Healing Families With Structured Family Recovery

“Family is always the prominent force, before, during, and after addiction treatment,” says Debra Jay, the coauthor of Love First and the creator of the Structured Family Recovery program. SFR is “so simple, so obvious, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been done before,” she wrote in her 2014 book It Takes A Family. Until then, families had been “mostly left out of the recovery equation,” Jay wrote, but that has changed significantly in recent years. “Structured Family Recovery starts with a family and ends with a family recovery team.”

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Jay discussed the importance of family engagement in achieving lasting sobriety. SFR “works with family as a whole unit” to bring “the family back together again,” Jay told the webinar audience.

“SFR is best known through the stories families tell about themselves,” explained Jay. “We just need to listen to the family’s narrative.” She presented a quote from the wife of someone with alcohol use disorder: “During our recovery journey, our SFR counselor was the first person to treat us like a family full of love rather than a broken family.” The sister-in-law of an addicted person found SFR “the most applicable and relatable thing that I have ever done, and I’ve done therapy all my life.” The father of a “beloved addict” described SFR as “the language of post-resurrection: forgiveness and love.”

We don’t need to ask what families want; they want to be happy again! It has been said many times that connection is the opposite of addiction. Consequently, SFR is all about belonging, trustworthiness, and happiness.

Jay stressed that Structured Family Recovery is not therapy but a program of action. In It Takes A Family, she wrote that SFR “supports Twelve Step recovery for alcoholics, addicts, and family members, but it isn’t AA or any other Twelve Step group… it supports ongoing recovery—designed so that every member of the family contributes to preventing relapse, healing the whole family, and building trust.”

Families meet once a week for an hour, usually via conference calls, so it doesn’t matter where people live or whether they are at home or traveling. If the addicted persons are in residential treatment or a recovery residence, they can still easily participate.

The meetings have a simple format, and team members focus on themselves. SFR is never punitive or judgmental. The content of each meeting is directed by weekly topics. “Those topics are not random but coordinated with the Twelve Steps,” explained Jay. A list of topics can be found in It Takes A Family.

“Everyone learns where to find their power and what they are powerless over,” Jay wrote. “With time, everyone can begin to forgive and eventually can trust. There are bumps in the road, to be sure, but together, as a family, they work through them.”

In SFR, everyone creates a recovery plan. Every team member needs to engage in the simple and straightforward process of developing a plan appropriate to their recovery situation and role in the family.

The recovery process is ongoing and takes time. “Most families complete at least a year. Even when they started out wondering why they are doing SFR,” said Jay.

Harmony Foundation offers a modified family engagement workshop to all families of current and former clients. It provides education to family members about the disease model of addiction. This gives family members a place to express themselves and begin the healing process.

Harmony is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.