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Family Matters: Questions and Answers on Family Counseling

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Family therapy is form of psychotherapy (psychological counseling) that focuses on the entire family rather than one individual family member. It’s usually provided by a licensed therapist, clinical social worker or psychologist.

What Does Family Counseling Look Like?

People discussing drug and alcohol abuse during family counselingIn family counseling for addiction, therapists use techniques, including marriage and family therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, couples therapy and solution-focused family therapy. Because of this wide range of sources, each family’s counseling looks and feels different.

For Tom and his family, the counselor utilizes one or more of these common intervention methods:

  • Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT): This is most often used for adolescents with substance abuse disorders. It includes individual and family sessions. In Tom’s sessions, the counselor helps Tom improve his communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills. For the family, the therapist explores the parenting styles and works to discover ways for the family to have a positive impact on Tom’s substance abuse.
  • Family Behavior Therapy (FBT): This method is used for both teens and adults. With FBT, the therapist focuses on helping Tom and his family build skills to improve their home life. This involves developing goals to end the substance abuse and providing rewards when these goals are reached. This therapy stretches beyond the substance abuse to target mental health issues as well as employment and financial concerns.
  • Community and family approach (CRA): While still focusing on the role of the family in substance abuse, CRA expands to include the community, too. Tom and his family learn ways to improve communication within their home, as well as build a support system outside of it.

Should We Get Family Counseling?

If you’re unsure if family counseling is right for your situation, answer the following questions. If your answers are yes, family counseling is a good solution for you:

  • Has your family member’s use negatively affected your health (mental or physical)?
  • Has your family member continued their use after you and others have asked them to stop?
  • Do you want to learn methods to respond appropriately to your loved one’s use?
  • Has your family member tried other treatment approaches, with no success?
  • Do you believe there are family issues that are contributing to the addiction?

Keep in mind, this type of counseling isn’t an either/or. It can be used in combination with other treatments such as individual therapy, medication management and rehab programs. It’s also important to realize that family counseling can be used for other types of “families” such as friends or coworkers.

Family Counseling Philosophy

projectknow-shutter280363781-group-of-teenagersThe philosophy behind family counseling is that family members are strongly interconnected.

If Tom’s addicted, his parents and siblings are directly affected. Because of this, family counseling seeks to help all members. This, in turn, provides a healthier environment for Tom, increasing his success in recovery.


What Are the Benefits of Family Counseling?

Family counseling provides many benefits with few costs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services both recommend family counseling because studies show that it results in better engagement and higher rates of success. Its many benefits include:

  • Improved mental and physical states for the whole family
  • Improved communication
  • Better understanding of enabling behaviors
  • Prevention of substance abuse to other family members
  • Increased awareness of needs and behaviors

What Are the Risks of Family Counseling?

Fortunately, the risks are low and are far outweighed by the benefits. Risks include:

  • Becoming defensive
  • Escalating anger and violence
  • Increasing substance use

What Can I Expect from Family Counseling?

While many styles can be used, all family counseling involves the therapist working with your entire family as a unit as well as subgroups and individually. It’s usually short term. The sessions aim to teach you how to deepen connections and develop methods to help you work through tough times together.

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