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 [email protected]

 

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: A last chance for Australian justice

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My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

Photo: CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images