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Roles for Family and Friends in Recovery from Psychosis

I often hear from family & friends of people with psychosis that they want to be helpful but don’t know how. So I put together a list of resources that might provide some guidance.

One simple overview of how family and friends can help was put together by Mind in the UK.

There are some free videos for family members teaching perspectives and skills drawn from CBT for psychosis – these go into a lot of detail, and the instructor is very knowledgeable.

There’s also a free online training course for family members based on CBT for psychosis offered by SPIRIT Labs in WA. They also offer a list of possibly helpful resources.

There’s a short guide for family members in communicating with someone with psychosis

There’s a weekly online meeting for family and friends of people who hear voices And Understanding Voices has a page of helpful ideas for friends and family.

Family support groups organized by NAMI may be helpful and are available in many locations across the US.

Or parents who are skeptical of conventional drug-based treatments for children struggling with mental health issues and who are looking for alternatives may be more interested in Mad in America’s online parent support groups. And they have this list of additional groups.

There’s an online course called “Demystifying Psychosis for Family Members” that might be of interest.

EASA, the Early Assessment and Support Alliance, has a list of resources for families, allies, and young adults

Some of these resources, in particular NAMI, may be at times overly invested in describing psychosis as definitely an “illness” rather than as a possibly understandable reaction to difficult or confusing life experiences. But there’s a lot that can be helpful in these resources, despite their imperfections.

Sometimes the emphasis on “blaming the illness” comes out of a reluctance to say anything that might lead family or friends to blame themselves in any way for how their loved one became lost and confused. This has led leading organizations to promote statements like “Psychosis is nobody’s fault. People do not cause it.” Unfortunately, as I have written about before, this leads to a denial of how trauma and in particular interpersonal trauma is often a big cause of psychosis, and also to ignoring how other kinds of stressful and confusing life events can play a role.

My perspective is that rather than teach family members to “blame the illness” as a way of avoiding getting caught up in self blame, we can instead guide them in finding a middle way. That is, we can acknowledge that life is tricky and confusing, our brains are tricky and confusing, and because of this we family members may not always have been helpful to those we love and care about, and sometimes we may have been clearly unhelpful or hurtful in ways that may have contributed to the psychosis. But this does not have to mean getting caught up in blaming ourselves; we can instead shift our focus to learning what we can do now to be part of the solution. In other words, we can model accepting ourselves as imperfect and sometimes confused and confusing people who nevertheless can love and value both ourselves and others in the present- the same sorts of skills that will be so useful to our loved ones in their own journey toward recovery.

Back in 2015 Paris Williams wrote a 3 part series on Madness and the Family, see Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 that explores some of the complexities around psychosis and families.  Or you might also appreciate hearing a 45 minute talk he gave on the same subject

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