Hazelden Betty Ford ‘evolves,’ encouraging skills-based approach to family support


Joseph Lee is the president and CEO at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. He knows well how addiction can tear families apart. He decided to change the focus of his organization to support loved ones of those with substance abuse disorder. His new goal is to knit families back together.

The Center City-based addiction treatment company will be focusing on a program called Family Reinforcement and Training (CRAFT). This program helps family members develop skills beyond “enabling” or “tough love” to learn how to help their loved ones without having to choose between extremes.

Lee stated, “We want more people to be helped and we want them to have better outcomes.” We know that people are more successful when their family is involved in the treatment process.

The CRAFT approach is a change from a confrontational model. Instead of encouraging families to “detach from love,” the family is encouraged to learn from their mistakes. This approach is still the foundation of Hazelden Betty Ford’s programming and history. However, Lee stated that the organization must also grow and adapt to meet the needs of all families.

He stated, “There must be an evolution in how services are provided.”

Lee believes in the healing power of peer-based groups. However, CRAFT is evidence-based and supported by research studies which show a high success rate in getting people to enter treatment for addiction while still maintaining strong family ties.

Joseph Lee

Lee stated, “The science shows that family members don’t have to be on the sidelines.” Lee said that instead of saying “I didn’t cause it”, dealing with stigma, or learning to say “This is a medical condition,” CRAFT teaches family members real skills that can have a lot of positive effects on the lives of their loved ones.

Lee stated that this is a major shift for Hazelden Ford and is an important one in continuing the evolution of the non-profit: “We want the conversation to move from boundaries to education, connection, and skill-building, so families can continue being part of the solution.”

Lee said that the CRAFT approach gives families tools to influence change through love. Hazelden Betty Ford would be an influencer to help people see the advantages of both approaches.

Lee stated, “I want that platform.” Lee said, “I want people in the treatment community to hear my message.” They look up to us. This is a platform to tell them, “This is how we want it to be.” We are excited to make this a part of our family program. We want to support families. This is how we believe we can make a significant impact.

This move is expected to spur a collaboration within the national addiction treatment community that will create a new standard in family support and education. Lee stated that historically there has been a gap between Al-Anon’s grassroots group and those who are more involved in CRAFT camp. “I want to create a bridge so more people can experience this option.

The heightened interest Hazelden Betty Ford has in CRAFT is evident in the fact that Robert Meyers (psychology professors at the University of New Mexico) and Jane Ellen Smith (creators of the program), will be visiting the Twin Cities in October to conduct a two-day training session for staff members from a variety of departments.

Sarah Schwalbach is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Hazelden Family Program specialist. She is the first member of staff to become CRAFT certified. She stated that she was gathering her troops to discuss how they can implement CRAFT, and apply the spirit of the CRAFT throughout all our iterations working with families and patients. This is something we are really excited about.

Respectful evolution

Lee loves to stress that Hazelden Betty Ford’s transition to CRAFT has been ongoing for a while when he speaks about it. He said, “Over the last four years we have already adapted many CRAFT skills to our family programming.” “We are moving towards a skills-based, experiential family experience and not an education-based one,” he said.

He said that the new emphasis on family skills-building is a timely decision. It combines the best aspects of both approaches to create something that works well for everyone.

Lee stated, “I believe it’s an evolutionary process.” It is an acknowledgement that Al-Anon’s amazing. Many people receive help from them.” He added that Al-Anon does have some limitations, which CRAFT’s scientifically based approach does. He wants to show families that both approaches work together: “We have had success with people doing both. Families can access a free Al-Anon community group if they use both skills. They can learn the skills to navigate this experience with CRAFT.

Sarah Schwalbach

Schwalbach stated that CRAFT fills some of the gaps left by more traditional approaches to family support. She said that traditional approaches could encourage detachment and ultimatums. “CRAFT is more of a ‘Let’s lean into our relationship’ approach. It encourages incremental, small growth and changes, even when they are not what we want to see. How can we encourage our loved ones to make small, healthy changes?

Hazelden Betty launched the Healthy Relationships Program, a virtual CRAFT-based family program this fall. Schwalbach said that the intensive 10-week training is the first ever CRAFT program for families. It’s “a very skills-based opportunity to teach families more about CRAFT, and how it can be implemented into their lives.”

Two hours of programming are offered each week to participants. Schwalbach stated that one of the CRAFT skills will be taught at each session. There is a 14-member cohort from across the country who are addicted and their loved ones. Participants are able to support one another through the program by keeping their numbers small. Schwalbach stated that one-on-one support is available as well. Schwalbach explained: “They have a weekly 30-minute coaching conversation with me or one of our colleagues to discuss how they are applying the workshop in their lives.”

Schwalbach explained that Hazelden Betty Ford’s family programming was always focused on support. However, Schwalbach said that the new CRAFT-based approach to family programming is different. She said, “We are following a curriculum.” The Healthy Relationships Program is built on the CRAFT skills. It provides family members with tangible items, skills and tangible tools that they can put into practice in their relationships. This is a significant change that will support families and help keep them together.

‘Crazy-good stuff’

Robert Meyers, co-creator of CRAFT, has experienced the pain of being in a dysfunctional family. He said, “I came from an abusive home.” He was not there a lot. My mother was bipolar and histrionic.

Meyers moved away from home at the age of 17 to join military service. Meyers ended up serving in Vietnam War, and he also had his own addiction struggles. He then studied psychology on the GI Bill. He started CRAFT to counter the divisive approach to family support that he found in Al-Anon and AA.

Robert Meyers

“The old

Minnesota Model

Meyers stated, “Crap! That’s still what you can see on TV with people screaming and calling each others names.” “Everything that we do with


It is filled with love, compassion, and support. We can help families to learn how to approach someone who is threatening to go to hell. These people can be compelled to go to treatment.

The CRAFT program was created in the late 1970s. It has been successfully used all over the globe. Meyers stated that it took several decades for the program to become popular in the United States. This endorsement by Hazelden Betty Ford is a huge vote of confidence and will help CRAFT to grow in this country.

Meyers stated that the more confrontational, intervention-based approach to family programs doesn’t work well for everyone. “If people are confronted in a room with all these people who tell them all about their horrible actions, do you think it will make them feel better?”

Schwalbach is grateful that CRAFT’s benefits have been supported by research. “It has been discovered that family members who have been trained to these skills are more likely to help their loved ones than those who are trained in a traditional method.”

With its emphasis on keeping family bonds strong, CRAFT, Schwalbach said, is a “relationship-positive approach.” She’s added that she’s passionate about the program because, “It encourages family members to lean into the relationship, to leverage the influence they have as a family members, because they are the most influential people in their loved one’s life.”

Meyers said that researchers have been studying the gentler CRAFT approach over the years and its success in getting people into treatment. Meyers also stated: “When they do studies on those who’ve had a full-on intervention they don’t get even 25% of them into therapy. We get 70% of those who say they aren’t going to treatment to use CRAFT. That’s crazy-good stuff.”

Lee stated that the core of CRAFT’s “crazy good stuff” is its education and skill-building. This, along with a loving, family-oriented approach has proved to be a success for many.

Lee explained that CRAFT therapy is used to help people who are concerned about their significant others. It helps the loved one to get help. CSOs are trained to assist their loved ones in getting help, and not rely on power struggles or intervention. It’s a positive reinforcement skill set. It helps people get help.”

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