Your loved one has worked hard throughout their treatment program to learn better ways to manage their addiction. Now, they are asking you to attend family therapy sessions to work through the issues that are associated with their alcohol abuse. While some people find the prospect of sharing their struggles in a counseling session a little nerve-inducing, this is an important opportunity for you to show your support. In fact, just being invited into your loved one’s therapy program is a gesture of honor since it means that you play an important role in their life. As you take this important journey with your loved one, use these strategies to promote effective family therapy sessions that allow everyone to benefit from healing their relationship.
1. Come with an Open Mind
Views regarding family therapy can differ among members of your group. If you have never been in counseling before, then you may have misconceptions regarding what will happen. For example, some people think counseling sessions are designed to point out where people are going wrong, but this is not the case. During your family counseling sessions, your loved one’s alcoholism and current treatment plan will be discussed. You will also have a chance to talk about how their behavior has affected your life. However, the main purpose of every one of your sessions will be to find solutions for the challenges that you face together. Having an open mind allows you to fully take in the lessons gleaned from the topics you explore in your sessions.
2. Share Your Feelings
Baring your soul to a stranger can feel odd at first. However, you should keep in mind that family counselors have heard it all. They are not there to judge you. Instead, their role in the session is to try to help by staying neutral as they guide you and your loved one through exercises and conversations that help you work through your challenges. Be willing to open up about how you feel, and remember that it is okay to ask for time to compose your thoughts when you are dealing with a painful topic. Anger, guilt and even sadness are all normal emotional responses to an alcoholic’s recovery. Addressing these emotions is important for being in a place where you can offer your loved one your full support.
3. Acknowledge Their Experiences
When your loved one was in the throes of alcoholism, it is likely that you had vastly different life experiences. This sometimes makes it hard to connect with your loved one as they go through recovery. For example, you may feel as though they were living it up while you were trying to keep your household together. Meanwhile, they may describe the pain of knowing that they were no longer in control of their drinking. Acknowledging that your loved one may have felt something emotionally that wasn’t obvious to you at the time is a powerful way to let them know that their feelings are valid.
4. Work on Improving Your Communication Strategies
Families often struggle with breakdowns in communication that contribute to angry outbursts and hurt feelings. Substance abuse contributes to communication issues because your loved one may have been using their drinking to avoid having to actually talk about the things that bothered them. Learning to communicate effectively takes time, and your counselor will guide you throughout the process. For instance, they may have you work with your partner to develop listening skills that stop the cycle of never fully resolving any issues. Be patient as you learn to communicate together, and know that the extra effort will pay off when you can work through a conflict together using positive language that shows respect for both of your opinions.
5. Prepare Mentally
Alcoholism sometimes influences painful events to occur in families. Domestic violence, infidelity, and other addictions may all coexist with an alcohol problem. As a family member of someone who drinks, you may have dealt with painful experiences in the past that will be brought up in your sessions. Be ready for this, and know that painful emotions must sometimes rise to the surface before you can fully find healing.
6. Be Consistent with Your Attendance
It sounds so simple, but just showing up to your sessions regularly makes a big difference in your loved one’s recovery. When you commit to attending family therapy, you let your loved one know that their well-being and your relationship are priorities that are worth working hard to protect. Make sure to plan your counseling sessions so that you do not have interruptions from work or other obligations. If you must miss a session, let your partner know as soon as possible so that you don’t let them down.
7. Do Your Individual Work
With so much focus on your loved one’s alcoholism, it is possible that some of your issues may have been overlooked. It is common for personal situations to arise during family counseling that need to be addressed in individual sessions. Although it can be upsetting to suddenly discover that you are dealing with low self-esteem or problems with codependency, finding ways to overcome your personal challenges helps your family as a whole.
8. Follow Through at Home
Being a perfect partner in your family counseling sessions and forgetting everything you learned once you get home is ineffective for your partner’s recovery. Make sure to remind each other to use your communication strategies when conflicts arise and avoid tempting your loved one by keeping alcoholic beverages around. Finding ways to minimize stress will also ease the process of healing together. Should an issue arise that you are not sure how to address, bring it to your counselor in an upcoming session. This way, minor issues do not have time to fester into major problems that affect your relationship.
Showing support to your loved one is important for their recovery, and attending family counseling sessions provides you with guidance to overcome the adversities you face together. By making it a priority to show up, contribute and follow through on what you learn together, you can rebuild your relationship while helping your loved one to stay sober.