One important piece of the services the regional offices offer to the community is the Family Engagement meeting. This is consistent with Caron’s mission of Recovery for Life for all those affected by substance use or behavioral health disorders. Most of my work revolves around getting the family to engage in an open dialogue with the identified patient so together they can explore options for treatment (residential, OP, continuing care). The meeting takes place at our regional center and the ground rules are very simple: no crosstalk, no finger pointing, no “we” statements. Everybody will have the opportunity to express their individual concerns, fears and hopes as they relate to the IP, and the last person to speak is the one who the family has concerns about. More often than not the IP will acknowledge the family’ concerns and be open to discuss the next steps. This is the “bread and butter” of the work we do with families at Caron NY. However, on occasions we get calls of a different nature, not directly related to getting someone to accept help.
Several weeks ago, I received a call from a Life Coach who works with high-end clients. She asked if we could help a family who was facing a crisis that involved their middle son. The young man, whom we shall name David, was born with a neurological disability and struggled with opiate abuse for a long time. He had been to different programs, including residential, but didn’t seem to be able to put together more than two months sober. However, about a year and a half ago, David told his family that he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and had made a commitment to get into recovery. He had started going to daily meetings, got a sponsor, was working the steps and his whole attitude had visibly improved. David was seeing a therapist once a week and seemed to have turned his life around. This was all good, but according to the siblings, because of his neurological disability David had always had it “easier”, he had never held a full time job and his parents paid his apartment, personal expenses, including seeing a therapist once a week, etc. David was currently involved in graduate school and was hoping to acquire a master’s degree in sociology. His parents, of course, were also paying for school. The problem now was that the father and head of the family was about to lose his job and the family was under financial duress. The complaint from the other children was that the parents continued to “enable” David, by paying all his expenses, without David having any concerns regarding the tight financial situation the family was facing. The parents, of course, had a different perspective, focusing more on David’s achievements, especially his sustained sobriety and improved attitude. This difference of opinion was tearing the family apart. I agreed to meet once with the family, to gather information and plan for a second meeting, where David would be invited to participate.
At our first meeting, each family member took turns to talk following the simple structure outlined earlier. Soon it became apparent that the siblings were focusing more on certain undesirable aspects of David’s behavior rather than on his much improved attitude and his sustained sobriety. We agreed that they could vent their feelings and express their opinions at this meeting, but that the plan was to bring David in as a concerned family member, and invite him to participate and take the firsts steps to resolve the problem that was affecting the whole family. It’s important to emphasize that this family, despite the disagreements and difference of opinions, had tremendous respect and love for one another.
At our second and last meeting David was present. Each family member took turns to acknowledge David’s accomplishments and his commitment to recovery. We then focused on the financial situation and asked each family member to express what they could do individually to address the problem. When it was David’s turn, he thanked the family for including him in the discussion and expressed his willingness to get a roommate to share the rent or, if necessary, move to another area where the rent would be cheaper. To everyone’s surprise and delight David turned to his older brother, who is married and is a successful business entrepreneur, and asked him for help in putting together his resume and give him suggestions so he could be at his best when called for a job interview. The meeting ended with a group hug.
This just an example of the many ways we can help families move away from chaos and engage in the solution.