My Child is an Adult with an Eating Disorder, Addiction or Mental Health Challenge—Should I be Involved in Their Treatment?
Most parents of children who are now adults will tell you that parenting doesn’t magically stop at age 18. We are connected to our children and loved ones through our neurobiology throughout our lives. As the saying goes in Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT), developed by Adele Lafrance and Joanne Dolhanty “once connected, always affected”.
It is completely normal for us to hold in one hand the desire to help our loved ones when they are struggling and in the other hand a desire to see them work through their problems and gain independence. However, when mental health challenges such as eating disorders, addictions and mood disorders start to affect areas of daily functioning, relationships, ability to engage in school or work and safety is at risk, the person affected needs help and support to get back on track. Parents and other caregivers such as partners, spouses, extended family and friends have the neurobiological power to be very effective healing agents of change, even more so than clinicians!
Plus, family involvement and support is endorsed by national organizations such as The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
So why do we question our involvement?
As a parent who has been there and as a clinician who has seen it in action, I can say that in general we question ourselves because we have difficulty seeing how our efforts may be helpful. EFFT describes this as the experience of caregiver burden. The feeling of burden does not depend on how much time you spend on the situation or the resources you have committed to it, rather it is the sense that what you have to offer isn’t helping, the situation isn’t changing or the worry that you may make it worse. It can show up in all kinds of ways. For example, here are a few more common thoughts I’ve heard parents and caregivers express:
All these thoughts and more may be true. And, with EFFT as our guide, we also know that:
What can I do to be involved?
[i] Lafrance, A., Henderson, K. A., & Mayman, S. (2020). Emotion-focused family therapy: A transdiagnostic model for caregiver-focused interventions. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000166-000