Getting better faster

Virginia Fowkes Clark, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Stow, Ohio

People come to see me because they are unhappy in their lives and relationships, not usually because there is a problem of alcoholism in their family. After a thorough history, it becomes clear to me the impact the family disease of alcoholism has on many of my clients.

Many grew up with an alcoholic parent and thought they left that behind, yet it leaves them sometimes impaired in their relationships and in their work. Others married an alcoholic but did not see how that was contributing to their dysfunctional and unhappy marriage. Some marry and divorce an alcoholic, again thinking they got rid of the problem, but find their relationships continue to be affected. Some are depressed, others are anxious. Often, control issues are present.

On every first visit, whether an adult or a child, I get a family history of mental illness and alcohol and drug problems. If someone is living with an active alcoholic, and they are partially aware of how much this is a problem, I refer them to Al‑Anon right away. If someone grew up with alcoholism, I may wait a few sessions, until tying the alcoholism into their present problems makes sense.

Over the years, I have tried telling people various things, but lately I tell my clients what I observe: the people who come to therapy and go to Al‑Anon, if they need to, just get better faster. In fact, more than one client has been in therapy previously or on medication, but when they add going to Al‑Anon, it makes a tremendous difference. After suggesting they go to Al‑Anon, I give them a copy of the local Al‑Anon meeting schedule and a copy of Al‑Anon Faces Alcoholism.

Being persistent, if they do not go initially, I keep asking them to go. One woman, who did eventually go to Al‑Anon, told me later that she went just to get me to stop asking her. It changed her life, her children’s lives, and she remains a member of Al‑Anon to this day.