What Are Effective Strategies for Helping Clients Cope With a Family Member's Mental Illness?


    What Are Effective Strategies for Helping Clients Cope With a Family Member's Mental Illness?

    Navigating the complex emotional landscape following a family member's mental illness can be daunting, so we've gathered insights from six mental health professionals. From establishing a self-care routine to educating families on mental illness, these Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Clinical Directors offer their expert methods to support clients during these challenging times.

    • Establish a Self-Care Routine
    • Release Emotions Through Letter-Writing
    • Connect with Local NAMI Resources
    • Apply Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
    • Foster Empathetic Family Communication
    • Educate Families on Mental Illness

    Establish a Self-Care Routine

    One method that I use to help a client dealing with a mental illness episode from a family member is to work on a self-care routine. A self-care routine involves identifying places, things, activities, or people that an individual can turn to for comfort and safety. An example would be giving oneself 20 minutes a day to paint, or reaching out to close friends for a game night every Friday. Having a self-care routine helps create some distance from the often difficult aftermath of a family member's mental illness. More importantly, it helps people center themselves in their decision-making process, encouraging them to make choices that their hearts truly want.

    May Han
    May HanLicensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Spark Relational Counseling

    Release Emotions Through Letter-Writing

    One method I use to help clients cope with the aftermath of a family member's mental illness is letter-writing. Mental illness can cause the family member affected to do and say harmful things, which can create anger and tension between members. There is often no outlet for these emotions, so I suggest they let it out through writing the family member a letter. Whether they choose to share it with them or not, it's a way for them to release the negative emotions associated with their loved one's mental illness in a healthy way.

    Azia Carter
    Azia CarterMarriage and Family Therapist, Dwellness In-Home Psychological Services

    Connect with Local NAMI Resources

    I urge clients dealing with a family member's mental illness to connect with their local NAMI group (nami.org). NAMI provides education, support groups, and numerous resources for the family members of those struggling with challenging psychiatric diagnoses. Most of these resources are very low-cost or no-cost and extremely accessible. Family support is crucial for anyone healing from mental illness, so the best way for a family member to help their loved one is to inform themselves and make sure they are being taken care of through the process.

    Kathryn Gates
    Kathryn GatesMarriage and Family Therapist, Gates Therapy

    Apply Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    One particularly effective approach for assisting clients dealing with the aftermath of a family member's mental illness is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapeutic modality that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. When applied to clients who are coping with a family member's mental illness, CBT helps them manage their own stress, anxiety, or depressive symptoms that may arise from the situation.

    The process involves helping clients recognize how their thoughts about the mental illness and its impact on the family can influence their feelings and behaviors. For instance, a client might believe that they must shoulder all responsibilities alone, leading to feelings of overwhelming stress or guilt. Through CBT, we work together to challenge these unhelpful beliefs and develop more balanced and constructive thought patterns. This approach can lead to a significant reduction in personal distress and an improved ability to cope with the situation.

    Moreover, CBT equips clients with practical and effective coping strategies, such as stress-management techniques, problem-solving skills, and ways to maintain healthy boundaries. This not only benefits the individual in their personal coping but can also positively impact the family dynamics, creating a more supportive and less stressful environment for everyone involved.

    Jennifer Worley
    Jennifer WorleyLicensed Marriage and Family Therapists, First Light Recovery

    Foster Empathetic Family Communication

    One method I often utilize to assist clients dealing with the impact of a family member's mental illness is an empathetic, family-focused approach. This method is grounded in the recognition that mental illness does not only affect the individual diagnosed but also profoundly influences the entire family unit.

    When working with clients in this situation, I emphasize the importance of open, empathetic communication. Creating a safe space for family members to express their feelings, fears, and frustrations about the situation is crucial. This process helps in acknowledging and validating each person's unique experience and emotions related to their loved one's mental illness.

    Another key aspect of this approach is education. Educating the family about the specific mental illness, its symptoms, treatment options, and potential impact on family dynamics can be incredibly empowering. This knowledge helps in demystifying the illness, reducing stigma, and fostering a more supportive and understanding environment.

    Additionally, self-care strategies are essential for family members. Dealing with a loved one's mental illness can be emotionally draining and stressful. I encourage clients to engage in activities that promote their well-being, whether it be mindfulness practices, exercise, hobbies, or seeking their own therapy. It's important for them to understand that taking care of their mental health is not selfish but necessary for maintaining a supportive environment for their loved one.

    Carlos Escobar
    Carlos EscobarClinical Director, Real Recovery

    Educate Families on Mental Illness

    As the founder of a mental health clinic, I have seen the devastating impact that mental illness can have on families.

    I believe that effective communication is key in any relationship, especially when dealing with mental illness. Oftentimes, family members may not know how to communicate with their loved one who is struggling, or they may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do.

    Through psychoeducation, our team helps families understand the nature of mental illness and how it can affect an individual's thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. This knowledge can help them gain insight into their loved one's struggles and build empathy towards them.

    Paul Manley
    Paul ManleyFounder, Halo Health Clinic