First Call’s “How to Cope” Program Helps Families Dealing with Addiction

“We call it caring out of balance instead of enabling because there is less stigma in talking about it that way,” said Suzanne Taylor, Family Services Counselor for First Call.

dreamstime_m_27578200by Amanda S. Cherry

“I didn’t know I was married to an addict until it was too late,” says ‘C’, the ex-wife of a military veteran, who wished to remain anonymous. “You just don’t talk about it. And they’re so good at hiding it, especially from someone they live with. And it happens so gradually, like in increments over time. I mean I saw the changes in his behavior, the mood swings, the outbursts, eventually he became violent. But I just thought it was from the multiple deployments, like it’s just PTSD. So you seek treatment from the VA, but they just gave him more drugs. It’s a vicious cycle you can’t begin to fix alone. And without help you just end up enabling their addiction.”

“We call it caring out of balance instead of enabling because there is less stigma in talking about it that way,” said Suzanne Taylor, Family Services Counselor for First Call. “We have different techniques we teach families so they can remove themselves from the cycle of addiction and start focusing on themselves. We want them to give up on trying to fix, change or rescue their loved one. Because we know that doesn’t work. It just ends up hurting them in the long run. Because they’re trying to change something they can’t change. We help them put the focus back on themselves instead of the addict.”

“Families can recover as well,” Susan Whitmore, President and CEO of First Call Kansas City explains.

Susan Whitmore, President and CEO of First Call


“We have a family services program that include support for parents, spouses and children who are impacted by a loved one’s substance abuse disorder, that program is called, How to Cope. The sessions are really focused on how to take care of one’s self so they can support their loved ones in recovery.”


The How to Cope program, initially cost $250 per person for sessions lasting 3 1/2 weeks, meeting twice a week for two hours each class. Whitmore explained that no family was ever turned away, payment was either free or based on a sliding scale. “When people are coming into How to Cope, they’re in crisis. And it really is an access barrier if people have to negotiate those kind of financial things. We wanted to do a pilot where we eliminated the fee entirely, but we are charging a $35 a person, while we seek funding from other sources for parts of the program.”

Taylor, who facilitates the How to Cope program, stresses that the program is empirically based providing family members with education on dealing with an addicted loved one, as well as peer support and follow-up individual counseling. “The first session we talk about what addictions is, why it happens, why some people are affected and others aren’t. The purpose of that first session is really to separate the addiction from the individual suffering from it.”


First Call
First Call is located at 91st & State Line Rd.


 Whitmore says, “The first part of the program is educating families about addiction, it’s clinical information so people understand substance abuse disorders, that it’s a health issue and not a moral issue. People almost always feel immediately better because it helps them separate out for themselves what part they have in it-it helps them know they’re not responsible for it and they also can’t fix it for someone else.”   

‘C’, who lived out of state during the worst of her ex-husband’s addiction, dealt with it through programs like Al-anon and individual counseling. “If I had access to a program like How to Cope, things could have been a lot different. Al-anon saved me from feeling isolated and alone, but I had to educate myself on addictions. And if I had been taught coping skills earlier, I might not have suffered through as much as I did.”

Whitmore explains that clients are encouraged to join programs like Al-anon, but that the First Call program is more about teaching clients the skills to care for themselves. Unlike a support group with peer based support, Taylor runs the program as a therapeutic group providing clients with education and practice of skills necessary for recovery.

First Call Taylor

Taylor goes on to explain the proceeding sessions give family members the skills to “recognize when they are caring out of balance.” By the end of the sessions, Taylor has seen families learn to set boundaries that aid significantly in someone getting sober. “We recognize at First Call that family recovery is just as important as the individual who is recovering from the addiction. It’s been incredible to see how families get their lives back. Because families are suffering right along with the addict.”

“We also education them that there is lots of hope,” says Whitmore. “That there are different approaches that can help people in recovery and that families recover as well.”  

For more information please contact-

First Call

Missouri – 816.361.5900

Kansas – 913.233.0747

Fax – 816-361-7290  

9091 State Line Road Kansas City, MO 64114




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