Experts dispel common myths about intervention

Julie Filby

This story originally ran in the Denver Catholic Register Sept. 28, 2011. September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. This is the conclusion to a two-part series on intervention. Click here for part 1, “Intervention: From fear to empowerment”.

Imagine a son or daughter, parent, spouse, friend or family member losing their job, home, family, dignity—all to maintain the one relationship that has become most important, yet most destructive. That is the power of addiction.

When attempts to reach out to an addict are met with denial or otherwise rejected, loved ones can feel not only helpless, but hopeless. A family-structured intervention can bring hope and healing to relationships. However due to misconceptions, it is an alternative that is underutilized.

“Families don’t know how to deal with an alcoholic or addict,” said Stephen Wilkins, a professional provider of family-structured interventions and parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Denver. “They need help to get some clarity about how to really assist their loved one.”

A family-structured intervention involves preparing a group to approach a loved one caught up in a self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, gambling, an eating disorder or other health problem. It aims to motivate an individual to accept help for the issue, raise self-esteem so he or she believes recovery is possible and heal damaged relationships.

“Portrayal (of intervention) by the mass media is harmful,” explained Wilkins. “It keeps people from asking for help.”

Interventionists from the Denver-based National Center for Intervention including Wilkins and longtime colleague, Howie Madigan, a co-founder of the center, dispelled some of these myths in a conversation with the Denver Catholic Register.

Myth 1: Interventions are expensive
A distorted idea of what an intervention costs is one of the most important misconceptions to be clarified.

“Many people believe the cost of an intervention is really high: $4,000, $5,000—up to $14,000,” Madigan said. “That’s not true, but it scares a lot of people away.”

While interventionists do charge a fee for their services, it can be negotiable and vary greatly depending on the circumstances.

“We use a sliding-scale approach,” said Wilkins, who has guided nearly 300 interventions in the last eight years. “I’ve never turned away a family that needs an intervention regardless of their ability to pay.”

He has done several free of charge.

“It’s always worth more than it costs,” he said.

Madigan also supports the notion of making interventions accessible.

“I’ve done about 2,400 interventions,” said the 76-year-old parishioner of Immaculate Conception in Lafayette who started doing interventions in 1974, “and I’ve charged for six.”

Both agreed it is important for a family to research prospective interventionists and get to know them, and their experience and qualifications.

“When a family contacts an interventionist they’re frightened and can be taken advantage of,” said Wilkins. “We support the concept of licensing interventionists.”

National Center for Intervention training involves two full-day courses, followed by shadowing an experienced professional at three to five interventions before leading one oneself.

Myth 2: Addicts require in-patient help
While in-patient treatment is recommended for some, it is not needed in every case.

“Many people believe the cost of treatment is too high,” said Madigan. “People can also get help though a good counselor or a community-based program.”

Wilkins has seen the reality of treatment sensationalized by the media.

“The misconception is out there, due to popular media’s portrayal of interventions, that individuals need to go to in-patient treatment,” he said, “and that’s not true … especially when somebody is resistant to help—they have a job, children, other responsibilities—an intervention can end with a request for extensive out-patient treatment.”

Options can include care through an out-patient program at a facility, sessions with a qualified counselor, participation in a community-based Twelve Step program—and in some cases, a combination of the three.

Myth 3: Intervention is betrayal
There is always some fear that a family member is going to betray their loved one when coordinating an intervention.

“This is because there’s dysfunction,” said Wilkins. “Addiction is a family disease … every family members gets a little bit sick and their behavior isn’t consistent with who they really are.”

Every family-structured intervention has stated goals including to: motivate not mandate; protect family relationships when possible; lift up the individual’s self esteem; and provide the opportunity for family members to participate in the process.

“With these goals in mind, it cannot be a shaming process,” said Wilkins. “It cannot be a confrontational process.”

He explained that people who suffer with addiction for a long period of time have become so emotionally isolated and insulated that they’re no longer connected emotionally to anyone.

“We want to reattach those relationships; we want to remind that person that they’re loved, because they’ve forgotten,” he said. “We want to tell them they’re important and capable of a better life.

“Then we say ‘Please accept our gift.’”

