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A SOBERING STORY: Preparation is the key to effective intervention

by on May 04, 2014 2:00 AM

One way to approach addicts about their drinking and drug use — and steer them into treatment — is through a formal intervention.

It’s one of a variety of methods that are available but is perhaps the most commonly thought of one.

In that method, the person suffering from addiction is called to a meeting with friends and relatives, who express their concerns and firmly but lovingly describe how they have been affected by the person’s behavior. At the end, they’re asked to enter some form of treatment; if they don’t, there’s a consequence attached.

According to specialists at The Open Door Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Center, an intervention might be appropriate when the person does not realize, or will not accept, that his or her addiction is harmful to them and to those around them.

Also to be considered is whether those who are close to an addict see harmful consequences, such as legal trouble or even death, in the offing, should the addict continue on his or her path.

Although the intervention is for the benefit of the addict, it is just as much for the benefit of the addict’s family, according to Carol Lawyer, a West Chester-based interventionist and family therapist.

Lawyer is a director for the nonprofit Pennsylvania Certification Board, an organization that issues credentials to behavioral health professionals. She also is the clinical supervisor for Fieldstone House, a women’s recovery and sober living facility in Chester County,

Lawyer said families of addicts usually are in a tremendous amount of pain and feel as if life has spiraled out of control. But the intervention process can instill some hope and help them regain a sense of control.

However, an intervention may not be advisable in all cases, especially when it’s more likely than not that the addict will react violently to the confrontation, according to specialists at The Open Door. To help decide whether an intervention is called for, and to help organize it, it may be advisable to enlist the help of a professional interventionist.

Lawyer said she recommends looking for someone who has skills and training as both an interventionist and a family therapist.

She said the advantage to having a professional run the intervention is that he or she can moderate it and keep it from degenerating into a shouting match. She also said that having an independent moderator helps take the heat off the family, so to speak.

“I become the bad guy,” she said. “It puts (the family) in a more protective position and allows the family to focus on what they need to do during an intervention.”

However, Indiana County residents seeking the help of a professional probably will have to look beyond the county’s borders — Vince Mercuri, executive director of The Open Door, said he’s not aware of anyone offering the service professionally here.

When it comes time to figure out who should take part in the intervention, consider asking “meaningful people” — those who are close to the addict and can speak to the physical and emotional changes they’ve seen in them as the disease has progressed, according to specialists at The Open Door.

People participating in the group should plan on meeting to discuss their feelings first before the intervention occurs.

Each will need to write a letter, stating how much the addict means to them, how their behavior has affected them and what they would like the relationship to be in the future.

The letter must not express anger; it should be loving and supportive, yet firm.

Lawyer said the prep work that occurs before the actual intervention is key to making it successful.

Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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