Firstly, I let family and friends know we are available to them. When they are with our client on admission, I tell people they are very welcome to call us and check in. It sounds an obvious thing to say but often relatives and friends don’t know what to expect of residential addiction treatment. So, I ensure they know that we are here. They certainly don’t have to drop their loved one off and then not hear anything for weeks.
After seven days in treatment, with permission from our client, I make a courtesy call to their chosen family member or friend. I update them about how their loved one is doing and answer any concerns. At this stage, I tell them about our family group. Our senior therapist, Antonio, runs this session every Sunday – it’s an hour long, open to family and friends. It’s a chance for the people who are closest to our clients to have their own group therapy. They can meet other families who are affected by addiction. There’s no cap on the number of people who can attend and they’re welcome to come every Sunday, while our client is in residential treatment. Often, relatives and friends attend because it’s their first experience of a loved one going into rehab. Most people really want to know the best way to help.
The family group is about how they can help themselves, however – it’s not about how they can fix or change their loved one. It’s a chance for people to speak about the impacts of addiction upon them. They can get advice about what to do when the client leaves treatment. We suggest putting in place support for themselves – we strongly advocate free support groups for family and friends of addicts, for example, including Al-Anon, Alateen and CoDA.
We also offer family meetings at Recovery Lighthouse. These are with the client, their relations or friends, and their focal counsellor. This usually happens towards the end of the client’s residential stay. Family meetings are a great opportunity to bring up specific concerns or difficulties in the relationship, as well as talk through any fears or hopes for the future. It’s about creating mutual understanding and setting some boundaries in close relationships.
After the first seven days, we also encourage family visits – this is some free time on a Sunday when our clients can relax and catch up with friends and family.
Firstly, they can speak to a qualified therapist. Many family members and friends of addicts have never had the chance to discuss their situation with a skilled professional. Access to therapeutic support can bring people new awareness about addiction, including how best to support themselves.
Secondly, family members begin to feel they are part of something. Similar to how many of our clients feel when they first come into treatment, family and friends soon see they are not alone. Addiction affects many people from all walks of life. Addiction is sometimes referred to as a ‘family illness’ because it not only affects the addict but the people close to them as well. It’s very beneficial for different families to meet each other at Recovery Lighthouse. They feel a sense of community and gain strength from sharing their experiences.
Thirdly, our family programme is very regular. When family members engage with what we offer, they are always really keen to come again. We have good success in people coming back to us for more support and information. When a client’s family come in on the first Sunday, for example, they usually see there is a huge change in their relative. They can be really surprised to see how well their loved one is doing – in a short space of time. This can encourage people to open up in our family group about how they are feeling, which can be like a great weight has lifted. When relatives or friends come back a second and third time, we can do more work to help them understand that it’s the client who has to commit to addiction recovery long term. When family members begin to understand they are not responsible for changing their relative, it can be a huge relief. We help them see their responsibility is to keep themselves safe and well.
When our clients leave, the main things we advocate is they find some local recovery meetings and take up a service position. We suggest they get a sponsor and continue their addiction recovery programme. Sometimes, we advise them to seek professional counselling too.
It’s the same advice for family members – to find their own support groups and counselling for themselves, if necessary. They need to know how to look after themselves first.
A lot of it’s about taking ownership – both our clients and the people close to them. Sometimes family and friends realise that certain things they thought were helpful, perhaps aren’t so helpful. There can sometimes be enabling behaviours going on, for example, where relatives feel they always have to be there to stop their loved one getting into serious trouble. You can burn out very quickly doing this. Through ongoing support, family members can learn new ways to love and support an addict – without compromising themselves.
Our family programme at Recovery Lighthouse is very personal to me. I come from the family side. I grew up with a loved one in addiction. Back then, I didn’t have this kind of help open to me. No-one in my family knew who to turn to or where to go. That’s why I’m really passionate about involving family members as much as possible. When I do admissions, I take great care to let family members know what’s on offer for them because often they are very worried and emotional. It’s always great to see the changes in family and friends when they see their loved one getting better.
Read more about the family programme at Recovery Lighthouse
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