What Happens When A Loved One Returns from Residential Mental Health Treatment

If you’re thinking of recommending that a loved one seek treatment for mental health issues, you may be wondering what happens when they come home. One thing you’ll want to do is connect with an individual therapist before they return so that you’ll have a dedicated place to seek support. Once they’ve returned, you can support them by holding them to their aftercare plan, and, when necessary, helping them navigate mental health relapse.

When clients are nearing the end of their stay in residential treatment, they’re usually excited about the prospect of going home. As they should be: they’ve done an incredible amount of work towards wellness, and they feel ready to return to their daily life. If you are a family member of someone who may need a stay in residential treatment, however, that excitement may be tempered by anxiety, and you may have questions about what that transition home will look like. What if you’re not ready for your loved one to come home? What if they go into crisis again? What if you can’t keep them safe the way program staff can? To help alleviate this anxiety, residential program staff will keep in close contact with you before, during, and after your loved one completes their treatment program, and they help draft a plan supports that you can put in place before they come home. These supports can range from individual therapy for family members to a comprehensive plan for loved ones.

It’s understandable for you to have some fears and questions about what to expect when your loved one comes home. They’ll have taken the first steps in their recovery journey, so knowing what your role will be when they return can be hugely impactful in helping them sustain it.

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The Ultimate Self-Care Strategy: Individual Therapy

The best way to prepare for a loved one’s return from mental health treatment is to take care of yourself first. If you don’t already have a mental health provider, consider finding one before your loved one comes home. Getting established with a therapist can take some time, so it’s important to start building rapport with them immediately; that way, you can start building on your own inner wellness well before your loved one arrives home.

There’s a substantial amount of research that supports the effectiveness of individual therapy generally, but it can be especially helpful for family members of people in residential treatment for a number of reasons: it gives you a safe space to process difficult thoughts and emotions, address trauma or other mental health challenges you may be dealing with, and build upon your own inner wellness. In addition, it’s the perfect place to get support around how to establish expectations when your loved one comes home, and how those expectations will be upheld if they return to previous behaviors.

Supporting Your Loved One in Following Their Aftercare Plan

Before your loved one comes home, they’ll have worked closely with you and their treatment team to develop an aftercare plan that best meets their needs. The supports on this plan will vary depending on the program and the resources available in your community, but it will likely include some kind of outpatient therapy, referrals to other local mental health resources, and, if it makes sense, a referral to a local 12-step program or something similar.

Your role in all of this will be supporting them as they navigate those resources and learn how to maintain their wellness outside of the treatment setting. Sometimes, that means celebrating their success in sticking to it, and sometimes it means holding them accountable when they don’t. Obviously, if you’re put in that situation, you won’t want to attack them or make them feel like they’ve failed. Instead, you’ll want to respond with compassion, making sure to validate their struggle and let them know that it’s OK to need support. There are a number of ways you can do that, but one is by asking supportive questions that help them feel heard and that help you understand why they’re struggling, such as:

  • Do you feel like there are parts of the plan that aren’t working for you?
  • Would you be open to talking to me or to your therapist about why?
  • Is there something that isn’t on the plan that you’d like to include?
  • Are there ways that I can help you stick to it?

For many, knowing that someone hears them, cares deeply about them, and wants them to be well can be just the reassurance they need.

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Preparing for and Navigating Mental Health Relapse

Once a loved one has returned home, what friends and family are often surprised by is how easily they can slip back into old habits and behaviors. When that happens, it can feel like treatment has failed—or that they have. But mental wellness is a process, and the truth is that some days you feel like your loved one is taking two steps forward and one step back. What’s important is to help them push through those days, and to remember that mental health is something to be cultivated rather than finished. If they do relapse, there are a number of ways you can support them in getting back on track.

  • Keep in close contact with their treatment team if you think your loved one may be nearing or experiencing a mental health relapse. Because they’ve worked closely with your loved one, they can offer insight on how to help them stabilize, and, if necessary, help you find how to get them plugged into the appropriate crisis resources.
  • Know your loved one’s relapse and safety plans, and stick to them. These plans will tell you exactly what steps to take when your loved one goes into crisis, so it’s essential that you’re familiar with them.
  • Make sure they have access to crisis lines. One really effective way to do this is by saving several crisis lines as contacts in their phone. That way, they’ll have access to it even when you aren’t with them, and they can choose which line makes the most sense for them to reach out to.

Building in a Safety Net of Mental Health Supports

Learning to live with mental health challenges will likely be the hardest thing your loved one will ever have to do. When you’re supporting your loved one, don’t be afraid to rely on the supports you’ve put in place—that’s exactly what they’re there for. Don’t blame yourself, or internalize the mental health setbacks your loved one experiences: remember that they’re part of the process, and they’re not about you. Mental wellness is a lifelong pursuit, but your loved one is already one step ahead of the game: they have you to help them get there.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential mental health treatment to people struggling with serious mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. If you have a loved one considering a stay in residential treatment, reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help them find peace and wellness.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash User Ethan Robertson