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: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr