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Never too early or too late to engage families in treatment

March 4, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Click here to view photos from this event.

Presenters at a Feb. 18 Addiction Professional panel series event in Austin, Texas urged the clinicians and program leaders in attendance to start in on family engagement at the earliest opportunity, and never to assume that early resistance at the outset will linger throughout the recovery journey.

“I would say that we work harder at the outset stabilizing families than we do with the client,” said Leslie F. Crowley, LCDC, a clinician at Burning Tree Ranch. Crowley was joined on the panel by Ilana Zivkovich, LCSW, LCDC, clinical director at Promises Austin, and Todd J. Dugas, LCSW, executive director of The Last Resort Recovery Center, a recovery program for young males.

The three Texas-based professionals agreed that while a family's participation in treatment and aftercare can prove pivotal to an individual's long-term recovery success, an individual in treatment should never be made to pay the price for a family's failure to get involved. “We don't ever want to penalize the client if the family at any point in the process wants to disengage,” said Zivkovich. Instead, she added, a program would want to work with that client to process actively what the family's disengagement potentially means for him/her.

Dominion Diagnostics is the series sponsor for the Addiction Professional panel series events, which are held across the country and for which continuing education units are available. For the Austin event, Burning Tree Ranch, Promises Austin, American Addiction Centers and Dreamscape Marketing also served as sponsors.

Panelists agreed that families need much education about the illness, and a great deal of hand-holding in the process. Dugas said that even the frustrated mother who drops off her son at the program without getting out of the car might be the same person who will reach out to the program just days later.

Zivkovich said that family members will tend to go where they feel safe to get their information about addiction, and that could lead them to the impersonal and dangerous world of the Internet. She added that she could have an informed conversation with everyone in the room about the Big Book and 12-Step treatment, “but for a lot of the people we work with, this stuff makes no sense.” So education—and patience—are key, the panelists agreed.

Crowley added that she often urges anxiety-ridden family members to think about what's missing in their own lives and to reward themselves with a gesture of self-care.

The panelists agreed that they were surrounded by a community in Austin that has bountiful resources for recovery. The importance of Al-Anon for family members of addicts was highlighted several times during the hourlong seminar, to the extent that Dugas stated at one point, “I feel like I'm plugging Al-Anon today.”

The panelists discussed a number of individual- or family-level barriers that can impede family engagement and harmony. For example, Zivanovich cited “the natural disposition of humans to look outside of ourselves to place blame,” and said it is important for clinicians to help each family member see what he/she directly contributed to the overall dynamic. Dugas added that the mother/son relationship plays out in telling ways for many of The Last Resort's clients, as mothers often fear the implications of not showing enough love to their sons.

When asked about institutional barriers to more family involvement in treatment, the three professionals agreed in unison: If a dedicated funding stream were available to follow the family through the process, everything would be easier.                

Dominion Diagnostics is the series sponsor for the Addiction Professional panel series events, which are held across the country and for which continuing education units are available. For the Austin event, Burning Tree Ranch, Promises Austin, American Addiction Centers and Dreamscape Marketing also served as sponsors.

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