Real interventions aren’t like the ones on TV, and families turning to interventionists to save the lives of their loved ones often have misconceptions about the obscure industry. We talked to five certified interventionists who gave insight into the world of interventions, explained how reality TV changed the industry and described the life-changing process that gives hope to families with nowhere else to turn.
Keith Bradley spent weeks coaching the team, counseling the loved ones. They had an answer for any problem, a response to any situation.If she bolted, a walk-out team was in place. If she cried, they knew the words to say. When she accepted help, a treatment center was ready. Bradley was the one who took her to the facility. After rehab, he’ll be the one to help her transition to a sober living environment. He’ll be involved in the entire recovery process, like he is for every family he helps.
The family he helped didn’t have an experience like they had seen on reality TV.
“They think if they refuse to go to treatment that their family is never going to do anything with them. Or the sheriff is in the bushes.”
More than 22 million Americans have a substance use disorder that requires treatment, but only 11 percent of them seek treatment, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.That’s where interventions come in. Numerous studies indicate that friends and family play a vital role in motivating people with addiction to change their behavior. Social consequences, such as being cut off emotionally or financially, are important motivators for seeking treatment, according to a 2002 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. “Oftentimes, interventions are the only way you’re going to get somebody who is resistant to treatment to accept care,” said Stephen Wilkins, a Colorado interventionist who has helped more than 700 families. “Unless they commit a crime and are mandated into treatment through the legal system. Sometimes [interventions] are the only way.” A&E’s “Intervention” is by far the most popular intervention show on TV. It regularly features famous interventionists such as Candy Finnigan, Jeff VanVonderen and Ken Seeley. Several other reality TV shows, such as “Addicted” on TLC, “Intervention Canada” on the Slice Network, “Teen Trouble” on Lifetime and “Codependent” on the Lifetime Movie Network, have followed similar scripts.
“Under the model I use, there’s nobody jumping ship.”
The intervention conversation has to start with the Johnson model.Created in the ‘60s by reverend Vernon Johnson during a church study group, the Johnson model is based on a group confrontation with someone with a substance use disorder. Friends and family read letters and list consequences for refusing treatment. Ring a bell? It’s the one that’s been portrayed on hundreds of reality TV episodes. It’s the only one interventionist Jack Bloomfield knew about for the majority of his four decades in recovery. It’s the only one they know about at his recovery meetings when the word intervention was brought up. And it’s the only one many mental health professionals know about.
Bloomfield practices the ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement) model of intervention. It’s a less confrontational process that includes several family meetings. The person being intervened on is invited to the meetings, not tricked into attending.
“There were 40 therapists in the room… They thought intervention was what they saw on TV.”
ARISE interventions lead to individuals seeking treatment 83 percent of the time.
“What is on the screen is both narratively constructed and heavily edited.”
Each expert interviewed for this story understood that the goal of shows like “Intervention” was to entertain. They aren’t public service announcements. If they inspire others to find help, then it’s icing on the cake.But when “Intervention’s” creator and executive producer Sam Mettler described why families and people with substance use disorders agreed to be on the show, he claimed it was to help others. “It is attractive treatment? Of course,” Mettler told ABC News in 2008. “But the addicts do our show out of altruism — they truly want to help other people by sharing their stories. They don’t want anyone to become like them.” The experts I spoke to said they weren’t aware of the show inspiring anyone to get help.
“I tended to move away from those shows when I was in active addiction because it was a reminder of a lifestyle that I didn’t want.”
After completing their study, one of Smith and Kosovski’s biggest concerns was that people with mild or moderate substance use disorders might not relate to the severe cases on TV.“Viewers in need of help could approach the narrative and say ‘I’m not that bad’ and not seek treatment,” Kosovski said. Not feeling a need for treatment and feeling like they can handle the problem without help are common reasons for avoiding treatment, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Smith said it’s a common problem in 12-step programs and treatment centers. “It is among the most common reasons why only 10 percent of people with diagnosed substance use problems go to a specialized treatment center,” he said.
“When emotions are involved, using an interventionist that is skilled and knowledgeable is so beneficial.”
Stephen Wilkins has been doing this for a long time.He’s seen the topic of addiction change from being an inconvenient family secret to a national health epidemic. Since he became an interventionist 13 years ago, he’s asked every family he’s helped whether they consider addiction to be a disease or willful misconduct.
“A lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing are out there doing it badly.”
The Network of Independent Interventionists and the Association of Intervention Specialists are recognized interventionist groups.
Some interventionists work directly for a treatment center, and their job is to get a person into a treatment program, regardless of whether the program is appropriate for them.Other interventionists have insufficient training or have certifications from unrecognized programs. Rainer compared them to a nurse who wants to perform surgery.
“I realize they’ve been taken advantage of by somebody who thought they could help but has no right, yet, being completely on their own doing that kind of work.”
Interventionists come from different paths and different backgrounds. Most are in recovery themselves, so they know firsthand why people become addicted to drugs. They know the toll addiction takes on the entire family.Keith Bradley was running a successful business when he achieved sobriety in 2005. He was able to step away from work, volunteer at a detox center for the indigent and help connect homeless individuals with their families. It gave him purpose. “Something happened, and I suddenly, very early on in sobriety, found some self-worth,” Bradley said. “I got fascinated with doing that. From there, I went to the seminars and the workshops and all of the stuff, and completely walked away from the business that I had been in for more than 30 years.” Jake Jansen found a passion for helping people recover while he was incarcerated. Jack Bloomfield and Karen Rainer left positions at rehab centers to help families and individuals more directly. Stephen Wilkins started going to workshops to help people part-time and ended up making it his full time job. Each of them possesses a common quality: a passion for what they do. A passion and a knack for being very good at what they do. When asked if professional, certified interventionists increase the chances of long-term recovery, Rainer said “From my own experience, the answer would have to be yes. Largely because of that front-end work that an interventionist does to make sure the symptomology and the needs of the client can be met at the centers that they’re suggesting.”
“When completed by a certified, experienced interventionist, more than 90 percent of people agree to seek treatment.”
“Most often, somebody suffering from addiction already wants help.”
Published on: June 29, 2016
Last updated on: March 3, 2020
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