What is Family Therapy?
Family based therapy for eating disorders involves the therapist treating the family system instead of a single client. There are many effective family therapy techniques that help treat relationship distress within a family. Most of these therapies are rooted in systems theories which examine how individuals within larger groups interact with each other and rely on specific roles and communication patterns to function. The process of family therapy begins with the therapist getting to know each member and the family as a whole, thereby developing an understanding of the family’s needs and their goals for change and healing.
The therapist’s role is not to say how family members should interact with each other. Instead, their job is to help the family find their own ways of relating that are in alignment with the needs, preferences, traditions, and culture of the family. Many families enter therapy due to one member being unwell, and they often anticipate that only that member will be asked to change. Instead, true family therapy involves addressing the family dynamics that contribute to the feelings and behaviors of the ill member and finding small ways that each family member can change to create healthier functioning for everyone.
How Does Family Based Therapy Treat Eating Disorders?
Each of us learn from the generations before us. We are taught about the world by our parents, who were taught by their parents, who were taught by their parents. All of the messages that we heard growing up were, at some point, helpful or common but some may no longer be serving us. Although there might be only one family member diagnosed with an eating disorder, all family members may struggle with the communication patterns and internalized messages that lead to eating disorders. The role of the family therapist is to assess how the family dynamic and the individual’s eating disorder behaviors mutually impact each other and support conversations that allow family members to better understand one another.
As the family member with an eating disorder begins recovery, they begin a process of self-exploration that involves healing their relationship with food and their body and learning communication and coping skills. However, the changes implemented by this one individual will be more sustainable outside of treatment if all family members can shift their experience and perspectives as well.
It is not easy to make these changes. As humans, we find a sense of comfort in familiarity, and change is hard. These changes involve each family member looking at the impact of their actions on others, facing their own emotions, thinking critically about their beliefs about themselves and the world around them, and acknowledging their own experiences of trauma. Due to how emotionally challenging this can be for all family members involved, the therapist will approach the entire family system with compassion and the understanding that each member is doing the best that they can, while also planting the seeds for change.
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Types of Family Therapy
Many family systems benefit from a period of psychoeducation about eating disorders prior to beginning any process-based therapy. Most families are unfamiliar with eating disorders, and many are overwhelmed when their family member first admits into treatment. During this phase, the therapist will provide information about the specific eating disorder that the client is struggling with and will answer any questions that family members may have. This provides an opportunity for the family and the therapist to develop a shared vocabulary around the eating disorder and other mental health symptoms before entering more emotionally-charged conversations.
Following this introductory phase of treatment for eating disorders, family based therapy can involve a variety of interventions, including but not limited to the following:
- Education about and practice with communication skills and boundary setting techniques.
- Learning to identify and express difficult emotions.
- Discussing the roles of each family member in the larger family system and how these are beneficial or harmful to each member.
- Exploration of traditions and cultural beliefs and their emotional impact on family members.
- Homework assignments for family members to practice at home/outside of sessions.
- Journaling assignments or writing letters to specific members to be processed in session.
- Experiential activities to demonstrate family roles and typical patterns of interaction.
- Exploring the significance of body language, physical proximity between members, and level of engagement of each member during sessions.
The therapist will tailor interventions to the developmental level of the client and the needs of the family as a whole. The process of family therapy will also shift and change as the client moves through different levels of care and as all members develop increased awareness of their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Family Therapy at Trellis Recovery Centers
At Trellis Recovery Centers, we include each client’s family in the treatment process beginning at the initial intake assessment. Our goal is to provide psychoeducation as well as skills-based family therapy to set our clients up for success following discharge. Our clinicians are educated and trained in a variety of therapies, allowing our team to create an individualized treatment plan for healing that is rooted in up-to-date theories on family functioning.
Families will be offered one family session per week in addition to a once-monthly family programming day, with additional communication between family members and the clinical team maintained on an as-needed basis. We are aware of how integral the involvement of each client’s family system is for long-term recovery. At Trellis Recovery Centers, we aim to offer a non-judgmental space for family systems.
Begin Family Based Therapy for Eating Disorders in Los Angeles, CA
If you or a family member has been struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to our admissions department today. Healing cannot be done in isolation, and it is within reach with the support of our highly skilled clinical team. At Trellis Recovery Centers, we see you as so much more than a diagnosis. We are cultivating lifelong freedom from eating disorders by honoring the complexities of each client, their family, and the community around them. Contact us today to begin the admissions process or so we can help answer any questions you may have.