Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
4 May 2012
Originally developed in Western Australia, the Holyoake system uses a combination of education, therapy, support and the latest research to help individual family members, no matter what their age, deal with the trauma of living with someone they love, who has become an addict and turned their world upside down.
"Young children frequently believe they have caused the problem and that it is up to them to fix it," explains Sean Panambalana, a leading Sydney psychologist and Manager of Holyoake Family Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Programs for CatholicCare. "For children this is a great burden. Our job is to let them know they didn't cause this, that the problem is not theirs to fix. We teach them how to take better care of themselves and how to recognise what is theirs to change and what is not."
Adolescents may also have strong reactions to the situation and can assume too much responsibility for what their family is going through.
"As the habit of the substance abuser in the family gets worse, he or she will turn to drugs or alcohol to inoculate themselves against painful emotions such as anger, fear, shame hurt, grief and embarrassment at whatever is going on. But these feelings don't go away. Instead they are carried by the rest of the family," Sean explains.
Addiction affects everyone in the family. They may each respond differently but each will experience confusion, stress and trauma as they try to sort through what is happening and how best to deal with this.
Developed more than 30 years ago, the Holyoake approach is one of the success stories in the battle with problematic substance abuse, particularly in relation to the effect this can have on the entire family.
At CatholicCare, the Holyoake program involves 12 week intensive courses for participants, with individual programs designed to suit children, teenagers or adults.
From the outset, the results have been overwhelmingly positive with feedback from families. What the feedback also shows is that change in just one member of the family as a result of the program, can lead to change in the rest of the family.
In a large percentage of cases, this change can also precipitate and accelerate change in the substance abuser and help motivate them to overcome their addiction.
But even in cases where the addicted member does not change, through the Holyoake program at CatholicCare, family members are able to find a way of dealing with the intolerable and discovering not only how to tolerate the situation but how to get on with their lives.
"Nothing is guaranteed and there is no magic silver bullet," Sean cautions. "But the feedback we have received from individuals who have taken our program has not only helped them deal with their family situation but has reconnected them to their hopes, dreams and aspirations."
"The process is not about the user, it's about the family member," Sean explains. "The whole Holyoake process is focused on helping that person and to reconnect them with themselves. And it is through this that genuine change can begin."
While there are well-known programs such as Al-Anon for families of alcoholics, what makes the Holyoake program different is that in addition to group therapy where others in similar situations share their experiences and support one another, there is also individual psychological evaluation and counselling, education about addiction, its effects on families along with the latest research in this field.
Sean says group discussion and sharing common ground with others is an important and powerful part of the process. But when combined with education, research, psychological insight and support on how to integrate what has been learned into day to day life, family members are able to make deep and lasting changes.
Members from more than 100 families across Sydney enrol in CatholicCare's Holyoake Program each year. Often more than one member will attend with a daughter undergoing one course to be followed by a mother or a sibling. Other times it might be a couple.
"Of those we see many have been through a series of cycles and have come to us as a last resort, stressed, desperate and unsure how to cope," Sean says.
Through the program they learn to reconnect with themselves, are given strategies and tools to get on with their lives and bring change and new hope in their embattled families.
"For me the great joy of working in this program is to see children suddenly playful again and with a spring in their step," Sean says. "It is wonderful to see them happy and having fun once more."
But beyond even this, for Sean and his small but dedicated team of psychologists and counsellors, the most compelling and inspiring feature of their work is the extraordinary courage, dedication and love shown of the families who come to them for help.
"Because of the love they feel for one another, and their determination to hang on to a sense of family, they are willing to go through what is a very painful process in a bid to find some relief, and a way to get on with their lives," he says. "At times they might hate the person who is addicted, and be hurt by them or feel let down. But even during these times, their commitment to a better life for their family never wavers."
To find out more about CatholicCare's Holyoake Family and Other Drug (AOD) Programs log on to www.catholiccare.org