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Existing in Relationships

By Comments off By the Numbers: Existing in Relationships

Family-focused recovery acknowledges the power of relationships in the healing process.

The way we focus on most problems is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That means that when an individual—for example an adult child in a family—is suffering from addiction or mental illness, the focus is on them. The problem is, we exist in relationships. Relationships are where we draw so much meaning, experience, feedback and learning in life.

So when that adult child is suffering, the whole family needs support, not just the squeaky wheel. You have to look at how the addiction or mental illness of one person plays out in the people around them. That’s what family-focused recovery does: it not only helps the initially identified individual, but it addresses the needs of the family so the whole family system gets well.

Keeping the story straight

A good family-focused recovery program provides a repository for all the information and narratives associated with the addiction. This keeps the story straight as a family is moving through multiple healthcare facilities and providers, all of which might otherwise only get one piece of the larger picture. A great example of this is the challenge for parents who have gone through years of hell with their adult children, and they find that their children start to demonize them.

We’re talking about parents who have literally prevented the deaths of their child multiple times by, for example, calling the ambulance when he’s overdosing. When that adult child goes into treatment and talks about how oppressive and controlling his mother is, without any collateral data the treatment center provider has no reason not buy into everything he’s saying. And then that mom walks into family day at the treatment center and her adult child accuses her of being a helicopter mom and tells her she needs to back off, you have the therapist agreeing with him because she doesn’t have any other information.

In this case, as long as all medical release forms are signed, a good family-focused recovery practitioner will have been working with the treatment center to provide the overarching narrative of that person’s addiction journey so they’ll be getting the family’s perspective as well as the perspective of the initially identified individual. Without that focus on the entire family, you can really lose ground in the family’s healing process because, like in the hypothetical example above, they may be being blamed for things that are outside their control.

Giving it back

That said, a big part of our job as family-focused recovery professionals is to help family members—especially parents—understand that they need to give the addiction or the mental illness back to their child. We help parents understand that trying to make their child comfortable or protect him hasn’t solved the problem. That by constantly running interference for them and providing assistance, it just completely removes their motivation to be any different than he is. In fact, it may have made the problem worse.

And it didn’t work, because the child is still engaging in destructive behavior. But what it did do was tap the parents out emotionally and financially.

Often other family members, like siblings, will be aware of the codependency going on with their parents, but they can’t say anything about it. So it’s my job as a therapist to point out what’s happening. It’s hard for people to hear. Those parents might walk out and never want to work with me again. But even if that happens, and we can help spark a change in that family, it’s worth it.

Learn more about FRrē’s process for helping families heal from addiction and mental illness through our family-focused solutions. Or you could send us an email at or schedule a consultation today.