At Timberline Knolls, we consider the needs of the entire family, in addition to the needs of the woman or girl receiving residential treatment.
Our staff members recognize that no family is perfect. We believe each member has lifelong impact on the family as a whole. This is true regardless of whether or not a family is intact, has a history of addiction or eating disorders, or has effective or ineffective current relations.
Residential treatment at Timberline Knolls does far more than simply offer the family and resident a temporary break from the effects of the disease.
By making family involvement is a core part of our holistic, integrated treatment, our goal is to help the entire family better appreciate the ways they impact each other positively and negatively. Just as we do for the women in residential treatment, we help family members uncover their strengths, heal their weaknesses and capitalize on their capacity to solve problems, and be a positive source of support for the family.
Why is family involvement in treatment so crucial?
Experience has shown us that family involvement improves a resident’s chance of full and lasting recovery from eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and co-occurring disorders.
- Every family functions like an interconnected system
- Each member of the family is affected by the others. Eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, trauma / PTSD or other related disorders all impact the entire family system.
- Residents and families need support in recovery for treatment to succeed in the long run.
1. Foundation: Understanding The Family System
If you or a loved one seeks treatment at Timberline Knolls, you will hear our therapists use the term “family system”.
What they mean is that every person is related to a group of persons sharing common family ties. The family is a whole, with each of its parts having a connection to every other member of the family. That remains true even if communication has broken down completely or multiple members are estranged. This is why we strive to extend healing to all those impacted by the disease, not just the resident in our care.
Involving the family in residential treatment helps them and the resident to appreciate that the family system is more powerful than any individual member alone. They also learn that each person plays one or more distinct roles. It is healthy and expected for these roles to change as the family evolves and meets new life challenges. However, when any one member suffers with an illness, whether physical or mental, the rest of the family is affected. In illness, family roles can shift, can become inflexible, and eventually lead to a state of unmanageability.
Every family is different in terms of communication style, conflict resolution, etc. Each demonstrates a variety of dynamics, some nurturing, others not. Honest communication is the foundation of healthy change in a family, yet it is not necessary to resolve every conflict or disagreement in order to maintain harmony.
2. What does a family system look like after years of living with an addiction or eating disorder?
When a child or spouse has an eating disorder or addiction, the disease becomes the focal point of the family. This can persist in families for generations. We have observed that many parents or spouses living with active addiction in the present have grown up with parents or grandparents affected by addiction, which often was never diagnosed or treated.
Family members are not merely aware of the presence of the disease; most often, they are inordinately focused on it. Everything takes the back seat to the problem. A parent might say, “How can you think about going to soccer camp when you see how sick your sister is?”
Similarly, the illness may become the scapegoat for unrelated problems. There is often a high level of shame, resentment, blame and secrets in families affected by the illness. Additionally, the family is perceived as an extremely fragile unit. The collective thought is that if one more bad thing happens, the family will break, everyone will simply fall apart.
3. How is Family Support Important to Recovery After Residential Treatment?
Learning to trust new recovery skills at home is a critical stage in each woman’s recovery.
It’s normal for a woman to be apprehensive about how her family may react to her presence in the days and weeks after she leaves a residential treatment center.
For a woman learning to respond to emotions with new behaviors and ways of thinking, inadequate family support can be very distressing. Some women report a feeling of “walking on eggshells” or alienation from family members who are uncomfortable in conversations, or are reluctant to interact at all.
Families should understand that she will not only be sensitive to the way her family members interact with her, but also to how they relate to each other.
Experience has shown us that families who have not started their own healing process will struggle to provide the support their loved one needs. The discomfort this causes can distract a woman suffering with an eating disorder or addiction from focusing on learning to trust new recovery skills in her home environment.
Conversely, seeing positive changes in her family from the work they’ve done to heal themselves makes a woman feel loved and supported. This provides powerful reinforcement of the progress she’s made in healing herself.
What Members Are Typically Involved With Treatment?
Family involvement most often includes immediate relatives, such as:
- Parents / step-parents
- Spouse / romantic partner
- Extended family members living in the home, or who are regularly present
- Non-parental guardians
Additionally, one of the advantages of the family systems approach is its consideration for a broad definition of the family.
Both women and families will realize through family therapy that it’s normal for one or more members of their family refuses to support them in seeking residential treatment for an addiction or eating disorder. They also gain hope in their ability to improve difficult relationships at their own pace.
Do Families Have To Participate?
As we do with every resident, we meet each member of her family wherever they are in their preparedness to participate in her treatment.
Occasionally, families fear that getting involved in a loved one’s residential treatment might reopen old wounds. They may also worry that therapists at a treatment center may pressure them or their loved one to participate, or force them to share secrets they’re not prepared to deal with at that point in time.
We approach each family member in a respectful, non-judgmental manner, and with the perspective that they have the potential to contribute to the healing of their family.
Some express concern that this therapy is not possible, due to a complete communication breakdown among one or more of the family members. In this case, we deal with whatever support system the woman or girl has in her life, both family or origin and family by choice are important assets to include.
How Is Family Participation Helpful To The Entire Family?
The family program at Timberline Knolls is designed to explore the positive and negative aspects of the family system. For a family affected by anorexia, bulimia, addiction, or trauma, this provides a degree of camaraderie and goodwill in the present and hope for restored relationships in the future.
Examining roles is another key component of family therapy. Each family member is supported in taking an honest look at the role they adopted to deal in the months or years of living in the disease. Our family therapists help family members to identify new, healthy roles that they can practice while the resident is still in treatment.
Dynamics and elements considered in family therapy include:
- Conflict resolution
Family therapists at Timberline Knolls pay special attention to the needs of siblings of our residents. Often when there is an addiction or disorder in the family, other children receive less attention and may feel rejected or abandoned. These children may have very negative feelings toward the family member in residential treatment.