Active addiction can put even a functional family system into crisis mode. Drug and alcohol addiction is a disease that has a deleterious impact on all members of the family, not just the person using substances. Some families try to deal with the situation by staging an intervention.
“Just as CPR is often the first lifesaving step in helping a heart attack victim, intervention is the most powerful step that a family can take to initiate the recovery process,” wrote Jeff and Debra Jay in Love First.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about intervention. It’s not what you see on TV—at least not a good intervention. An effective intervention is not an emotional ambush but a loving, caring experience that need not be confrontational. It should be designed to preserve the person of concern’s dignity—after all, addiction should be treated as a disease, not as a reprehensible moral failure.
A well-planned, expertly guided intervention can avoid pitfalls and thus provide a launchpad for lasting recovery from addiction. Structured Family Recovery® (SFR) helps prevent relapse by creating a “family recovery team.” This team supports the addicted person during treatment, after treatment, and throughout the first year of recovery.
Carver Brown is a certified recovery coach and trainer with the Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery (CCAR) and an SFR counselor. He is also a grief recovery specialist certified by the Grief Recovery Institute. Lauren Kirschberg graduated from the University of Alabama, where she studied adult development, family systems, and addiction. She began working in the addiction recovery field in 2010 alongside Brown. Kirschberg is a Love First clinical interventionist.
In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Brown and Kirschberg discussed the strategies and careful planning behind a good intervention. “We meet with the family and go over the process,” Kirschberg said. “We want to take our time and get to know the family and find out how they all interact with the person of concern.”
“And with each other,” added Carver Brown. It’s all part of the strategic approach Kirschberg and Brown typically pursue. Once they know the circumstances, they will recommend three treatment options. They will only recommend treatment centers they are familiar with and that are a good match for the addicted person.
The “Love First” approach is a carefully planned process “founded on love and honesty,” wrote the Jays. This main concept also informs the letters that members of the recovery team write as part of the intervention.
“You want to tell the person how much you love them and how much you miss them,” explained Kirschberg. “When someone walks into an intervention, they immediately know what’s going on, and they are ready for a fight. And when you meet them with love and compassion, it’s completely disarming. The whole goal of the letter is to talk to the heart.”
The intervention then quickly moves on to offer a solution: all the addicted person has to do is say “yes,” and everything will be taken care of. Until they get to “yes,” Brown and Kirschberg prepare as much as possible. “We ask the family for a list of every possible objection the person of concern may present, and then we want a solution for any of those objections,” Brown said. “We want to know who’s going to walk the dog, who will feed the fish, and who is going to help with dental appointments. Nothing is too small.”
Brown and Kirschberg again emphasized that it’s about talking to the heart of the addicted person and that they are there to preserve that person’s dignity. They are look through the letters beforehand for anything that might be construed as shaming, and they will alter the language accordingly.
Everything that happens during the intervention is strategic: the location, the seating, and the order of the letters. “We want the person to be greeted by somebody they are deeply connected to emotionally, and we want them across from the people they respect the most,” Brown said.
The timeframe of the intervention is delicate, too. Good preparation is crucial and takes time, but “we view it as a medical emergency,” said Kirschberg. Flexibility is key as well. “Every time we meet, we learn, and we make lots of changes,” Brown said.
Strategic preparation like that very often yields the desired result. “We get a ‘yes’ about 95 percent of the time,” Kirschberg said. “Once we get the ‘yes,’ we stop immediately and go.” Everything is prepared, and the car is on standby to get them on the road to the treatment center to start their recovery journey.
“Everything is taken care of,” Brown said. “We’re not just an advocate for the family; we’re an advocate for the person of concern. In the majority of cases, that person knows they are not living the kind of life they’d like to be living. We would like to give them an opportunity to take this spiritual, physical, and emotional timeout—a rare opportunity for any of us—and go to a place where some of the most gifted professionals on the planet exist and where we can come up with a true long-term solution.”
For more than fifty years, Harmony Foundation has helped thousands of people find sober lives of purpose and connection. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.