Solution-Oriented Approaches Can Make Family Therapy More Effective

Amy Effman, LMFT, MCAP, applies years of clinical experience and a contemporary skillset to leading Orenda’s family programming. With extensive expertise in solution-oriented therapies, Ms. Effman dispels the preconceived myths and feelings of shame and guilt that can prevent families from engaging in therapy and making clinical progress.

At Orenda, Ms. Effman takes the time to understand the dynamics of the identified family system deeply, customize family treatment plans, coordinate therapies with the full treatment team, and work toward recovery-supportive home environments, reconciliations, and improve the family’s ability to support their loved one’s care. In this Orenda Perspective, Ms. Effman shares the fundamentals that contribute to successful family therapy at the program.

The idea that long-term recovery from substance use and mental health conditions requires understanding, educating, and often treating a patient’s family system is well-established. While families may play a role in the development or exacerbation of these conditions and be sources of trauma or dangerous home environments, they often become the primary supporters of recovery. Addressing the family is crucial to removing obstacles to a safe environment, stopping cycles of enabling, and ensuring open pathways to treatment.

At Orenda, integrating family therapy begins by identifying the patient’s family system. Orenda’s Amy Effman, LMFT, MCAP, takes an inclusive approach to defining the patient’s family system, which ultimately serves as the patient’s immune system in early recovery. The people included in a person’s perceived family are not limited to spouses, parents, children, in-laws, and blood-relatives. Partners, roommates, divorced spouses, sponsor, employer, business partners, trustee, attorneys, physicians, psychiatrists and clinicians are oftentimes considered part of the patient’s support system. “Family means different things to different people. As a therapist, I strive to avoid stigmatizing patients by assuming that their family conforms to a traditional model. Making meaningful clinical progress in family therapy demands the participation or involvement of relevant members of that system. Each brings insight and plays a role in supporting recovery.”

Rigidly defined and antiquated definitions of family systems are not the only misconceptions that need to be dispelled to make family therapy more effective. Effman finds that some family members are reluctant to take part in family therapy because they fear the therapist is predisposed to taking sides with the patient. “It is common for people unfamiliar with postmodern family therapy modalities to think if they are not the patient, the therapist may blame them for being part of the problem. We work to relieve them of this misperception quickly.” Ms. Amy Effman takes a non-accusatory approach that is both disarming and productive.

It is common for people unfamiliar with postmodern family therapy modalities to think if they are not the patient, the therapist may blame them for being part of the problem. We work to relieve them of this misperception quickly.

Amy Effman, Therapist & Family Services

As a practitioner of Solutions-Focused Therapy, Amy Effman helps patients and family members remain focused on achieving current and future goals. This approach helps all participants feel more open and engaged. Solution-Focused Therapy differs from other forms of family therapy in that it does not focus solely on finding the causes of a current problem, but rather on developing practical solutions. “Our goal is not to assign blame, but to achieve patient safety and to help family members play a supportive role in recovery. The solution-focused approach can quickly reduce resistance to therapy and make the most efficient use of our time together.”

A significant portion of Effman’s work revolves around helping patients and families reframe how they think and talk about issues of substance use and mental health conditions. The uses of narratives and invitational language rapidly change the conversation for many families. “Patients and loved ones can develop rigid, negative thought patterns about the disease of addiction and its effects that shape their behaviors and interactions. This can often make the problem worse for everyone involved. During family therapy at Orenda, we change that script. Families are asked to give the substance use and co-occurring conditions human names and think about them as people playing a role in their lives. When we externalize the problem, we begin to shift blame away from individuals and onto the conditions. For many people, this type of work can break the cycle of hurtful and nonproductive dialogue and guilt that perpetuate isolation, mental health conditions, and continued substance dependence.”

Orenda family programming offers family members therapy as well as psychoeducation and referrals to treatment providers. Providing therapy to family members is advantageous to patients and family members. Most providers that offer family programming typically offer psychoeducation — teaching family members about their loved one’s conditions. At Orenda, Effman provides psychotherapy to family members who wish to deal with the trauma and mental health conditions that may result from living with a loved one suffering from substance dependence or a dual-diagnosis condition.

The element of time plays a vital role in making Orenda effective for its patient. Ms. Effman and her colleagues spend time with patients and families to achieve treatment goals. Family therapy can require numerous sessions with Effman and other Orenda team members. Amy Effman believes that Orenda’s ability to allocate ample resources to meet each family’s needs can significantly improve outcomes. “Every patient and family are different and requires different approaches. While we strive to be as efficient as possible with the patient’s time in treatment, the freedom to take the time we need allows us to address more issues, involve more perspectives, and make more progress.”

Family therapy is a primary part of integrated treatment at Orenda. Effman coordinates efforts with the other patient care team members to identify and address previously unidentified issues, adjust treatment plans, and make care more efficient and effective. Ms. Effman is not the only member of the Orenda treatment team who meets with and educates family members. Each clinical team member offers insight that can help family members understand how to support their loved one’s recovery. Primary therapists, wellness team members, and medical staff are available to provide education and support to patient’s family members.

Orenda goes to lengths to make family members feel at home on campus. Patients participating in family therapy at Orenda can expect a personalized touch by our talented culinary staff, concierge services, and self-care offerings. The goal of making families feel welcome and comfortable is more than exceptional service. By reducing reasons for families to leave the treatment campus, Orenda can increase the amount of time that family members and their loved ones take part in treatment.

Orenda is distinguished, in part, by its ability to help individuals and families negatively affected by high-stress occupations, notoriety, and dysfunctional family patterns. Many of Orenda’s patients are high-net-worth individuals and families who struggle with a multitude of problems. Orenda is experienced at understanding how wealth can affect one’s identity, delay one’s commitment to getting help for substance abuse, and sometimes become a barrier to getting treatment, which creates additional problems within families. By understanding these issues, Ms. Effman and the Orenda team can more quickly and effectively develop treatment strategies and collaborate with families and other service providers to make treatment more effective and long-lasting.

“Members of wealthy families can be more prone to delaying consequences from their substance use disorders. Having wealth is not a panacea for mental health — in many cases, the opposite is true. Some aspects of being part of a wealthy family can pose mental health risks and make it more challenging to identify and experience hard consequences for one’s substance use. To be effective, we need to acknowledge these issues and develop strategies that help our patients and their family members mitigate these risks to achieve lasting recovery,” says Effman.

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