Sue PhilipsonFamilies Overcoming Addiction

Kia Ora, Talofa and Greetings from the beautiful Taranaki.

My name is Sue Philipson and I would like to let you know about two of the family peer support services operating in New Plymouth, connecting whanau and empowering them to face mental health and addiction challenges.

Families Overcoming Addiction

Families Overcoming Addiction is a small NGO in New Plymouth which has been in operation since August 2017. We offer weekly peer support and information group meetings for people who have a loved one with addiction issues. We also offer one-to-one in-home or office meetings as required, either face-to-face or by telephone.

This group recognises the specific needs of whanau when someone they love is living in addiction and supports them to make positive changes to their lives which, in turn, can have a positive impact on their addicted person. This is not about how to fix their person – that is for the person in addiction to do – it’s about establishing boundaries in their relationships, recognising where the responsibility for addiction lies, maintaining hope for recovery, self-care and, importantly, it’s about connecting with others who know and understand the journey. Whether their loved one is in recovery or not, Families Overcoming Addiction can help.

People learn alternative communication skills and how to enhance and strengthen their coping strategies. They are encouraged to practice healthy detachment while communicating unconditional love. They are supported to address their own behaviours around rescuing and enabling and they come to understand that they cannot control someone else’s life – they are in control of their own. Families may face complex and disturbing issues as a result of their person’s addiction, e.g. I.V. drug use, prostitution, gang affiliation, domestic violence, child custody issues, homelessness, incarceration, overdose, to name just a few. Coming to a place of acceptance about these and other concerns is extremely challenging and can bring overwhelming feelings of grief. Whanau learn about grieving for the living, allowing that process in order to then deal with their own trauma that these issues can create.

In the words of those who have benefitted from our group:

“I was under enormous stress when I first joined this support group. Since then I have learned valuable lessons: To keep calm no matter what, to be confident I will cope with setbacks, to know I can access the most incredible support if needed, and to understand more clearly what is mine to do. My life is once again the very best it can possibly be and my loved one is just as appreciative as I am.”  Suzanne.

“Attending this group has taught me to focus on my own well-being, rather than my son’s and to practice the self-care needed to live my life, regardless of the life my son chooses.”  A.M.

Group meetings are not as glum as one might expect. We always stress the fact that most people recover – the shared stories of those whose loved one is in recovery are so inspiring and uplifting. We also maintain a sense of humour wherever possible and learn to laugh at ourselves as we ponder some of the more comical situations we find ourselves in during this journey. And we always maintain HOPE.


Families Overcoming Addiction has a website which includes resources, links, and personal stories from some of our members. You can also read our latest Annual Chairperson’s Report, which outlines our history and our mahi.  Do take a look at:

We have a lending library which is continually growing and a folder filled with some of our favourite and most helpful information sheets, which people are encouraged to browse through and take away as they need.

Families Overcoming Addiction is generously supported by the TSB Community Trust, COGS, Lotteries, local Lions groups, Education Services (who donate the weekly use of their rooms) and generous individuals from our community. We are hugely grateful for this support which enables us to continue to provide this much-needed service. We are a Registered Charitable Trust and the Families Overcoming Addiction Board (comprising 7 passionate whanau peers) is constantly working behind the scenes to secure funding to ensure our sustainability. We receive the majority of our referrals from the DHB, who do not yet provide any funding.

Family Eating Disorder Support

For those who are not familiar with the journey and models of treatment for people with eating disorders, best practice for young people, under 19years, is Family Based Therapy (FBT). FBT is an intensive outpatient program which relies heavily on the parents directing and closely supervising their loved one’s meal times. Most families, prior to their involvement with CAMHS services, have little or no knowledge of FBT and they arrive at services feeling desperate and afraid, wanting the service to ‘fix’ their child. Many are aware of the statistics around eating disorders, e.g. anorexia has the highest mortality of any mental illness. When they learn of the treatment model, some are confused and disillusioned. They find mealtimes hugely stressful and confrontational and they lack the confidence to follow the program. This is where Family Eating Disorder Support can help . . .

Through sharing with other families who are experiencing similar situations, families are supported in their frustrations, their trials, their fears and to celebrate their successes. They realise they are not the only ones who find their person’s eating disorder hugely challenging; others struggle with very similar stories. Connecting in this way often provides great relief and helps to normalise their struggles. The wonderful recovery stories we hear – when a person is weight-restored and they are showing less and less signs of eating-disordered thinking, gives much needed hope and courage to others.

Not all families are able to follow the FBT program; this is NOT one-size-fits-all. For those whose person has a powerful personality and is firmly controlled by the eating disorder; where a family feels they have limited parental influence over their teenager; when there are other complex demands on the family, perhaps parents are separated, have other family trauma or have their own mental health challenges, FBT can prove too great a challenge. These families often feel they are failing. They become sensitive to perceived pressure and/or judgement from the MH service. Our group is here to support them, to encourage and show compassion, and to offer alternative suggestions on how to approach the eating disorder which others have found helpful; sometimes methods which are adaptations of FBT. The commonly adopted mantras: “Food is your Medicine”, “Recovery is Non-Negotiable”, and “Don’t worry, we can do this” help empower most whanau.

There are group members who have an adult loved one with an eating disorder. For them, FBT is not a suitable treatment option as it relies on parental influence. The group shares information, printed resources, online links and compassionate support for those families who love an adult who has a severe and enduring eating disorder. They too find support and camaraderie within the group setting.

For all of these whanau, the commonalities are around externalising the eating disorder, unconditional love,  self-care and hope - recovery is possible from any stage, any weight.

Some words from our families . . . .

“Our Parent Support Group is amazing. It is a safe and welcoming place to communicate, share emotions and ideas without any judgement. It has been extremely helpful and we are so grateful to have a committed and experienced facilitator and have this valuable service in our local area.”  Rosalind & Paul          

“Being part of the FEDs group run by Sue has been awesome. I thought I was all on my own and felt quite overwhelmed. The other families have shared their stories, listened to mine, cared, and offered support, hope, wisdom. Thankyou Sue, and all the families, for being there for me.” C.W.

The most recent group development is a private Facebook chat page, where members share ideas, support one another outside of the group setting and share links to other online resources, in a private, confidential way. The shared comments are monitored and mediated by one of group. There is also a small lending library of useful books for families to borrow.

Family Eating Disorder Support is a peer-lead group and operates as part of Supporting Families Taranaki, generously and solely funded by our DHB. The group meets at the SF rooms every second Wednesday.


If you have any questions or comments about either of the two groups mentioned here, feel free to get in touch with me – Sue Philipson, Group Facilitator, Families Overcoming Addiction & Family Eating Disorder Support.  Ph: 027 3350391 or email:

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