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A counsellor making notes whille supporting a young person
A counsellor making notes whille supporting a young person

Families in Recovery

Bright Light provides a safe and confidential space where people can open up to help identify issues/challenges affecting them and to talk through what needs to happen to improve their relationships.

The Pilot Phase

In 2017 Couple Counselling Lothian, as it was known before rebranding, received a grant of £18,000 from the Scotch Whisky Action Fund (SWAF) to help pilot a new counselling and family therapy project, 'Families in Recovery'. The grant helped to provide quality counselling to children and young people struggling to adjust to living with a former alcoholic but now a sober parent.

The Families in Recovery project provided counselling to thirty-eight children and young people under the age of eighteen struggling to adjust to living with a parent now recovered from alcohol addiction.



June and David have three children and are separated. June is in recovery from alcohol addiction, and as a result, all children live with David. The Families in Recovery sessions were set up to help support co-parenting. At the start, their relationship was acrimonious, and there were high levels of conflict. The three children attended sessions on their own so they could talk openly about their emotions and worries and gain a better understanding of the addiction and recovery. This was especially helpful in addressing the shame they felt with peers. Throughout the sessions, their communication improved. Both parents seemed more confident. They can now negotiate around their parenting without getting into arguments with greater empathy and less blame towards each other.


Families in Recovery: Post Pilot

During the pilot phase, all participating family members fully engaged with the therapy team and were wholly invested in the transition valuing the therapy support to heal relationships and find new and supportive ways of being with each other. This high engagement, positive post-evaluation scores, and the outcomes achieved evidenced the need and demand for the project to continue. This resulted in Bright Light securing a further £23,800 in 2019 from SWAF to continue the momentum of the work delivered during the pilot. The first few months of the pilot required Bright Light to raise its profile and that of the new project and network with key potential referring bodies (addictions team, children and family services, GPS and Health Visitors, Social Justice, and other third sector agencies). This lead-in time meant they could only offer therapy sessions for nine months rather than the full twelve months of the funding period, and eight of the ten families from the pilot phase were identified as still requiring support. The second year of funding meant the project could continue the sessions for another three months with those eight families and offer the twelve new families on the waiting list twelve months of therapy. As well as increasing demand from clients/families, Bright Light also had increased demand from agencies to train and supervise their staff in systemic family therapy and share its learning with them.



Arthur (8) and Rueben's (11) father died in July because of long-term alcohol addiction, which was also the cause of their parents' separation the year before his death. Juniper (Mum) asked to come for family therapy sessions to help support the boys with their grief. She was worried her complicated grief, which included a lot of anger towards their father, would damage the boys, and she wanted to make sure they could all be supported in the best way possible. During sessions, with all three attending, various activities were planned to help them talk about emotions, families, and death. They drew a huge family tree, and the boys explored lots of stories of their family, looking at all the different people and relationships within it. Due to the addiction, there was a lot of conflict and fallout, which has been hard for the boys to make sense of. The boys and their mum have created their story about daddy's death and where he is now. Both boys like the idea that daddy is somewhere nice, like heaven, and they can still talk to him when they want. Rueben also likes the idea that daddy has reincarnated into an animal. The sessions have included playful and child-focused ways of talking about very serious and emotional events. The boys have been able to seek comfort from their mum in sessions, and she has been able to respond more positively. The sessions helped reduce the mum's anger towards the boys' father as she is being supported to see what he means to them through their eyes. The boys have also been supported to ask mum questions, and this has helped them make sense of some of the more frightening events related to alcohol that had been unspoken about, for example, daddy breaking things and the police being called, and daddy falling asleep and not putting them to bed when he was looking after them. Juniper has been helping the boys in sessions to understand addiction is an illness, and any of the behaviour associated was not daddy's intention to harm or frighten them. This is a big step for Juniper, who blamed her ex-husband for his behaviour and his alcohol dependence. The boys and Juniper are arranging rituals to remember dad and bringing photos to their next session to help talk about good times with him.


The final year of funding

The Families in Recovery Project continued throughout 2020/2021, as did the challenges of the pandemic. Bright Light was able to continue to evidence the need for the project to be supported for a third and final year from SWAF, and a grant of £22,361 was awarded in 2020. By the end of April 2021, Bright Light had supported a further twenty-four families (72 individuals).



After recovering from a serious brush with cancer, Stephen (Dad) developed an alcohol addiction. Rose (Mum) and Stephen had separated because of his drinking, and Rose was angry with him and reluctant for the children to see him. Both children were upset, missing their dad, worried about their mum and Ellie (11) was often refusing to go to school. Bright Light met the family just before lockdown and had two sessions with Rose and the kids and an individual session with Stephen. Once lockdown started in March, phone support was set up for Rose while staff helped her to get set up with zoom. Once Zoom was set up, therapy sessions were organised with Rose and the children, Ellie and Josh (9). Throughout sessions, they explored the close and loving relationships the children had with their dad, and they spoke a lot about how good a dad he was. The kids shared photos on their screens to help them talk about their times as a family and times spent with their dad. Rose was encouraged to hear these stories, and it gave her some confidence to remember Stephen's abilities. The children also described times when Dad had been drinking, and the staff supported them in talking about these experiences and their feelings of confusion and fear. Mum and the children also opened up about how frightened they had been when dad was ill with cancer, and this was something new and healing for them to share. They talked openly about risk with all family members in a non-blaming or judgemental way but ensured they were all working with the children's safety as a priority. Individual therapy sessions were set up with Stephen to support his recovery and help him make sense of the traumatic experience of his cancer that had led to his addiction. Stephen found it easier not to drink in lockdown as he drank in pubs, and therefore the children were able to spend some good and safe times with him, and Rose regained trust in his parenting. The family ended sessions feeling better able to communicate their problems with each other and be honest about the risks and need to ensure the children's wellbeing if Stephen was drinking again. Stephen was able to see himself as a good dad again, which also supported his motivation for ongoing recovery.


The Future of Families in Recovery

Bright Light received a total investment of £64,161 from SWAF, benefitting 187 individuals over three years. As a result of this investment, Bright Light has secured a five-year grant from the Robertson Trust to continue the Families in Recovery project until 2026. This would not have been possible if the pilot project wasn't supported five years ago in 2017, and now it has secured the funding to allow it to run for what will be nearly ten years by the end of the Robertson Trust grant.

"The SWAF funding has enabled us to see families from a whole spectrum of economic diversity, from families who have very significant economic and social challenges to those who are economically more comfortable. For those families who are less financially stable we have been enabled to offer the service for free or a minimum contribution."


Julie Hogg-Weld, CEO of Bright Light