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Solutions-Based Approach to Family Therapy

By Comments off By the Numbers: Solutions-Based Approach to Family Therapy

Families are often stuck by the cluster of behaviors they see in a loved one dealing with substance abuse. Being able to point to a diagnosis that can explain everything can feel like a relief.

The truth is, however, that a diagnosis-based philosophy to recovery often prevents families from moving forward and solving the underlying problems that cause substance abuse. Relying on a diagnosis, and using that diagnosis to explain away behavior, actually takes power away from the family. Instead of finding solutions, families stagnate and turn to labeling each other with a host of illnesses.

A solutions-based approach, on the other hand, steps back from the diagnosis and seeks to understand why a person is behaving the way they are.

Recovery from substance use disorder

Families who are accustomed to using diagnoses to explain behavior and family dynamics are still very stuck in the dysfunctional or ineffective behavior patterns that they’ve been in for many years.

Being solutions-based rather than focusing on diagnoses, or labels, isn’t just empowering for families who have a loved one struggling with substance abuse. In many situations we face in our lives, holding onto preconceived notions and refusing to be flexible can cause more conflict and perpetuate problems. Being solutions-focused is really a lifestyle and a mindset.

Jen Stowe, MA, LAMFT, and Rob Rodriguez, MA, LAMFT, LADC, are dynamic family therapists at Family Recovery Resource Experts. Here, they discuss the importance of using a solutions-based approach to help families heal from substance problems or disorders..

Empowering families to recover from substance use disorder

Jen Stowe: We have a lot of families that come to us and they have many diagnoses for one person. And while I think a proper diagnosis can be very important to inform treatment and to inform therapy, we often see families who are just completely hung up on “What are we calling this?” as opposed to “What are we doing about this?  How are we changing the way we relate to it?  How are we changing the way we relate to each other?”
Rob Rodriguez: I can think of a couple that I was working with, and the original problem they presented was he drinks too much and he’s leaving the home, and who knows what he’s doing out there. As we unpacked more, we discovered that there was more to this than just his drinking.

We started to discover that we had a distancer / pursuer relationship, and the more she pursued the more he distanced. It turned out that she had become dependent on him for her own happiness, so she wasn’t generating an internal way of building self-esteem or doing worthwhile things for herself.

So we started to shift the focus and look at that. The more we’ve worked together, the more she’s blossomed into a more self-integrated person, believing in herself more, looking at herself as a worthwhile human being, whether he comes back or not.

As a result, he started coming back more and they started to interact more.  And they continue to work with us. At some point soon, we’re going to have to do something about his drinking, but maybe there’s more to it than that.

Integrating a solutions-based approach to your own life

Jen: My seven-year-old can still bring me to my knees on any given day. I have to ask myself continually the same questions I encourage families to ask: “What do I have control over right now, in this moment? How do I actively seek a solution in this moment, as opposed to, how do I continue to behave in a way that perpetuates the problem?”

Rob: It’s funny – recently I had a conversation with my son. We love each other. But we struggle with saying that to each other and we struggle with really being intimate with each other. So we decided, “Let’s start talking about one little tiny thing, the size of a cigarette. Let’s start to talk about that and how we feel about that. And as we get that one under our belt, we’ll build up to something higher.” Eventually, we might be talking about how we really feel about each other, and that would be a great thing for me.

Want to learn about how a solutions-based approach could help your family recover from substance use disorder? Email us at or schedule a consultation today.