For Family Members of People in Residential Treatment, Individual Therapy is Key
Watching a loved one go through residential treatment is anything but easy. Though you may have instincts to put their needs above yours, it’s important to take care of yourself, too, and one of the ways you can do that is by attending individual therapy on your own, outside of your loved one’s treatment program. If that feels overwhelming, you can try a peer-led family support group—many families find these to be a lower-pressure way of tapping into support.
I was sixteen when my mother finally caved to my father’s pleas and agreed to go into residential mental health treatment. I was on the cusp of being a fully-formed human, and I felt lost. How could my mother, so naturally nurturing and kind, become the person she became when she was at her worst? She had always been this way—operating in cycles, rising up to her happiest and then crashing down—but it had gotten worse. One day, she threw all of our ceramic plates at my father’s head, one after the other. On another, she was up at 3 o’clock in the morning talking incessantly about opening a car dealership. She sometimes wouldn’t leave her bed for days. Though we loved her through it all, we didn’t know what to do. Once she started treatment, I was both hopeful and nervous. What if she wanted to come home? What if treatment didn’t help? Would she be okay? Would I?
Having a loved one in residential treatment can be a profoundly difficult experience. I wanted what was best for my mother, and even though I knew that oftentimes what’s best is an intensive residential program, that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. In those moments, I learned that it’s important to remember that loved ones in residential treatment are in the best possible place: they’re safe, they’re supported, and they have access to an almost unlimited amount of help. We, on the other hand, may not have those supports in place, and in that sense, the more urgent question is:
When someone you love is in residential mental health treatment, how can you best take care of yourself?
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Help Me Help You: Individual Therapy as Self-Care
For many, this is a tough question to tackle. Often our instincts tell us to prioritize the needs of others over our own, but there’s a reason that airline safety instructions always say to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first: when we take care of ourselves, we’re better equipped to take care of others. That’s why so many mental health professionals advocate that family members of people in residential treatment seek their own therapy—because it gives them an opportunity to take care of themselves, too. Here are just a few of the ways that individual therapy can help you in your own therapeutic journey.
- It opens up a safe space for you to deal with your own trauma. Watching a loved one struggle with mental health challenges, addiction, or both can be traumatizing. Working with your own therapist can create a space in which you can address that trauma without having to worry or involve your loved one.
- It gives you an opportunity to build on your own inner wellness. Having an individual therapist can be a kind of self-care practice, one that involves whatever work makes sense to you, whether that’s art therapy or CBT or codependency work.
- It can help you process your own mental health challenges. Because mental illness can have a genetic component, you and your loved one may be dealing with the same (or a similar) condition, and having your own therapist can help you navigate that idea on your own terms.
- It can be helpful even when you just need someone to talk to. Even if you know that trauma work isn’t for you (it’s definitely not for everyone), an individual therapist can help you process any feelings that come up for you while your loved one is going through residential treatment.
- It gives you space to be critical about ways you might be enabling their behaviors. Even though we know you mean well, you could be enabling your loved one’s disorder by sheltering them, by taking responsibility for their actions, or by overlooking behaviors that need serious attention. An individual therapist can help you isolate those instincts and replace them with strategies you can use to support your loved one in less enabling ways.
- It can be a really stabilizing place for you to plan for your loved one’s return home. No matter their chosen length of stay, your loved one is going to complete treatment, and working with an individual therapist can give you a place to prepare for that. How can you “hold the line,” both while they’re in treatment and when they’re out? How can you deal with old, manipulative behaviors that come up? How can you set boundaries in positive, constructive ways? If you have an individual therapist of your own, they can help you strategize and build skills to help you support yourself and your loved one when they transition home.
Peer Support Groups: A Gateway Into More Formal Therapeutic Support
Individual therapy can be a really helpful way to process a loved one’s stay in a residential program, but if it feels overwhelming, or that’s just not where you are right now, a NAMI family support group might be a better place for you to get your feet wet. If you’re hesitant about individual therapy, peer support groups can be a great place to get feedback from other family members about how therapy has influenced their own wellness. Everyone in a NAMI group will have some kind of lived experience in mental health, so they can be a good resource on how you can tailor your individual therapy to make it work for you.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to look for the kind of support that fits your needs. At Bridges to Recovery, we support families in the best ways we know how: by encouraging clients to engage fully in our residential programming, offering family and couples therapy to families who want it, and helping family members find the supports that make the most sense for them. That way, when a loved one completes treatment, their family is equipped to move forward alongside them.
Bridges to Recovery is a comprehensive mental health treatment program that offers a wide array of treatment options for people struggling with mental health challenges. If your loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder, reach out to us today to learn more about how our innovative treatment options can help you both forge a path to long-lasting recovery.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Greg Rakozy