Family Counseling One Weapon For Fighting Opioid Scourge

After declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency, many states, cities, towns and organizations are looking for ways to resolve it.

Parenting Journey, a 35-year-old nonprofit organization based in Somerville, says the answer to the crisis is group therapy, particularly family therapy.

Starting out as a group of clinicians and social workers in housing developments throughout Cambridge, the organization’s model has expanded to include other parts of the Greater Boston area. It now includes other states across the country and has focused primarily on families since 2012.

“Families were our sweet spot,” said Parenting Journey Executive Director Imari Paris Jeffries. “A lot of the social problems and challenges in our region are not only impacting individuals, they’re impacting families.”

Unlike other agencies that work with patients in recovery, the approach Parenting Journey uses in its Sober Parenting curriculum is to get addicts in recovery together at the outset.

Families participating in the Sober Parenting curriculum meet two hours a week for 14 weeks, while other Parenting Journey groups meet two hours a week for 12 weeks.

Ellie Zambrano, clinical director and director of programs at Parenting Journey, said those families in recovery may need more time to form bonds with other families than other parenting groups do.

“What separates our approach from others is that, rather than work in isolation during the early stages of recovery, which is the traditional method, we like to include other families,” she said. “We understand relationships that people have throughout their lifetime may have been unhealthy or can lead to trauma, so we know it may take time to heal from that trauma.”

Other curriculums the organization offers include a general parenting group, a group for fathers and a parenting-in-America group for transnational families dealing with the stresses of acculturation.

Parenting Journey serves 200 to 400 families per year and trains 150 to 300 practitioners from other organizations annually.

Not all the families in Parenting Journey’s groups are dealing with addiction, but they do see a benefit to group therapy, Zambrano said. Many of these families receive some sort of government assistance and have children in early learning programs such as Headstart.

“Income insecurity stresses a lot of people out, so we’ve partnered with these [Headstart] sites because we wanted to know if we could reduce that stress,” Jeffries said.

Some of the stresses families face include poverty, discrimination, childhood trauma and involvement in social systems, including social services and social welfare.

“When you’re dealing with these vulnerable communities, there’s often a history of neglect, child abuse or transgenerational addiction issues, and likely, when parenting themselves, it can trigger their histories of trauma,” Zambrano said.

The organization plans to partner with other organizations, nonprofits and health care providers to find other families in need. It’s also exploring partnerships with middle schools and community centers.

“We believe that when you work with the entire family, you’re going to see better communities,” Jeffries said. “We’re not a supplemental agency, but a partner to other agencies to support family work that allows those impacted family members to think about their families in a positive way.”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

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