Five Ways to Support Your Family as a Loved One Enters Treatment
Your loved one has finally agreed to enter treatment for addiction or mental health issues. If they’re going to in-patient treatment, you’re ready to drop them off at the facility. If it’s an outpatient program, they’ve got the start date marked on the calendar. While you may be relieved that they’re taking this important step, a whole new set of worries can set in.
Going into treatment is a high-stress experience for the family and their loved one. Even when the individual has been to treatment before, there’s a lot of unpredictability about what’s ahead. Walking through the front door of the treatment center is often when people break down. Here are some tips for supporting your whole family as your loved one enters treatment.
Trust the process.
Depending on the type of treatment your loved one is going to, there may be a fairly rigid system they and you will be required to follow. This is especially true for in-patient treatment programs, which are usually very specific, for example, about what types of things patients are allowed to bring with them. Family members often want to know what a typically day will look like for their loved one, and sometimes we can provide that information, but not always.
For example, there can be blackout periods at the beginning of the program during which you and your loved one won’t be able to have contact. If your loved one is an adult, they will be able to decide how much information the treatment center can release and to whom. That means that, even if you’re paying for their treatment, the treatment center may be able to release limited or no information about your loved one to you. All this is to say that it’s important for families to surrender to whatever process the treatment center requires. That can be difficult for family members who have spent years coping with the dysfunctional situation through attempts to control.
Don’t make promises.
When a loved one enters treatment, a lot of family members want to talk about how much potential their loved one has for when he or she recovers. That can make your loved one angry because all they’re hearing is how they’re not good enough. My advice to family members is to simply be present. Acknowledge there’s a lot of scary unknowns and that they’re courageous for facing their issue. But making false promises can set them up for failure. And this goes for making promises to yourself or your family as well.
Ask for help.
A behavioral health consultancy can be invaluable for families in the vacuum left by their loved one entering treatment. Because so much of the attention and energy in the family has been consumed by that one person, it can be hard for family members to refocus once that person is temporarily out the picture. Families can actually go back into a crisis mode at that time. A behavioral health consultant can help walk family members through those moments, reassure them and help them move into a healthier response state.
Engage in self-care.
As family members turn their attention back on themselves and away from their loved one, self-care is an important focus. On that first day your loved one enters treatment, we encourage you to start practicing self-care. The best thing you can do for your loved one, your family and yourself is to go home and take care of yourself. Go for a run, be with friends, take a nap. I encourage family members to ground themselves and be present in their body. The family has been focused on thinking about the problem or constantly revisiting the story. Now is the time to shift to what your body needs. Family recovery starts with you being healthy.
Acknowledge there’s still work to do.
It’s important to realize that it’s not getting someone off to treatment that makes everything better. That may be an immediate concern. But families need education and support to understand the relief they feel isn’t the solution. Continuous forward movement is the solution. And that holds true for family members as well as their loved one. There can be resistance to family members facing their own issues around the situation. People sometimes feel like this is their loved one’s problem, not their problem. I can say that 100 percent of the time that’s not the case.
When we start to look at the patterns of behavior in the family, we see that everyone is engaging in behaviors that are keeping the issues alive. The family needs to engage in creating a wholly new way of being. They need to learn tools for supporting wellness, healthy relationships and healthy boundaries for themselves and others.