Al‑Anon complements traditional therapy

Diane M. Warshofsky, MACC, LMFT, LPCA
Marriage and Family Therapist
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

As I worked with recovering alcoholics, I began to see how their loved ones unknowingly challenged their lifestyle of sobriety. This led me to invite their partner to therapy in order to clarify my role as a support to the whole relationship. In this process, I recognized both the pain shared within the relationship, as well as the individual hurt of each partner related to issues of trust, guilt, and shame.

Marriages and families can erode over time, as the unacknowledged events of pain pile up because of the need to survive the present crisis. The absence of a crisis is foreign during recovery. Most are not aware that even “good” changes can cause a couple or family distress. I have found it helpful to provide both individual and couples’ sessions. The goal is to normalize their individual and collective experience, as well as explore their needs in the relationship and for outside supports.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al‑Anon provides a safe place for one to receive strength and hope through others’ experience. This complements my focus of each individual’s responsibility of self-care. Significant others who no longer feel alone in their circumstances are given permission inside and outside of therapy to take care of themselves. This type of support can lead to changes that benefit the individual as well as the relationship. Not every relationship survives, but those that do have a working knowledge of how to separate individual from relational needs.

Without the shared experience of Al‑Anon, I believe that therapy would not be as effective. As a professional, I am grateful for the support my clients receive from Al‑Anon, as I walk with them through a part of their journey of healing.