Family Peer Support at Harmony

Addiction is often referred to as a family disorder, meaning every member of the family is impacted by it one way or another. Addiction affects the family dynamic in multiple ways. Each family member typically serves an important role. An active addiction of one member—be it a parent, a child, or a spouse— frequently changes existing roles completely, leaving the family in a state of dysfunction. As the addiction continues to worsen, family dynamics tend to become more and more dysfunctional.

Since the entire family dynamic is affected, involving families in addiction treatment improves outcomes. “Research suggests that behavioral health treatment that includes family therapy works better than treatment that does not,” explains a brochure of the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “For people with addiction, family therapy can help them decide to enter or stay in treatment. It can reduce their risk of dropping out of treatment. It also can reduce their continued use of alcohol or drugs, discourage relapse, and promote long-term recovery.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, offering workshops for families has been difficult for treatment providers. Harmony Foundation’s family education workshop—led by a licensed therapist—had to be moved online to keep everybody safe from infection. The workshop has two goals. The first is to provide education to family members about the disease model of addiction and how it can help them come to understand their loved one’s condition. The second is to give family members time to express themselves and begin to heal their own pain, while also engaging in self-examination.

In addition to the family education group, Harmony offers a virtual non-clinical family peer support group. Harmony Foundation’s Marlyce Bowdish is currently leading this additional group. In many ways, she is the ideal person to facilitate it. Her daughter went to Harmony and Marlyce is in long-term recovery herself, so on Zoom calls with family members, she can provide priceless insights into addiction as a family disease.

Bowdish is passionate about being able to support people in recovery and their loved ones. “It’s almost like I got the secret sauce,” she says. “I can tell people things on that call that they have no other way of getting insight into. It’s really valuable information and spurs amazing conversations.”

After introductions and a brief outline of the ground rules, Bowdish usually invites participants to share, and often they have many questions. “There may be loved ones on the call who have a family member in rehab at Harmony at the time of the call or family members who have somebody who has been in recovery for years,” says Bowdish. Those veterans often help the new people who are not sure what to expect. “A new person might ask ‘what do I do?’ or ‘what do I talk about?’ and then the whole group chimes in.”

“Somebody may share how their husband came home and they asked too many questions which could be a trigger risk and then I explain why this should be avoided,” explains Bowdish. “Other people may learn on the call that their loved one has a case manager whom they haven’t heard about from the client. Some participants would like to talk about plans for continuing care after discharge from rehab. There are usually all kinds of recovery topics.”

Clients and their family members who stayed with the meeting for a while later often say how much it helped them through a difficult period in their lives and how grateful they are that this group was there for them. “The wisdom you get from this group is incredible,” says Bowdish. “It’s quite amazing to witness the growth of people from when they came on to who they are now. In the beginning, they ask ‘what is a boundary?’ and six months later they can explain it to others with personal examples. That’s huge.”

Any family member or loved one of Harmony alumni is invited to participate in this free online peer support group.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs and workshops, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.