The Importance of Family Involvement

Written on by Amy Brower

I recently completed an internship with Voice and Vision, which has been such an incredibly insightful and rewarding experience. I had the privilege of working alongside intelligent and compassionate individuals throughout my time with this agency. I acquired more knowledge and perspective about mental health and substance use disorder than I ever thought possible as a first-year intern. The following blog is written to share what I have learned throughout this past year regarding the importance of family involvement in recovery treatment, as well as some powerful quotes from the Help and Hope Guide.

“If you are looking for treatment, you can’t ignore the mental health piece.”

While I focused on gathering significant data regarding substance use disorder and family involvement in recovery treatment, much of that information can also be applied to individuals in mental health recovery treatment. The data collected over the past year reveals a rapid increase in the number of individuals with substance use disorder. This information resonates with me when considering the number of individuals and families I know who have been directly impacted by the disease of addiction and/or other mental health diagnoses.   

When addiction enters the family system, the unit and all its parts are disrupted and no longer operate as smoothly.”

After conducting numerous phone interviews, revising the Voice and Vision’s Help and Hope Guide, and engaging in independent research through scholarly articles and webinars, it became evident how crucial it is to involve family and loved ones in recovery treatment. When an individual with a substance use disorder and/or mental illness is under-treated, or untreated all together, relationships get damaged in the process. However, when family members work on their own individual recovery, it allows for the opportunity to create a more stable foundation for the family unit as a whole in addition to the loved one in treatment.

“When families are actively engaged in the treatment process it benefits not just the family, but the loved one in treatment as well.”

It is mutually beneficial when family members work on their own recovery. While working on their own individual recovery, it is vital for family members to set and maintain healthy boundaries with their loved one. It is not uncommon for the loved one to defy or reject the boundaries set by the family, as they may not have been held accountable for their actions or the family may have unknowingly enabled the destructive behaviors. It is crucial for the family unit to not only identify appropriate boundaries to put in place, but to work together to implement and uphold the identified boundaries.

“Families need to be educated as to their role and explore ways to change past dynamics that have historically protected the disease.”

I have come to learn that there is a big difference, but such a fine line, between tough love and enabling harmful behavior. One reason family can sometimes be excluded from treatment is due to enabling harmful behavior rather than asserting and upholding healthy boundaries. Family members are powerless over their loved one’s actions, but not powerless over their own actions. Tough love is setting and maintaining appropriate and healthy boundaries with the loved one in order to allow them to adapt new, positive ways of coping with life stressors. Enabling can be considered over-giving and over-functioning, which ultimately leads the loved one to resort to older coping skills and restricts them from learning and adapting to new, positive coping skills. 

“Families becoming involved in the treatment process can allow for families to learn ways to hate and grieve the disease yet stay connected and still love the person.”

The chronic disease of addiction literally changes the individual’s brain to think and act in maladaptive ways. Due to the nature of the disease and the changes that take place in the body, common behavior includes, but is not limited to, lying, stealing, and/or seeking relief through their preferred substance. An analogy that helped to paint a clearer image in my head is “the disease of addiction versus the loved one”; the disease and the loved one both reside in the same body, but they have very different ways of coping with life stressors.    

“Increased knowledge of addiction allows families to understand this as a disease and explore ways to support.”

After I had finished proofreading and revising Voice and Vision’s Help and Hope Guide, I immediately sent the URL link to a friend of mine whose partner has struggled with substance use disorder and mental health issues throughout the majority of their relationship. Her initial response was that she wished she had known about this resource much sooner and believes it has great potential to further educate and empower families on the disease of addiction. She shared, “Families SHOULD be involved in this process. My partner’s caseworker was readily available via phone and email when I needed her. I felt supported and seen as a loved one, even though I was not married to her patient, and I was in a same-sex relationship.”

“When families become and remained involved in the treatment of their loved one, 90% of those are more likely to seek and remain in treatment.”

If family involvement is proven to be successful in recovery treatment, why do so many clinicians and recovery programs neglect to involve families in treatment? When an individual struggles with substance use disorder, it directly affects the person who is using, as well as the family unit and others considered to be a part of their support system. The family and loved ones despise and grieve the disease while unconditionally loving and connecting with the individual who struggles with the disease. Therefore, it is imperative to include and empower everyone involved to ensure all perspectives and concerns are properly addressed. It is my hope that more clinicians and providers will recognize the importance of including families and loved ones in the treatment process, as well as further implement family involvement programs into practice. 

Amy Brower

This blog was written by guest author, Amy Brower who recently completed an internship at Voice and Vision. Amy is a finishing her second year as a graduate student at Widener University and is enrolled in a clinical social work program to become a LCSW following graduation. She currently is a cognitive therapist at a residential facility for individuals living with brain injuries. Amy possess an incredible amount of compassion for all beings — across cultures and across species — and she feels compelled to stand up to social injustices that arise. As a result, she adopted a vegan lifestyle and is now pursuing a master’s degree in clinical social work. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, meditating, tending to her countless houseplants, spending time outdoors, photographing nature, and working on a challenging puzzle.  

Blog Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

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