Involving and Supporting Families
Family members play an important role in supporting the recovery of individuals with co-occurring disorders. When family members are educated about co-occurring disorders, they are better able to identify symptoms, recognize warning signs of relapse, support treatment goals, and promote recovery.
Families also need support
Family members of individuals with co-occurring disorders often experience significant physical, emotional, social and spiritual stress when a loved one is suffering from a co-occurring disorder. In addition, many families report that their interactions with substance abuse treatment and mental health systems are an additional source of stress.
Supporting families helps to minimize stress and can empower them to more effectively support treatment and recovery for the individual with co-occurring disorders. Research shows that recovery outcomes improve if families receive information and support.
For our purposes, family is defined as anyone who is supportive of the individual's recovery process. This may be a relative or it may be friend, employer, colleague, counselor, or other supportive person.
Family Psychoeducation is a structured approach for partnering with consumers and families to support recovery. Consumers and families receive information about mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders and learn problem-solving, communication, and coping skills.
Family Psychoeducation is carried out by mental health practitioners and lasts for at least nine months. Since it is conducted as part of the treatment plan, family engagement in this service requires consumer consent. It may be provided in a multi-family or single-family format. When provided in the multifamily group format, ongoing sessions also help consumers and families develop social supports.
The primary focus of Family Psychoeducation is on improving consumer outcomes, however it also has been shown to have beneficial effects for families as well. Outcomes include:
- Fewer consumer relapses and hospitalizations
- Increased consumer participation in vocational rehabilitation programs
- Improved family well-being
- Greater family knowledge of mental illnesses
- Fewer feelings of stress and isolation
- Reduced medical illnesses and use of medical care of families
Volunteer Peer-Based Family Education Programs
Volunteer peer-based family education programs are self-help programs designed to support families. They take place in the community and are led by volunteer, trained family members. Families may participate even if their family member is not diagnosed or accessing treatment.
The Family-to-Family Education Program, sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is a prominent example of these programs. It is a 12-week program for families of individuals diagnosed with mental illness, including co-occurring disorders. The program covers common needs and concerns of families, including review of diagnoses, problem solving, communication skills, self-care, and advocacy. Optional on-going support groups are available in most communities.
The Family-to-Family Education Program focuses first on the well-being of family members, though there are also secondary benefits for consumers. It has been shown to be helpful to families by:
- increasing empowerment, knowledge about mental illness and the mental health system, and self-care
- reducing their worry and sense of burden.
Other strategies for involving and supporting families include:
- Family therapy and consultations
- Linkage with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and local support organizations
Resources and Links
This Evidence-Based Practice KIT provides guidance in how to develop Family Psychoeducation programs.
This is a factsheet providing basic information and explaining the differences between Family Psychoeducation and the Family-to-Family Education Program.
This study is an evaluation of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family Education Program, a 12-week course for family members of adults with mental illness or co-occurring disorders. The study documents evidence that the program is helpful to families by reducing subjective burden and worry, and increasing empowerment, knowledge about mental illnesses, understanding the mental health system, and self-care.
Partnering with Families Affected by Concurrent Disorders: Facilitators' Guide & A Family Guide to Concurrent Disorders
The Guide has two components; the Facilitators' Guide and a Family Guide. The Facilitators' Guide is a resource for family support group facilitators. It provides an overview of and orientation to the overall goals of the support group, as well as specific comments, suggestions and tips for the content areas that are covered in the weekly sessions. A Family Guide contains the content for the 12 sessions, including information on co-occurring disorders, the impact on families, treatment and recovery.