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.
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