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Rebuilding Burnt Bridges for Families During Recovery By Kevin Walker, Executive Director of Retreat Addiction Centers
For individuals in addiction recovery, having family support during—and after—the treatment process can often produce the best outcomes and prevent relapse. However, it’s not always easy. There are times when a patient has burned so many bridges that family members no longer want to get involved. At Retreat, our programs find ways to engage a patient’s family when possible and include them in recovery. This provides loved ones with the tools they need to achieve a balance between providing support and creating necessary boundaries.
Our approach to family support begins at intake when a patient is asked to provide consent for an approved family member—typically a parent or spouse—to receive updates on treatment progress. Within the first 24 hours, a therapist will reach out to the family member for introduction. The patient’s primary therapist will then take over and continue correspondence in whatever way is easiest for the family, whether it’s email or phone calls. But throughout the process, the patient is the priority. The family’s engagement and education are tailored to the patient’s needs to keep their recovery progressing. Depending on the patient, there are seven different “tracks” they can take, including treatment for opiate abuse, trauma, first time in treatment, and mental health. Each track has its own support and therapy team. For patients in treatment for the first time, therapists will usually have more interaction and communication with the family. Having a pulse on good clinical judgement allows for flexibility in the programing.
Retreat is unusual in that that our format does not include family visitation, but rather encourages family therapy. The foundation of the program is a four-hour educational session that focuses on the disease of addiction, so families can understand what their loved one is going through. They can be prepared for what a medical detox looks like and how to respond if their loved one’s progress stalls. This family education is intertwined with the patient’s treatment and is an important component of the recovery process.
After the educational program is completed, a therapist facilitates weekly family sessions. Before treatment, parents, spouses, or other loved ones may have enabled behaviors that perpetuated the patient’s illness—even inadvertently. Addiction is a chronic disease that often follows patterns of behavior. Therapists need to asses these patterns and provide tools for the family to stop the cycles. This can benefit everyone involved, both the patients and the families as a whole.
The treatment program itself is generally based around a 30-day format, depending on insurance provisions. Throughout the 30 days, the Retreat team evaluates a patient’s clinical progress and engagement to determine when patients can progress or whether they should take a step back. The program design is based on a continuum of care where patients can be in some level of treatment for up to a year. Beyond initial treatment, there are alumni services. In select cities, there are Family Chapters facilitated by someone associated with Retreat. It takes a lot of work to get—and stay—clean and sober. Thirty days at a treatment center is not a quick fix. But having a plan that continues into outpatient counseling, as well as group and family support, can sustain sober living.
The longer the plan, the better to prevent relapse. However, addiction is a chronic disease and people do sometimes relapse. Support from a mix of sources is critical in recovery. There are a lot of factors that need to fall into place—and Retreat is one piece of it. One of the best things a family can do is to not be hampered by the stigma. Loved ones may be embarrassed and avoid talking about addiction. Many patients report feeling hopeless and unloved in the recovery process. But becoming educated about treatment and addressing it head on is empowering for family members and often results in patients having increased success.