Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

Family Therapy Models

Childhood trauma is often at the root of young adult mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. That’s why family therapy methods to repair parent-child relationships are an essential part of healing and recovery. Healthy and supportive family connections make a powerful positive difference in the lives of emerging adults.

When to Seek Help

If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s critical to seek help before the problem intensifies. Because depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mood and co-occurring disorders increase the risk of suicide, don’t wait before getting a comprehensive assessment and following up with treatment, in either a residential or outpatient setting. Family therapy treatment is often one of the most important and effective aspects of a young adult’s healing journey.

Learn more about the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma/PTSD.

Young adults may not realize that they experienced childhood trauma, and therefore may not understand why they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD. That’s because experiences of traumatic stress in childhood take a variety of forms, both chronic and acute. Here are some of the events and circumstances that can catalyze trauma in childhood that later emerges as a young adult mental health condition:

  • Sexual, physical, or psychological abuse
  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Loss of a loved one, particularly through a sudden or violent event
  • A natural disaster or experience of collective trauma, such as war or a pandemic
  • A life-threatening illness or accident in the family
  • Violence in the family or in the community
  • Family members who suffered from substance use disorder
  • Trauma related to a family member’s military service, such as death, injury, or post-combat PTSD.

As a result of these traumatic stressors or other family circumstances, some young adults may have experienced a form of childhood trauma called relational trauma. Relational trauma is the result of disruptions in the relationship between the child and their parent or primary caregiver. These disruptions interrupt the process of attachment, and therefore may lead to difficulties in relationships, as well as a variety of mental health conditions, in young adulthood and beyond.

Know the Facts

77% of patients with chronic depression have experienced childhood trauma.

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a therapeutic modality designed to repair trauma, wounds, misunderstandings, and other disruptions in the family system. The goal of family therapy is to rebuild trust, restore family harmony, and reopen lines of communication. Hence, a young adult can turn to their parents for support as they become more autonomous and independent.

In addition, healing relational trauma helps young adults enhance their relationships outside the family. Family therapy methods can provide emerging adults with the skills and self-knowledge to form satisfying romantic relationships and peer friendships, and to build a supportive community.

There are many family therapy models and family therapy methods, including a category known as family systems therapy, developed by the psychiatrist Murray Bowen. Within that category, strategic family therapy addresses specific problems within the family system. Structural family therapy looks at the family as a system of relationships, behaviors, and patterns. In multiple-family therapy, a therapist facilitates as several families attend a session together to learn from each other’s experiences.

What to Expect

Without knowing what to expect in family therapy, families are sometimes reluctant to participate. But that typically changes once they understand how this approach can support the mental health of an individual client, as well as the cohesiveness and harmony of the entire family.

What to Expect in Family Therapy

While family therapy methods vary, there are some common elements among them. Here are a few things that young adults and their loved ones can expect when entering family therapy treatment.

  • Some family members may be resistant to acknowledging their role in family challenges. Therefore, the therapist will educate the entire family about the benefits and support them in committing to the process.
  • The family therapist will ask about common sources of stress or conflict in the family and any histories of trauma, abuse, mental health conditions, or substance abuse disorder among family members.
  • Together with the therapist, the family will formulate a vision of a healthier family unit, and create a roadmap to move them closer to this goal.
  • Most family therapy models focus on improving communication skills and helping family members find effective ways to work through challenges
  • Often a family therapist will assign homework—tasks for the family to work on individually and together between sessions. 

In our experience, parents and their young adult children both desire the same thing—closer, more meaningful relationships with one another. They just don’t know how to begin. Family therapy provides them with a path to sustainable healing.

Dr. Barb Nosal
PhD, LMFT, LADC, Chief Clinical Officer
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Care at Newport Institute

At Newport Institute, we believe that family involvement is key to sustainable, long-term healing from young adult mental health issues. For young adults, family therapy treatment helps build authentic connections and healthy boundaries, while supporting age-appropriate autonomy.

Our primary approach among the family therapy models is an evidence-based modality called Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT). Developed by Guy Diamond, Gary Diamond, and Suzanne Levy, ABFT has been proven to significantly reduce suicidal ideation and depressive symptoms in young people. Influenced by John Bowlby’s attachment theory, and by structural and multidimensional family therapy models, ABFT includes five distinct treatment phases. Sometimes referred to as “treatment tasks,” these phases include clear steps and strategies. At Newport Institute, ABFT is one of a variety of clinical, experiential, and academic/life skills modalities that are integrated into each patient’s tailored treatment plan.

Ultimately, the goal of family therapy models is to heal the family system and help family members process past trauma. Moreover, emerging adults gain tools to thrive with the loving support of family as they navigate this exciting phase of life.

Newport Institute

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