What is Family Recovery Therapy (FRT) for addiction?

In the Words of an Addict, a Codependent Family Member, and an Addiction Therapist.

by Larry Fritzlan, LMFT, developer of Family Recovery Therapy (FRT)

If you are reading this, perhaps you are concerned about your ability to control your use of some substance, or to refrain from acting on some behavior. Or you may have a family member who is struggling with one of these problems. I want to let you know that whoever you are, I have been in your shoes.

My Own Story

I am an addict who is now in recovery, and I have family members who are or were addicts. I watched my alcoholic father and my drug-addicted son die early. I sought support for my addiction and reached out for help regarding my addicted family members. In the process of my recovery, I became a licensed mental health professional treating families struggling with addiction.  

With the knowledge gleaned from 25 years of treating addicted families, I believe that if my Family Recovery Therapy (FRT) model could have been used for my family, it would have changed our enabling behavior and provided an addiction treatment that may have saved the lives of both my father and my son.

Therapeutic Approaches Compared

The genesis of my latest book, Addiction Therapy and Treatment: A Systems Approach was the realization that this approach to treating addiction works much better than the model traditionally used in addiction treatment. Below is a comparison:

  • Traditional Model: A family member calls an interventionist (who is typically unlicensed). The interventionist refers the addict to a residential rehab where the addict typically works with an unlicensed drug counselor for 30 days. The addict is discharged and referred to another, generally unlicensed, counselor in an intensive outpatient program—a referral the addict often does not follow up on. The family members may or may not get support to deal with their many issues. They are usually offered a day or two of education and groups with a licensed family therapist, perhaps only an hour or two. A 50% relapse rate is the norm for this rehab-based approach.
  • Family Recovery Therapy Model: A family member calls a licensed Family Recovery therapist who, from the first call, begins to assess the family using a systems therapy approach. Most families can undergo treatment in an intensive outpatient program near their home—no travel, lower cost, and a much higher success rate than the traditional rehab treatment model. Addicts and their families are much better served by getting treatment in a comprehensive, home-based program.

Seven Reasons Why Family Recovery Therapy Works Better

Family Recovery Therapy (FRT) offers more effective treatment than the traditional approach in the following ways:

  1. A licensed mental health professional, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an addict, can effectively guide a willing addict through a treatment process that results in one day of remission. Easy! And then a second day. And a third. And then, one day at a time, the licensed mental health professional will work closely with that addict through the first year of continuous sobriety. The FRT therapist will also address and treat the biological, psychological, and social aspects of that addict’s recovery, as well as attend to any possible legal or employment concerns.    
  2. We often call addiction a “family disease” because it profoundly impacts the psychology and emotional well-being of everyone in the family. The certified FRT therapist is schooled in family systems theory and is trained to untangle the dysfunctional relationships of the individuals in a family. The FRT therapist can guide the family members on a path towards serenity and restoration of healthy development.
  3. In working with the family system, the mental health professional can help family members become aware of the ways they enable addiction. The therapist can guide them to focus on their own recovery and help them address the damage addiction and codependency have caused to their family relationships and their personal development.
  4. Because Family Recovery Therapy focuses on the fact that getting sober is simple, it makes recovery accessible. Getting sober is simple: Acknowledge that I have a problem, ask for help, and follow suggestions. (I can personally vouch for this truth and have seen thousands of examples.) 
  5. Family Recovery Therapy (FRT) begins treatment with the family members, the "family system" that may be enabling the addiction. The enabling codependents are typically oblivious of how they unconsciously support the addictive/codependent system—they usually are as unaware of their enabling as the addict is unaware of their disease.
  6. For treatment to work, the addict must choose it. Treatment can‘t be forced on anyone. “Hitting bottom” is often seen as the point where an addict decides to enter recovery. This critical moment can be created when the enabling codependents, working with their Family Recovery therapist, become healthier and set realistic boundaries. This new reality typically causes the addict’s “bottom to be raised,” hopefully to the point where he or she hits bottom and decides to enter recovery.
  7. Successful treatment is best if the addictive/codependent family system is treated rather than treating the addict or the codependent independently. Although treatment typically starts with one individual—generally the family member making the first call—the Family Recovery therapist works to eventually engage all the individuals who are impacted by this family system disorder.

A Doctor's Opinion

I think Kevin McCauley, M.D, said it best in his review of our book Addiction Therapy and Treatment: A Systems Approach:

“The best recovery plans that I see are those that are coordinated by a single, licensed mental health professional who understands the special needs of families coping with addiction and can coordinate additional treatments as the needs of the family system evolve.”

Hope From a Recovered Addict

We invite you to learn more about Family Recovery Therapy and our systems approach by reading our book and working with an FRT certified therapist. There is hope for you and your family, whether you are an addict or a concerned family member. I am living proof of that.

— Larry Fritzlan, LMFT, originator of Family Recovery Therapy (FRT), and co-author of Addiction Therapy and Treatment: A Systems Approach, and developer of the FRT professional training and certification program.

A time for honesty and healing

“Working with Larry provided me and my family a much needed safe space for honesty, consistency, and confrontation. His intentionally holistic and consistent approach working with me individually as well as working with my family was exactly what was needed to diagnose and directly address the issues within our family. Given the one-year minimum requirement for the program, it successfully gave us time to slowly but surely hash out deep-rooted and neglected issues that were at the very root of the problem, to work through them, and to grow to become a more independent yet supportive family system.”

— Client whose family followed the program presented in Addiction Therapy and Treatment: A Systems Approach