During an intervention, letters are read aloud by friends and family members. The letters affirm their love for the individual and specifically state personal attributes that they believe will help them lead a successful life of recovery. It always ends with the request: “Will you get help?”

Get more information
Currently the National Center for Intervention has a team of six interventionists, both men and women, with more in training including a Spanish-speaking interventionist. For more information, contact Wilkins (see below) or contact a county agency for a referral.

RESOURCES

National Center for Intervention

Intervention services or group presentations

720-366-4736 or Wilkins_Stephen@yahoo.com

 

National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems

www.nccatoday.org or 800-626-6910 Ext. 200

 

Denver Area Central Committee on Alcoholics Anonymous

www.daccaa.org or 303-322-4440

 

Recovery retreats based on Twelve Step spirituality

Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, Sedalia

www.sacredheartretreat.org or 303-688-4198 Ext. 100

COMING UP: Remembering John Paul the Great: Three new books

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When teaching college students a few years ago, I was shocked when I asked my students to tell me what they knew about Pope St. John Paul II. It wasn’t much. We went on to read George Weigel’s definitive biography of John Paul, Witness to Hope (Harper Perennial, 2004), and the students were blown away by the greatness and compelling life of the Pope. The class made me realize how quickly the memory of even monumental figures can fade away if we do not work deliberately to continue their legacy.

The first place to begin “getting to know” John Paul better would be Weigel’s biography, mentioned above, along with the sequel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (Random House, 2010). In addition, I would recommend John Paul’s interview book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Knopf, 1995) and his trilogy of greatest encyclicals: Fides et Ratio, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor. The great Pope left us an enormous legacy of writings to explore, but especially relevant now are his “Letter to Families,” Familiaris Consortio (an exhortation on the family), and the Theology of the Body.

For those looking go deeper in their knowledge of John Paul, three new books can help us to remember and continue his great work for the renewal of Church and society.

George Weigel, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II (Basic Books, 2017)

The final volume of a tryptic of the Pope, Weigel provides a memoir of his interactions with John Paul and an account of how he became his biographer. For those who love Witness to Hope, Weigel provides a fascinating account of how the book came about, tracing his work within the Vatican, Poland, and across the world. It narrates his own story as seminarian, lay theology student, writer, and his activity in politics, including writing speeches for a leader of the pro-life movement in Congress. His work caught John Paul’s attention, especially his book chronicling the Church’s role in the fall of Communism, The Final Revolution. Weigel gives testimony to the providence that prepared him to write John Paul’s biography and the friendship they developed in their common witness to the hope that comes from Christ.

Paul Kengor, The Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century (ISI, 2017)

This book traces not only the remarkable working friendship of Regan and John Paul, but narrates the entire story of the struggle between European Communism and the Church. Surprisingly, the book’s common thread comes from Our Lady of Fatima, predicting Russia’s errors and uniting the faithful in prayer, as well as guiding not only John Paul but also Reagan. The two men recognized their providential role in what Reagan called the Divine Plan to end Communism in Europe. Portraits of many other key characters (on both sides) emerge: Stalin, Pope Pius XII, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Gorbachev. Kengor presents extraordinary connections between the two figures: both were actors, deep men of prayer, survived assassination attempts only months apart, and played key leadership roles in the world. The book presents ground breaking research to make a compelling and undeniable case that the two great men worked together closely and succeeded in bringing freedom to Eastern Europe.

Pope St. John Paul II/Karol Wojtyła, In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries 1962-2003 (Harper One, 2017)

This book gives us inside access to John Paul’s prayer life by presenting notes of his regular retreats from his time as a bishop through most of his papacy. It’s somewhat misnamed, as the book consists in his notebooks responding to the retreat material, not a normal diary. It reinforces what we know about the Pope: his strong focus on the Eucharist, his Marian spirituality of uniting our intentions to her fiat, and his concern as a bishop for the evangelization of his people. There are many gems, such as the following: “The most appropriate effects of the redemption in the human being are deeds that stem from it – deeds that through Mary are rooted in Christ, through one’s belong it Her, and that are simultaneously in accordance with Christ’s law, with His gospel” (10). The book will not disappoint those looking to enter more deeply into the spirituality of John Paul.