Family Matters: How Family Week Supports Lasting Change

By Michael G. Simpson, MSC, LAC
Family Therapist at Sierra Tucson

Sierra Tucson has been conducting Family Week with its residents and their families since its inception over 32 years ago. Both alumni and referents alike have been effusive in their praise through the decades for the transformations that occur within families and individuals who complete our Family Program. Family Week isn’t an aside from primary treatment; instead, it is an integral part of primary treatment here at Sierra Tucson. Many recent studies have confirmed what Sierra Tucson pioneered in 1983 — the integration of family therapy with primary care improves treatment outcomes across several metrics when compared to primary treatment without family therapy, and when compared to primary treatment separate from family treatment.

Sierra Tucson’s Family Week is a four-day-long, eight-hours-per-day commitment, and family members must fully participate in order to be eligible. An essential part of our Family Program, Family Week is held 52 weeks out of the year, including holidays. How do we get family members to take time away from their busy lives and make such a commitment? By the time an individual has set aside the time and resources necessary to attend 30 days or more of residential treatment, dysfunction, distress, and dissonance within his or her life and the lives of his or her family members has risen to the point whereby all members collectively recognize something must change if personal and relational catastrophe are to be avoided. This is a pivotal moment in which the pain of staying the same seems greater than the pain of changing, for both the resident and the family. In this moment of crisis, Sierra Tucson presents a means for hope and healing that the resident and family can acknowledge as an opportunity to be seized before it passes.

We combine lectures with opportunities to put the knowledge just learned into practice immediately with family members in live interactive settings. This is very powerful. Each family member and resident is encouraged to safely talk about the behaviors of the other person around which they have felt the most pain, hurt, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, or fear. Through this difficult emotional process, we help both parties identify the most important opportunities for change and healing in their relationship with one another. Then we teach them the self-empowering benefits of becoming responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as opposed to feeling forced to react by circumstances or the behaviors of others. We guide them through proactive steps for self-evaluation and self-care that can transform negative experiences into positive ones.

It takes a monumental commitment of finances, personnel, facilities, programming, and clinical expertise to maintain an effective family program. Through a 32-year process of practice, outcome assessment, and program adjustment, Sierra Tucson has developed a premier, world-renowned Family Program. This provides our residents and their families with help, hope, healing, and the opportunity for lasting change. And, we enthusiastically demonstrate our commitment week after week, because we know that family matters.