WHAT IS AN INTERVENTION? Squaring off against Addiction
By Andrew Finley, M.A., MFT
The official definition of an intervention is “an orchestrated attempt by a group of people to intercede on behalf of a person whose behaviors and habits are damaging their life, sanity and health as well as the lives and well-being of those around them.” This person, who shall hereafter be referred to as the Identified Patient (or, “I.P.”), has not normally solicited this assistance from others and usually is, in fact, taken at least nominally by surprise when faced with it. You’re fed up with all the bad behavior, lies and embarrassing moments, but you love and care for them. What do you do? What CAN you do?
“I’VE TRIED AND TRIED!”
How do I know they know what they’re doing?
First of all, the reason nothing you have done has worked is because you re too close to The Problem, so don’t even THINK about undertaking an intervention yourself. Not only that, you possess neither the professional knowledge nor the practical experience necessary to finesse your way through a very complex and fragile process. The first step, then, is to rally the troops (family and loved ones) and make the decision to do it. Once that’s accompished, you need to find a professional who knows what they’re doing and with whom all of you feel comfortable. There are a great number of people who call themselves interventionists and they purport to practice many different forms of the process while, at the same time, boasting a number of so-called “credentials.” It’s important to bear in mind that there is no official government-sanctioned licensing or set of qulaifications required for one to call themselves an interventionist. Unlike psychotherapists, for instance, there is no set of standards and exams under which one can gain their license, accompanied by a set of ethics and laws that, if violated, can terminate the license and/or put them in jail, effectively ending their career. There are, however, workshops, seminars and training galore but none of them are required and are, therefore, professionally invalid.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that the person you engage be a professionally licensed individual, bound by the laws of the state in which they received that license. These people generally have greater knowledge, especially regarding human psychology, and stand to lose something of great value if they do not conduct themselves in a professional manner. This is not to say that just because one is a licensed therapist, they are qualified to perform interventions. Like any business relationship, it is important to confirm experience, scope of practice, knowledge, criminal record, etc. A truly effective interventionist is one who can combine a background in human and family psychology with a set of highly evolved street smarts. More often than not, the most effective ones are people who are in actual recovery themselves. If the I.P. knows that this is someone who has “been there and done that,” and has absolutely no reason to B.S. them, they will be more likely to listen to what they have to say.
Practice, practice practice!
So you’ve found someone you’re comfortable with and have negotiated a price (anywhere from $3500 plus expenses and up, depending upon complexity, location, etc.), the next item of business is the preparation or pre-intervention. This usually involves getting a comprehensive background and history on the I.P. from the participants. A competent interventionist usually has them fill out a complete Addiction Workbook, which gives them all the pertinent information from mental health and drug history to whether or not they carry a gun – very important to know! This serves not only to provide the interventionist with a complete history for the I.P.; it also serves to educate the participants on everything from the nature of addiction to their role in the problem. After all, addiction is a family disease! It is also important to supply each participant with a template for a letter that they are asked to compose to the I.P. and read to them at the actual intervention itself. The purpose for this is twofold: 1. it allows the participant to organize their thoughts, and 2. ensures that, in the high emotion of the moment, they won’t leave anything out that they had meant to say. These letters are read and practiced during a rehersal just prior to the actual intervention and are often revised and polished at that time. By this time, the interventionist has detrmined a list of treatment centers based upon what’s best for the I.P., affordability, location, insurance, etc. and the family has settled on one and arrangements are made. They are now ready for The Intervention.
Separating the children from the grownups.
Taking into account when the I.P. usually wakes up, it’s best to schedule the intervention at a time when the person is more or less sober. This is the ideal time and it doesn’t always work out that way, but the higher a person is, the more emboldened they are and the less likely they are to listen to reason. The morning, with a hangover reminding them of the consequences of their actions, is ideal. Although, we don’t want to shock or ambush the I.P., the element of surprise is desirable. The less time someone has to react and simply absorb, the better it will go. So, as soon as the I.P. is brought into the room, they should be put at ease by the interventionist introducing themselves and explaining that the people who are here love them, want to help and are offering them “a gift.” At this point, as a result of the rehearsal, each person reads their letter to the I.P., concluding with a plea to “accept this gift in the spirit in which it is given – with love and caring.”
At this point, the I.P. can react in a number of different ways, from outright acceptance to complete denial and anger. A competent and experienced interventionist will know how to handle most any eventuality. Whatever the case may be, when acceptance becomes a reality – whether immediately or three days later, it is important to end the intervention and waste no time handing the I.P. their pre-packed suitcase, escorting them to the car and, after a few tearful hugs, hit the road of happy destiny leading to the chosen facility.
No two interventions are ever alike. Some go smoothly; some take a day or two and, sadly, some end in failure. However, with the right preparation by the right interventionist and with the entire family on board and on the same page, the vast majority of interventions end positively.
If they have agreed to go to treatment, congratulations! You can rest easy – at least for a few hours, anyway. You have done your job and now the biggest challenge comes when they call you up, crying and remorseful, begging to come home and promising, “never again,” over and over. You must be resolute! Reinforce with the I.P. everything you said in the intervention and stick to it. Attend Al Anon meeting where there are people who can help you understand the addict and the alcoholic and there wily ways. This organization is for you, the loved one and they will help you to stick to your guns. Consider individual therapy and, eventually family therapy. Everything, from this moment forward, needs to change radically or, within a short amount of time all will return to the status quo if you are not vigilant. The good news is, this is a tremendous opportunity for you and your loved ones to experience a profound state of growth and change you never dreamed possible.