that although these might be more affordable, they’re usually overloaded with cases. Don’t be discouraged and don’t be hesitant to broaden your search.
Put together a list of counselors, social workers, or psychologists that you’re thinking of seeing. This list should be based on proximity to your home, their office hours, or your health insurance plan.
Personal recommendations. A great source for family referrals are families who have gained from a counselor’s services. If there’s a family you know that’s been to counseling, ask them about their experience with that particular counselor.
Ask your doctor for recommendations. Your doctor can refer you to a qualified family counseling service. He/she might have insight into which family therapists in the area might offer the best help for your family.