Three Ways To Use Family Support While You’re Loved One Is In Treatment

The Red Sock

I have seen this happen so many times.  When your loved one is in treatment, you feel helpless, you are powerless to make the changes they are working on, you struggle to know what to do with yourself. You wish that someone would come in and give you a few goals to work on - especially your child.

Let’s look at this metaphor. You asked your loved one, “How can I help you?”. Your child/spouse says, “I just need a special pair of red socks.” You might rejoice because you finally have a task, a purpose!  You will search Amazon for hours to find that perfect pair! You will do whatever it takes to get them the red socks!

What if you had a few more concrete tasks, a few more tangible ways to help the process along? I am going to give you those steps those goals to help your family member along. Using family therapy sessions, before, during, and after treatment, can enhance and progress the healing.

Here are your goals.


Develop less reactive communication

You and your loved one struggle to talk about anything without a reaction.  The stakes are high - for you because you want them to recover, for them because they are being asked to give up something that provides comfort, structure and identity.  You fight because of the fear, but it feels personal.

You are afraid they will stay stuck.  You have watched the eating disorder, “ED”,  chip away at their life, their self confidence, and their health.  You fear you will say the “wrong” thing, again.  You can’t stay silent, but whatever you say seems to set off a reaction.  

Guess what, they are also afraid they will stay stuck.  They fear moving forward, they fear moving back. And they aren’t really sure how to ask for help, or what will even be helpful.

You need a neutral third party to help. Someone who can sit with the fear, but not drown in it.  Someone who can help lower the reactivity and allow space for the messages of care and concern to flow across to each other. Do not skip this step unless you want to continue in your cycle.

Educate Yourself on ED
So that you can translate ED thoughts in your mind

You often find yourself scratching your head because you don’t understand your loved one’s thought process - and guess what, they don’t understand it either much of the time!  A therapist trained to understand the unique logic of the eating disorder, or addiction, brain can help with translation.

So often, by explaining small things, such as why their loved one takes the long way inside of Target to find what they are shopping for, I have helped families move from confusion and frustration to “Oh!! I get it now”.   This is a great moment. [Oh, you want to know why? Because with an eating disorder every additional step has the potential power of “fixing” things in their lives! So they must go the long way.]

Prepare for Integration
Get ready for the return to life

The days, weeks, months after discharge from treatment are very complicated and often underestimated.   Having support in preparing for what is normal and what is next can relieve stress. Having support in identifying red flags can reduce guessing.  Having support in planning can reduce decision making [see What is a Decision Making Disorder].

If your loved one is in treatment, ask for support for the whole family system.  If the treatment center doesn’t offer it, they may likely have some recommendations for therapists in your area.  Reach out to me for a therapeutic consultation or ongoing family sessions.

Ask for support.  It will help.


wendy wright