Sticky: Is There Such Thing as a Failed Intervention?

An Interview with Interventionist Earl Hightower, BRI-II, CCDC.  Earl Hightower has performed over 2,000 interventions and has been doing interventions for over 20 years. Visit his intervention site for more information.

Without hesitation, Earl Hightower responds to the question, “Is there such a thing as a failed intervention?”

“You should never regret an intervention. It’s the beginning of a process. Even if the identified patient is unwilling to go into treatment right then, they now know that the rules have changed.”

Earl goes on to explain how intervention is not an event; it is a process.

“My opinion is that intervention is ongoing. You’re not done. And the mistake that a lot of interventionists make is that they hang their hat on that event within the process. They do the pre-intervention work to a certain degree, they go and they intervene on the person; if they don’t go into treatment, they’re out. That’s it, because they like that finite process and that’s what they believe they get paid for. We get paid a pretty substantial sum for what we do, and that’s for the process, and the whole process includes the post-intervention work.”

“If they say no to treatment, we remain involved with the family in helping to continue to press the agenda. What we try to tell every family we work with is that we need to present a fork in the road to the identified patient. There are options here and we understand that. And we understand it is a hard decision that we’re asking them to make: to stop using and enter into treatment. But what we want to make very clear is that neither fork involves going back to business as usual. It’s different now. If you intervene effectively you’re not going in and engaging in a dialogue; you’re going in and delivering information to somebody who is unable or unwilling to protect themselves. And we’ve come to protect them in the face of that. And this information that we’re giving them lets them know that we can never go back to the way it was. We’re through loving you to death; we’re through co-signing or giving you the impression on any level that this is okay with us, because it’s not. So we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room now. So the options before you do not include, you say no and we say okay nice try and go back to business as usual. Not going to do it.”

Earl says that an intervention re-trains the family on how to interact with the identified patient to move them toward treatment.

“We’re building a foundation upon which these individuals can survive the circumstances at hand: addiction. Our goal is to get them into treatment. Treatment is designed to break down their resistance to getting them involved in recovery. Recovery is where they’ll really heal. Intervention is this very short-term thing in the big picture, the tip of the spear. Treatment is really triage: stop the bleeding, stabilize the client, get them enough information to try, and get them across the bridge from treatment into recovery where they will ultimately live or die. That’s the arc. Stop this arc of addiction, get them into the arc of treatment, and do so understanding your role in that continuum. Intervening to start the process is what we do.”

If someone is considering tying another intervention, Earl asks them to tell him about the earlier intervention and the process they went through with the interventionist.

“Then I want to know about the intervention itself – what was the specific reaction to the circumstances. Tell me how it all unfolded. Let me know the specifics of the case. Then I can actually figure out what might have gone wrong – for example, maybe you went in too early, it’s still working for the guy, he’s still very entrenched. Here’s how you can continue to keep that process on the table.”