Family Intervention Guides Loved Ones to Look at Themselves
For addiction and mental health issues, a traditional intervention isn’t always best. Sometimes a collaborative intervention is called for.
It’s a typical scenario: A family comes to an addiction interventionist and says, “We found pot in our 16-year-old son’s closet.” That’s a scary moment for parents, and their fears can quickly overwhelm them: What if our son doesn’t graduate from high school? Has his brain been irreversibly damaged? Will this be a gateway to harder drugs? More illegal activities? Prison? Death? By the time the parents are sitting in an interventionist’s office, they’re in crisis mode. The interventionist, reacting more to the parents’ anxiety than to the situation that brought them there, agrees to do a traditional “surprise” intervention with the goal of getting the son into treatment. The parents leave, relieved that someone is going to do something about the problem.
Is a Traditional Intervention Best?
This scenario plays out in intervention offices and on reality television shows every day. The problem is, this situation may or may not call for a traditional intervention. In a case like this, a family-focused, collaborative solution may be more effective. Collaborative interventions aren’t just about the “initially identified individual;” instead, the focus is on the whole family. In this model, we work with family and loved ones to establish healthy boundaries and end unintentional enabling that may be contributing to the situation.
Trying to Protect the Addict
One of the key axioms of recovery is that the only person you can control is yourself. For parents, this can be a particularly difficult concept to grasp. After all, they’ve spent years literally holding the life of their child in their hands. Their job is to keep him safe and make him comfortable. The problem is, sometimes parents are so driven by fear of something bad happening to their child that they inadvertently enable problematic behavior. And they often do this by trying to solve their child’s problems for him. It’s a natural reaction and one borne of love, but it must be recognized as contributing to the issues the family is facing.
In a situation like the pot-smoking teenager, we often take a family-focused approach. By asking the parents some questions not about their son but about themselves, I’m usually able to help uncover actions, behaviors or beliefs that are contributing to enabling in the family. For example, maybe Mom has known about the pot-smoking for a while, and the son knows she knows. But they’ve both been keeping it from Dad—the mom is trying to protect her son from his father’s anger. Maybe it’s Dad finding out and flying into an angry outburst that’s brought the parents into my office.
Parents are driven to protect their children and solve their problems. In this family, both parents are unintentionally enabling their teenager and need to make some changes of their own. Keeping a teenager with a behavioral issue comfortable and solving his problems—as well as handing him anger and indignation—takes away his ability to sense a need for change.
Solutions-Based Family Recovery
We can teach both Mom Dad different more productive ways to respond to situations by getting them to focus on their own issues and triggers. In this scenario, maybe Mom establishes a healthy boundary of refusing to continue covering up for her son anymore. Maybe Dad develops some healthy distance from his son’s behaviors so he’s not so angered by his son’s actions. In the new, healthy environment, the initially identified individual often runs out of steam and begins to seek change on his own. Though they hadn’t realized they also needed it, the parents benefit just as much as the son does from seeking help.
Learn more about collaborative interventions and family-focused solutions to addiction and mental health issues.
—Marc Hertz founded Marc Hertz Consulting and FRrē with a passion for helping not just the individual suffering from addiction or mental health issues, but his or her family as well.