Sanford’s Family Education Program has just completed its first year of virtual service to the family and friends of our clients!
Ongoing Recovery Support – A Look Back…
At Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers, we have always acknowledged the significant role family and friends can play in the treatment of and recovery from addiction. Family members are encouraged to attend therapy sessions with loved ones in treatment. And we encourage them to visit and telephone their loved ones in residential treatment.
Sanford identifies addictive disease as complex, chronic and progressive. As a result, family and significant friends are also impacted by the progression of the disease state. Consistent with this perspective, Sanford initiated the Family Program early in the center’s development. This was done so that loved ones were able to receive critical and factual information concerning the brain disease that dominated their lives.
Participants in this education process learned they too had behaviors that required modification. How was this modification to occur? What about that critical first year of recovery?
The Family Education Program
In 2018, we implemented a new Family Education Program. This program has 4 specific sessions for family and friends of clients to attend:
- family impact
- understanding addiction as a disease
- understanding post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)
- and communication skills
We received a positive response from family and friends for this structured and specific content. As an introduction to each session, we remind participants, “As family and friends of people with addictive disease you must get education, support and improve your selfcare.” As a result, participants began to ask about support meetings that could assist them with their behavior change, beyond the standard mutual support groups in their area.
So, what happened next?
In late 2019, Sanford began an ongoing support meeting for family and friends of past and current clients. To participate in the weekly groups, family and friends need to complete the Family Education Program. They also must have the desire to recover from their own behaviors that could impede the recovery of our clients. Like the education group, the yearlong support group is free of charge to the participants.
Telehealth in Ongoing Recovery Support
The group began in January 2020. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened! So instead we started a telehealth support group with 3-5 brave family members. And in May, 2020 we implemented a virtual weekly support group for family and friends who met our requirements. The response was dramatic! We began to have groups with over 12 participants almost immediately. Then we grew to well over 20 participants at every meeting! In the Fall of 2020, we added a second group and a second therapist to accommodate the positive response. We are going strong and participants are implementing behavior changes and networking to support each other!
What’s happening now?
Now we know this was a tremendously successful move for our clients and the significant people in their lives! We also learned that as the year of support progressed, participants in the group required less frequent support and more specific knowledge on the finer points of their behavior change. Shortly after discharge of a loved one, participants wanted to share with others and reality-check their feelings and experiences. They also wanted encouragement and validation for their efforts. However, as more time passed and participants grew in their abilities to trust their own perceptions, a more specific and structured support group was in order!
Currently, we have more than 40 participants in our support groups! And starting in June 2021, we are splitting our support group participants into Phase One and Phase Two Groups. Participants will address their specific recovery needs in both phases.
Focusing on Specific Recovery Needs
Phase One Group
Participants in Phase One have less than 6 months of participation in support group. Because participants are new, groups will be no larger than (approximately) 15 people. In group they share one behavior they are doing well and one behavior that requires improvement in recovery-based situations. They are also encouraged to network with each other. There will be some direction from the facilitator as themes develop. These groups will meet weekly for an hour via telehealth.
Phase Two Group
Participants in Phase Two have 6 months of participation in ongoing recovery support group. These groups may be larger. Also, the facilitator will present a 20-minute talk based on codependent behaviors. Participants fill out a worksheet on how the topic applies to their recovery work and discussion as a group will follow. Topics for the presentation will come from the group participants. This group meets every other week for one hour.
Each group has specific ground rules concerning confidentiality and group mores. And this support group does not take the place of individual therapy. If you are reading this article and you are an “alumni” of the Sanford Family Program (Education Group) and want to become involved, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to return an informational email!