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Psychology Today: December 2005, p. 40

Psychology Today: December 2005, p. 40 (Therapy Watch section)

Tough Love: When an accict won't quit, an �intervention� may be the last resort.


Brenda had been an alcoholic and rug addict for nearly 30 of her 44 years. Hers was a seemingly hopeless situation that had devastated her lard Iowa farm family� Brenda's husband, also an alcoholic, was arrested for beating one of her sons�every door in the house had been busted through with a fist.

�I think everyone had given up on her,� says her sister. �But we all agreed it would be immoral not to do something, because someone was going to die.�

The family decided to stage a confrontation in the hopes of forcing Brenda into treatment. Such a dramatic approach is popularly called an �intervention,��

The ultimate goal of a formal intervention, ideally led by a licensed therapist, is to convince the addict to enter rehab immediately.

Facing the Facts

Strong defenses and a sense of denial are hallmarks of the substance abuser's psychology. �Addicts don't deny that they're using,�they deny that it's hurting others.� That's why an intervention can be more effective than a one-on-one conversation: The addict is caught off guard and emotionally disarmed� While expressing love and concern, the interveners also outline concrete repercussions should he refuse treatment.

An Emotional Maelstrom

Jerry Wittman , an alcohol and drug counselor and director of the Reno, Nevada-based Intervention Solutions, starts the process by giving the family a group homework assignment: Each person is asked to compose testimonial letters to read aloud at the meeting�

The counselor then helps the group choose a residential treatment program�money matters are ironed out� Finally, the group has a role-playing session in which they read their letters. Rehearsals tend to be emotionally fraught, say Wittman. Running through the scenario ahead of time dampens the intensity of the actual intervention and renders it more manageable.

Brenda's (family) gathered with a facilitator�Her family began reading their statements�then her eldest sister said something that cut through Brenda's rage: �You don't love your children.� At that, she stood up and began sobbing. Her 13-year-old sone�squeezed his eyes shut and mouthed, �Please, please, please,� until Brenda said yes.

Brenda successfully completed rehab and the family was brought closer together by the experience.

Just the Beginning

Even if an intervention succeeds in getting the abuser into treatment, it is only the first step in what is destined to be a hard road to recovery. The majority of alcolholics and addicts who eventually recover suffer at least one relapse along the way, which is why it's important to have a supportive after-care plan in place.

Brenda spent four months in a halfway house after rehab, and now goes to four AA meetings per week�Says Kathy, �Every angle of Brenda's life has been torn apart and rebuild.�

- Carlin Flora