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Are you enabling or empowering? By Matt Blagys PhD

It can be scary and confusing for family members to wonder whether they are helping or hurting the one they love.

Photo of Matt Blagys, PhD, Psychologist

Matt Blagys, PhD

  • Enabling refers to help offered that perpetuates rather than solves a problem

  • Empowering means giving someone the responsibility and authority to change.

Individuals who habitually enable unhealthy behavior are often referred to as co-dependent. It is a telling word because the enabler’s sense of safety and ‘okayness’ is, in a sense, dependent on his or her ability to feel in control of an uncontrollable situation.

By steppingn in to “solve” the problems of a substance abuser or a person engaging in unhealthy behaviors, the enabler takes away any motivation for the individual to take responsibility for his or her own actions. Without that motivation, there is little reason for the person to change.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether you are enabling or empowering your loved one to change:


We believe that treatment shouldn’t only be for the priority family member. Rather than a ‘car wash model’—where an individual client enters treatment, does surface level work, and comes out looking shiny and new— our aim is to get ‘under the hood’ to make deeper and more long lasting changes for the entire family. In addition to the individual struggling with mental health issues and addiction, clients in our IOP and PHP programs receive a separate family therapist to support, educate, and help heal the whole family.

Have feedback for Dr. Blagys, contact him here.