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A treatment program seeks to answer family members' many questions

January 27, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Father Martin’s Ashley extends family programs beyond its patient population

The director of family programs at the Father Martin’s Ashley treatment organization in Maryland says that while some degree of stress exists for all family members of an addicted person, anxiety levels often are greater in families whose addicted loved one is not receiving treatment at the time. “For those who have a loved one in an inpatient program, the stress level is lower because at least they know the person is getting help,” says Kristine Hitchens, ABD, LCSW-C, LCADC.

Now the nationally known treatment organization has joined some others that have decided in recent years to expand their family programs to assist families dealing with the problems of a loved one not in treatment. The nonprofit center announced this month that its three-day Family Addiction Education Program now will be open to anyone with a family member battling addiction, regardless of whether the family member is being treated or has been treated in an Ashley program.

Hitchens says Ashley has been contemplating this move for some time and has been marshaling the resources for the change, including tailoring its curriculum and ensuring that the presence of outsiders on the Ashley campus doesn’t interfere with patient care. She says the program will add instructors as necessary for an intensive curriculum that combines educational and therapeutic components.

Participants in the family program at Father Martin’s Ashley attend all-day sessions on Friday and Saturday and a session that ends at mid-afternoon on Sunday. They go home in the evenings or stay at nearby hotels if they’ve traveled more than an hour to get to Ashley. “We work them hard,” says Hitchens. The program takes place every weekend at Ashley.

Hitchens sees much benefit in the program’s broad-based curriculum, which at the outset includes a great deal of information about substances’ effects on the brain. “We start with the basics, and that cuts the tension immediately,” she says. “Because family members can’t help but wonder—they ask themselves, `Is it me?’ They really do personalize their loved one’s addiction.”

Father Martin’s Ashley also has designed two new full-day workshops for family members, selecting topics that frequently have been mentioned in phone calls that the center receives from family members. On Feb. 27 the center will host a workshop on enhancing the relationship for couples affected by an addiction, and in the spring it will conduct a workshop that will emphasize self-care and other tools for coping with a loved one’s relapse or other struggles.

“We want to be known as a facility that’s here for the community,” Hitchens says in explaining the broader program offerings. She adds, “It’s incredibly difficult to get information to families in one-hour outpatient sessions once a week. There’s so much information that you wish you could have gotten to them.”

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