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: California advances bill to violate sacramental seal

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by Catholic News Agency

.- State senators in California have voted to approve a law that would require priests to violate the seal of confession. Senate Bill 360 passed Thursday by an overwhelming margin, with legislators voting 30-2 in favor of the measure.

The bill would require priests to report any knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained while hearing the confession of another priest or colleague.

In a statement released Friday, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said he was “deeply disappointed” by the result and insisted that strong child protection measures did not require the violation of the sanctity of the sacrament of confession.

A previous draft of the law would have compelled the violation of the sacramental seal any time a priest came to suspect abuse from any penitent. In a statement released Monday, Gomez acknowledged the changes but said that “no government, for whatever reason, should violate the privacy and confidentiality of that sacred conversation.”

“SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

The sacramental seal is covered by civil law in many jurisdictions around the world. The “clergy-penitent privilege” is widely regarded as a fundamental exercise of religious liberty.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

Despite the volume of investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis no data exists establishing or indicating the use of sacramental confession either to facilitate or perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors.

Critics of the proposed legislation have noted that sacramental confession between accomplices is invalid unless in imminent danger of death, as is the absolution of a penitent who intends to reoffend.

Similar legislation is currently under consideration in Western Australia, following the recommendations of a Royal Commission report into clerical sexual abuse.

While the commission’s executive summary states that “the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed… to inadequate institutional responses to abuse,” it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have already passed similar laws mandating that clergy report suspected abuse in violation of the seal of confession.

Despite the interventions of Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, Western Australia’s Child Protection Minister, Simone McGurk, said the matter was non-negotiable.

“I’ve received calls from the Archbishop of Perth, as has the [Prime Minister], but we think the time for discussion about this has passed,” McGurk said.

“I understand that is the Catholic Church’s position, however as a Government we have an obligation to put in place laws and to implement those laws to make sure that children in our community are safe and that is what we are doing.”

Canon law describes the seal of the confessional to be “inviolable”, and priests are “absolutely forbidden” to disclose the sins of a penitent “in any way, for any reason.” Violation of the seal by a priest is a grave crime against the faith and is punished by an automatic excommunication which can be augmented with other penalties, including dismissal from the clerical state.