This month on the Integrated Interventions Podcast we sat down to discuss some common difficulties families face when their child/adult are living in a transitional program. Chief among these difficulties is that of healthy detachment. We spent some time outlining what healthy detachment looks like between young adults and parents. The team at Integrated has worked with a number of families over the years and have seen the impact this can have on families. For parents one of the most difficult times in life is that of a child who is “leaving the nest”. This is true for students leaving for college, military, study abroad, moving out and entering the workforce, as well as entering/continuing in the world of treatment programs. We see this common difficulty for families become compounded when treatment is involved and wanted to offer some insights into healthy ways of coping with this and what healthy detachment might look like for your family.
At Integrated we often initiate a communication hold with family for the first 30 days of the program. This can be very difficult both for our students and parents, but we see it necessary for several reasons. Many students enter the program having relied on their parents/support network back home for many years and have adopted the role of the “sick person” in the family. In most families we work with there is often an individual at home who has taken on the role of the “caregiver, savior, peacekeeper, or problem solver” in the family. Every family tends to look a little different as to who takes on these different roles, but the outcome is often the same. Both individuals are getting needs met and following patterns that are difficult and painful to break. Within the program students have a new support network to reach out to that is present and can help with real problems/concerns in real time. We do this mainly as a way to facilitate a relationship between the student and program. This helps the student create a natural bond with our team of mentors. When it comes to family back home we often see that there is a lack of support for the other individuals in the family who are also experiencing the loss of connection and feeling needed. Breaking this cycle of dependence is very important to developing healthy adult relationships in the future.
This brings us to healthy detachment and what that might look like between a family and a student enrolling at Integrated. One suggestion we have for family members with close connection to the student is to seek out professional support on their end. Most family counselors are very comfortable helping parents navigate these life transitions. It can also benefit the student to know that while they are working on getting their own lives together that loved ones back home are doing similar work. This is a good time for family members to work on their projection of emotions on the student and program. We often see an assumption from family members that the student is experiencing the same level of distress that the family member may be experiencing. This causes a lot of anxiety with the family member that requires healthy coping skills in the moment. This same scenario can often be seen in the relationship between the parent and the program. Many students come to Integrated having experienced a number of treatment programs in the past, many of which had been viewed as failures for a number of reasons. We often have loved ones who have had negative experiences with therapeutic programs in the past which causes a level of distrust (not always unfounded) with the care that their student may be receiving. Integrated is also conscious of our own projection that may be placed on families from our side. We work hard to not allow this to happen on our end and strive to be open about the process of disengaging as it relates to your specific student without allowing past relationships to influence our view of the situation. Professional help, keeping busy with work/projects, taking up new hobbies, healthy diet and exercise are all suggestions from us to help cope with this transition.
When the communication hold is lifted we often recommend structured communication at first. Generally what this means is that parents and students set up a healthy pattern of communication that includes a weekly phone call between family and student and to not get back in the habit of daily communication. Daily communication between family and student is not a healthy level of communication. When communicating so often it is inevitable that family members and student will fall back into the roles that they were so comfortable with prior to coming to Integrated. We suggest modeling healthy adult to adult communication which includes discussions geared toward empowering the student to make independent choices and take problems to the program that was set up to support their immediate needs.
A great resource for families is the Integrated Interventions Podcast. We have been crafting the podcast specifically as a resource for families that want to learn more about the program and our philosophy/outlook on treatment. Many of the concepts we cover directly relate to our student population and the parents we work with. We will often cover areas of the program that require more in depth discussion and examples to help illustrate common problems our team has seen in the past and what we have learned from those situations. You can also check out our Vlog on YouTube where you can see a lighter side of staff and the program, and put a face to a name if you haven’t had the opportunity to meet us in person.