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Steps to Prepare for a Family Intervention: Part 2
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In the last section, we discussed the first five steps in preparing for a structured
family intervention: building a team, setting up a planning meeting, choosing
a team chairperson, discussing the negative consequences the addiction has
caused, and listing ways the team has unwittingly enabled the addiction.
this section, we will discuss the final five steps in preparing for a structured
family intervention: writing an intervention letter, brainstorming objections,
determining bottom lines, rehearsal, and the intervention itself.
6-10 of 10 Steps to Prepare for an Intervention
♦ Step # 6 - Write an Intervention Letter
My step 6, following step 5 of listing the ways the team
has unwittingly enabled the addiction, as explained in the last section, is
to write an intervention letter. Letters bring order and control to an intervention;
I find that addicts rarely interrupt while a letter is being read. Free-for-all
discussions, on the other hand, invite chaos. The wrong thing is said, anger
is sparked, and control is lost. Having each team member prepare and one to
two page letter to be read makes things run smoothly.
♦ How to Write an Intervention Letter
I find there are three parts to an intervention letter:
love, honesty, and hope for the future.
Section A - Love
The love section should be the longest.
This section tells the addict, very specifically, how much he or she is loved.
The love section can contain favorite memories, past accomplishments, and good
qualities of the addict. This section celebrates the person behind the addiction.
Section B - Honesty
The honesty section of the intervention letter identifies
the addiction, not the addict, as the enemy. This section of the letter is
kept short, avoiding anger, judgment, or blame. Instead of saying "I
can’t believe you are doing this to yourself," the honesty section
should use statements that reduce shame by maintaining a distance
between the loved one and the addiction. For example, an honesty section could
start: "Alcohol is robbing you of your best qualities and your greatest
achievements. It is no longer your friend".
Section C - Hope for the Future
The hope for the future section presents the addict with
a sense of who they can be in sobriety. Change requires a reason, and this
section attempts to provide it. The hope for the future section reminds the
addicts of their dreams, their strengths, their place in the family, and why
others need them. This section usually ends with the question "Will you
please accept the help we are offering you today?"
♦ Step # 7 - Brainstorm Objections
I find that step 7 is to brainstorm objections. During
an intervention, the addict is searching for escape routes to avoid treatment. They
come up with reasons they cannot go: "I can’t leave my dog" "My
best friend is getting married in two weeks" "I am too busy at
work". Some of these excuses are legitimate. If there is a major event,
like a wedding, coming up, the team should consider holding intervening after
the event, unless the addict is in immediate danger.
For smaller objections,
such as the care of a pet, the team should have satisfactory answers. The team
should plan out who will take care of the dog, pick up the mail, etc. By brainstorming
objections, both rational and irrational,
that the addict may have, the team can plan answers, and present themselves
as prepared and serious to the addict. In my experience, this preparedness
alone can convince an addict to accept help.
♦ Step # 8 - Determine Bottom Lines
Step 8 is to determine bottom lines. When
my client is determining their bottom line, they need to ask themselves two
questions: what have I done in the past, and what
am I willing to stop? What do I need to do to take care of myself if
the addict refuses treatment?
Bottom lines are only read if the addict still
refuses treatment after the letters are read, and objections are answered.
Before the bottom lines are introduced, the chairperson should tell the addict, "we
respect your right to make this decision, and ask that you respect our right
to make some decisions for ourselves. We’d like to share these decisions
with you now."
Here is an example of a bottom line written by my client
Samantha, the wife of an alcoholic. "Jesse, we’ve been married
for fifteen years, and I’d like to celebrate our fiftieth together. But
if we don’t make changes, our life together is in jeopardy.
I apologize for how I’ve helped your addiction, but today I promise I
will only contribute to your recovery and your health. I will no longer make
excuses for the drinking. As much as I love you, I can’t expose our kids
to this any longer. Until you embrace recovery, we can’t live together.
It breaks my heart to say this, but a lawyer has drawn up papers for a legal
separation that he will file today if you don’t
accept help. Will you please accept the help we are offering today?"
hearing this, and other bottom lines, Jesse relented and entered a treatment
program. I find it is important that the team have concrete plans to back up
their bottom lines, and that they are prepared to break out of the threaten,
punish, a relent cycle. A bottom line must be a plan, not
♦ Step # 9 - Rehearse the Intervention
Step 9 is to rehearse the intervention. Rehearsing
gives the team a chance to make a final preparation. The members of the team
sit in their assigned places, reads their letters, reviews possible objections,
and shares bottom lines. Rehearsals can be intensely emotional, and I often
find it useful to walk clients and their families through breathing exercises.
This intense emotion is important, because by experiencing intense emotions
during rehearsal means that emotions are more moderated during
the actual intervention, and reading letters is easier for the team.
The rehearsal is also the time to review details. Have
reservations been confirmed at the treatment center? Is a suitcase packed?
If legal paperwork is needed for a bottom line, has it been completed and
reviewed? Have your client and their team go over everything a final time
to prevent last minute delays or confusions. Any snag may give the addict
a reason to change her mind.
♦ Step # 10 - The Intervention Day
After writing an intervention letter, brainstorming objections,
determining bottom lines, and rehearsal, it is time for the final step, the
intervention day. The team should arrive 30 minutes before the addict, and
park their cars out of sight. Every possible distraction should be taken
care of. Phones should be turned off; food, beverages, and cigarettes should
be put away; pets and small children should be taken somewhere to be cared
for. It goes without saying, a box of tissues should be available. When the
addict arrives, the chairperson or professional interventionist greets him
or her at the door, and the first letter begins.
In this section, we have discussed the final five steps to preparing for a structured
family intervention: writing an intervention letter, brainstorming objections,
determining bottom lines, rehearsal, and the intervention itself. In the next
section, we will discuss formulating a relapse agreement, and the six questions
that need to be considered when a relapse occurs. These are is detox necessary?
Is the addict currently in a program? How much support does the addict have at
home? Is something blocking recovery? Are there signs of a mental health issue?
Is the addict following all the directions and still relapsing?
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cordova, D., Huang, S., Pantin, H., & Prado, G. (2012). Do the effects of a family intervention on alcohol and drug use vary by nativity status? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(3), 655–660.
Gorman-Smith, D., Tolan, P. H., Henry, D. B., Leventhal, A., Schoeny, M., Lutovsky, K., & Quintana, E. (2002). Predictors of participation in a family-focused preventive intervention for substance use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 16(4, Suppl), S55–S64.
Hogue, A., & Liddle, H. A. (1999). Family-based preventive intervention: An approach to preventing substance use and antisocial behavior. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 69(3), 278–293.
What are the three sections to an intervention letter?
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