Family therapy engages both residents and members of their families in efforts to increase communication, and to support each other in recovery from an eating disorder, substance abuse, or other challenges.
Family therapy at Timberline Knolls focuses on more than just building an atmosphere of healing to support the woman after she leaves our treatment center.
Our treatment approach also emphasizes supporting her family members in their own process of healing and recovery from the effects of the disease on each of them.
What’s the process for family therapy?
Family therapy begins with an initial meeting between a resident and her family therapist. Typically,this session focuses on establishing trust and obtaining history from the resident. Insights gained help the therapist to make a preliminary assessment of her family dynamics, and to determine which members should be included in family therapy.
The family therapist also attempts to build trust and obtain history from one or more members of the family. These sessions can allow for honest discussion of family rifts or sharing of sensitive history that may be critical to understanding the entire family system and to establishing effective boundaries.
The resident and all members involved will offer their input on goals to be achieved in family therapy during a woman’s stay at Timberline Knolls. Family therapists help to identify areas of family functioning that have been impacted by the disease and build an alliance with the entire family to facilitate healing in those areas. Family therapists also help the family to identify and build upon their unique strengths as a family unit.
Additional family members, such as grandparents, adult siblings, and long-term partners may be brought into sessions as issues arise.
There are three primary components to the Timberline Knolls Family Program:
Multi-Family Group (adult family members only)
Multi-Family Group sessions at Timberline Knolls are led by some of the most experienced and respected practitioners in the field of marriage and family therapy. They provide structured education and support appropriate for adult family members of all residents.
The Multi-Family Group serves several critical functions:
- Increase awareness of the basic functional dynamics of a family unit, including significant others and extended families
- Educate families about their loved one’s disease, the family disease and related medical and psychiatric conditions
- Improve recognition of ways the disease has affected them mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually
- Provide insight into the family member’s relationship with both the resident and other family members
- Offer insight into their family member’s treatment experience through an alliance with the team members treating their loved one on campus. This better equips them to support her in remaining committed to completing the program during her most difficult days.
- Teach family members strategies to strengthen themselves in ways that foster a bond with the resident, for instance by using mindfulness tools like DBT
- Offer a community of support and connection with other family members, who are able to relate and understand in ways that only someone who has lived through it possibly can
Additionally, each Multi-Family group session includes unstructured discussion time where families can address and problem-solve about common family dilemmas. Generally, Multi-Family groups provide a safe place where family members find support from other families on a similar journey, and recognize they are not alone.
Most families find they are able to fully participate remotely via video conference. However, we welcome family members who wish to attend one or more sessions in person on the Timberline Knolls campus.
Regardless of their loved one’s diagnosis, family members are also encouraged to take advantage of mutual support services available in their local community. These include 12 Step support groups such Al-anon, Families Anonymous, and Codependents Anonymous (CODA). The fellowship in these groups can help family members break through the isolation they feel due to their loved one’s eating disorder, alcoholism, or drug addiction. Support groups also provide a non-judgmental forum where family members can feel safe exploring their own emotions, behaviors, and relationships.
At times during resident treatment, one or more members of a woman’s family may decide to seek outpatient therapy or more intensive treatment for themselves. If this occurs, we are happy to help family members locate respected practitioners and programs in their area.
Family Dynamics Group (residents only)
The weekly Family Dynamics therapy group often serves as a springboard for a resident’s individual family therapy session of the week. Family Dynamics group sessions are designed to help entire families recover from complex challenges. Topics are organized to align with subjects discussed in Multi-Family Group sessions.
This small group provides women a safe, therapeutic environment where the beliefs and functions of families are explored, and personal experiences are shared. Listening to feelings and strategies shared by other women provides insight into a woman’s own family relationships.
Family Dynamics groups teach residents to visualize putting new communication skills into practice. Women also build confidence in their ability to voice their feelings about how the family affects her.
As with the multi-family group sessions, this small peer group helps women and girls realize they are not alone in their struggles. The breakthroughs often experienced in this group help build and strengthen bonds among residents empowered by the commonalty of shared challenges and shared solutions.
Individual Family Therapy Sessions (both resident and family)
Individual sessions of family therapy are scheduled weekly throughout a resident’s treatment. They allow both the woman and her loved ones to apply their insight from group therapy to their unique family circumstances.
The family therapist and primary therapist collaborate to arrange the therapy schedule. Sessions may include the entire family, or be broken into individual private sessions. Individual family therapy sessions may be held in person when all parties are on campus, but more commonly, they are conducted via conference call.
Family Therapists at TK
Experienced family therapists play a vital role in assembling a complete picture of a woman’s challenges, and the ways in which her environment has impacted her. By the time a woman comes to a residential treatment center, an eating disorder or addiction may significantly disrupted the function of her life and her family. Often, rifts may have led to a complete breakdown in communication.
While all therapists are educated in family roles, family dynamics, and the family systems approach, FTs are especially skilled at working simultaneously with multiple family members in what may be a very complex situation.
In addition to understanding how eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and mood impact the individual, they know how these diseases affect the family and vice versa. Family therapists guide residents and their family members towards workable solutions to complex family problems.
Why is it important for a resident to have separate primary and family therapists?
A clear separation between the roles of primary therapist and family therapist allows for family involvement without weakening the critical alliance between the woman and her primary therapist. The primary therapist takes family issues into consideration, but is focused on the resident’s needs. Even for adolescent women, the primary therapist will never communicate with a woman’s family unless she is present.
The family therapist takes a more holistic look at the needs of the broader family system. Family therapists speak with multiple members of the family, in addition to meeting individually with the resident. They assess the way the family has impacted and has been affected by the woman’s struggles with eating disorders, alcohol or drug addiction, and other co-occurring disorders.
Additional Support for Families During Treatment
Multi-family group sessions are both educational and supportive. However, we encourage each family to take advantage of mutual support services available in their local community. These include 12 Step support groups such Al-Anon, Families Anonymous (FA), and Codependents Anonymous (CODA). The fellowship in these groups can help people break through the isolation they feel due to having a family member with an eating disorder or addiction. Support groups also provide a non-judgmental forum where individuals can release their feelings of guilt, sadness, fear or anger, and explore their own behaviors and relationships as family members. If one or more family members decide to seek outpatient therapy, we will help locate respected practitioners or programs in their area.