I’m a mental health professional

A Better Approach to Addiction Treatment

This section is addressed to the 550,000 mental health professionals in America. I believe that we have an extraordinary opportunity to solve our nation’s most pressing mental health problem: the scourge of addiction.

I believe that we are the ones who can help eradicate this problem. We have the tools to eliminate this problem in the next generation. And most importantly, to introduce a new paradigm in addiction treatment and recovery: Addiction Treatment and Therapy: A Systems Approach.

Stepping Into the Future

On the one hand, we have a vast, multibillion-dollar “Addiction Treatment Industry” that fails to create sustained sobriety in 50% of those who receive treatment and does next to nothing about the devastation caused by those who often unwittingly support and enable the addiction. On the other hand, we have a nearly 90-year-old, highly successful, free addiction treatment approach that is utilized by a tiny percent of the millions of addicts and their family members: 12-step programs.

This is the breach that I stepped into through some fate of the gods nearly 30 years ago. I was educated and trained as a psychotherapist and licensed as a California Marriage and Family Therapist. I was qualified to address individuals' mental health and attend to their marriage and family dynamics. I was also, at that time, fifteen years sober and a recovering alcoholic. Among my peers and colleagues, I was “out” about the fact that I was an alcoholic in recovery, and my colleagues referred to me many clients—lots of them!—where there was a suspicion of addiction.

I came to find out that mental health treatment, as practiced in America, is not that savvy about treating addiction.

If the “abuse” can’t be addressed by cognitive behavioral therapy or harm reduction interventions, we throw our hands up in the air and hope that our client somehow goes to “rehab” and everything turns out ok.

Mental health practitioners are simply not trained to treat addiction.

I know this because, for many years, I taught the state-mandated “treating addiction” class to graduate students who were preparing to become licensed mental health professionals. The required class barely allowed time to cover the rudimentary concepts of addiction treatment, much less the nuances of enabling and codependency.

Welcome to Family Recovery Therapy: a Systems-Based Approach

Fortunately, I found there is a way to treat addiction effectively, and that’s what this website and the certification training describe: Family Recovery Therapy, a systems-based approach to treating addictive/codependent family systems.

Stopping the Drug Rehab Merry-Go-Round

You may have encountered a client you thought was an addict, and you did what seemed appropriate:  you referred them to a treatment program. Or perhaps you met with a client you deemed “difficult” or “resistant” and accepted that they were untreatable without recognizing that their resistance was the result of untreated addiction. Or, possibly you have worked with family members of addicts and not realized the extent to which their struggles resulted from addiction in the family.

As a clinician trained in Family Recovery Therapy, you will be prepared to recognize and treat addiction and codependency. The FRT program offers the clinician clear guidance and detailed information to provide effective treatment for families struggling with addiction. By simply following the steps outlined in the program, you can help families achieve and sustain recovery. And there is nothing more gratifying than watching an entire family move out of the cycle of addiction and into lives of greater health and happiness.

The model of residential rehabilitation centers started in the 1940s when sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) realized that a 30-day “time out” for an addict to sober up was a good plan. The idea grew over the decades as recovering individuals opened more rehabs based on the ones they had attended.

And then, in 2008, Congress passed a law that mandated health insurance companies to pay for treating this medical disease. Suddenly, profit-oriented businesses started buying up existing rehabs, opening new centers, and running TV ads which increased public awareness of “rehab treatment.” Since there are no federal standards for rehabs, many of them were sub-par, which was exposed by the comedian John Oliver in his video “Rehab.

And 50% of those who went to rehab failed to sustain sobriety and resumed their addiction.

The Journey of My Therapy Practice

In 1996, I was a licensed therapist, and I became a charter member of the Association of Intervention Specialists. Our group visited many dozens of rehabs across the country, including rehabs for teens, rehabs for addiction to food, gambling, sex, social media, electronic screens, and internet gaming. None of these focused treatment on the system that most likely enabled and supported the addiction.

So, when I got referrals, and I got a lot, I would proceed as would any licensed mental health professional: I would start with an assessment of the person in front of me. But I did something more. After I had met with the client for a while, if I suspected there was a problem with addiction in the family system, I’d say, “As a family recovery therapist, I specialize in treating families in which addiction or codependency may be present, and in most cases, I want to talk to the other members of the family.” In these situations, nearly every family member has been adversely affected by addiction and is in pain.

I would often use residential rehabs, but I came to see them as just one short-term component of my comprehensive year-long program. Eventually, I only worked with rehabs whose staff understood my approach and coordinated treatment with me. Staff at these treatment centers came to love my approach because they knew not only that their clients would get good aftercare treatment, but also that the client’s family was ensconced in a comprehensive treatment program that would extend through the first year of continuous sobriety. Furthermore, having one professional coordinate the treatment from the first phone call through the first year of continuous sobriety assured a consistent and cohesive approach.

I hope you will learn this highly rewarding family systems addiction treatment model and integrate it into your practice.

In some ways, addiction treatment is simple—guide the addict to get the support to stay sober for one day, and then again the next day, and one day at a time going forward, while coaching the enabling codependents to put the focus on themselves. The practitioner helps the addict and family members come to trust the recovery process while slowly addressing the myriad issues that arise during the initial year of recovery.

A Vision and a Hope

My vision is to have us mental health folks fill the gap between readily available, free, social support and mutual aid groups and the insufficient short-term rehab approach—in short, to bring professional healing to the families crying out for help and hold their hand as they make the dramatic shift into recovery.

My hope is that you, the practitioner interested in studying and treating addiction, will find that adopting this new model can help you achieve more successful outcomes with your clients. The families you work with that are contending with addiction will have a clear road map to follow which is explained in detail in our book, Addiction Treatment and Therapy: A Systems Approach.

You can become certified in Family Recovery Therapy and be listed as a referral source on this website by fulfilling a few straightforward requirements: Purchase the course, watch the certification videos, pass a series of quizzes, read our book, and show proof of licensure.

I invite you to expand your awareness of how to successfully treat addiction—treating not only the addict, but the entire family system. Our book, this website, and our certification program can improve your treatment outcomes. Our extensive promotion of Family Recovery Therapy can benefit you. You, too, can experience the reward of supporting addicts and families as they achieve successful recovery and develop more satisfying lives.

The online therapist certification course page provides additional information on FRT and the ability to sign up for the course.

A professional's endorsement

“I have worked with Larry and his treatment team as a collaborating therapist for many years. I have seen many people achieve full, ongoing, recovery after engaging with (his) direct, family-focused, 12-step, clinical recovery approach. His heart-felt commitment to honesty and responsibility is the essence of this program’s success.”

— Bill Arigi, LMFT, Former Clinical Director, Henry Ohlhoff Recovery Services