Interventions: A Reachable Moment

An intervention offers a lifeline…

We know what a teachable moment is…

Hardly a news cycle goes by that we don’t hear the expression “This is a teachable moment!” It is one of those phrases that catches our attention and makes us consider what we have learned from a particular life event. Educators really like the term. Politicians like the term. Medical professionals like the term.

Just today if you search the news for the term teachable moment, here are a couple of headlines that stand out:


Have you heard of a reachable moment?

The word reachable is adjective that we often use to better define a goal, like a reachable milestone. We might think of the word attainable or possible.  Or we might think of the verb “reach” and consider how we often find ourselves wondering if all of our love and concern actually “reaches” our loved one.

In late June we happened upon a news story that talked about “reachable moment,” it took us by surprise.


Mass General will screen all patients for substance abuse…

On June 30, 2014, The Boston Globe published this article: MGH to screen all patients for substance abuse…Querying part of effort to treat addiction.

When you first peruse the headline you might find yourself thinking “doesn’t every hospital in the United States screen patients for substance abuse?” For the most part, it is true that if you present yourself to an emergency department, then during the quick history and physical you most likely will be asked questions about alcohol use or drug use, particularly if you appear to be impaired and suffering from trauma.

However, according to CBS Boston: “Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) plans to begin questioning all patients about their use of alcohol and illegal drugs starting this fall, even if they are at MGH for a totally unrelated issue.”


A bedside intervention…

Dr. Sarah Wakeman is the medical director for substance use disorders at MGH’s Center for Community Health Improvement. She shared with The Boston Globe that nearly 25% of all patients hospitalized for routine medical problems also have active substance abuse disorders. So by asking critical questions of each patient during the hospital stay becomes “a reachable moment” or a bedside intervention. 

The particular questions might include:

  • How often have you had six or more drinks on one occasion?
  • How often have you used illegal drugs in the past year?
  • Do you use prescription medication for nonmedical reasons?

“Mass. General recently studied 2,583 patients with identified substance abuse disorders who were in the hospital for various medical problems — some related to addiction — and found they had longer stays and higher readmission rates than other patients. The cost of their care averaged nearly $10,000 per admission, 40 to 50 percent higher than the cost of treating patients with other chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure and pneumonia.” 

So how will this all work?

Well, in the first place, this new program will cost a considerable amount of money.  Mass General is planning to spend $1.4 million per year on this new addiction screening and treatment program. If the patient answers the screening questions in such a way that indicates overuse, then one of the hospital addiction team will visit the patient and encourage a more in depth conversation about their life and habits.

Mass General plans to hire five “recovery coaches.” They will work at the main hospital and the three community health centers. The coaches are former substance abusers and are certified by the state. Coaches will take people to Alcoholics Anonymous and work with them to follow a treatment plan both inpatient and outpatient.

Interventions require a plan…

In life even the best laid plans can go by the wayside, but to start a new treatment modality requires arduous planning and fine tuning. We are anxious to see how the Mass General plan works out. Interventions require planning.

The interventionist will then derive a treatment action plan that can be executed immediately. The immediacy of getting a loved one the help they need is well understood and the interventionist will act with the same immediacy to fulfill the treatment action plan, which will consist of the following:

  • A determination of the need for an intervention – sometimes when the loved one has already agreed on receiving treatment, a recommendation will be made that don’t involve an intervention.
  • Arrangements to execute the intervention (travel, timing, special needs and considerations for the time, place and type of intervention).
  • Pre-intervention counseling and advisement – thorough determination of what families need to prepare such as verbal or written statements to the loved one and what to expect emotionally during an intervention.
  • The intervention.
  • Transport to treatment, either with the addicted, family or interventionist or via scheduled travel arrangements to the recommended treatment center.

This process highlights that in challenging and emotionally vulnerable situations, we can’t do things alone. Just as people need support groups and spiritual practice to lessen their burdens, loved ones of addicts need professionals to guide them through the process of getting addiction help – it cuts the stress and turmoil tenfold and can end of being the best investment to make in the life of a loved one.

If you would like to consider a treatment action plan for a loved one, please click here to learn more about the exact next steps to take and click here to learn about the success rates of the Southern California interventionist.

Alcoholics Anonymous Celebrates 78 Years Of Fellowship

AA Big Book
AA Big Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Founders’ Day 2013

This weekend many will gather at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, to celebrate the 79th Anniversary of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. Yes, Akron, Ohio, is the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous. Historians will say the 12 Step fellowship was actually founded on August 11, 1938; however, June 10, 1935, is the date that Dr. Bob had his last drink.

Of course, not everyone can travel to Akron for the celebration, but there will be special events throughout the country to recognize 78 years of recovery.

Bill W. may be in a theater near you on June 10, 2013

In 2012 the film Bill W. was released in the United States. Perhaps you saw it. This year a number of theaters across the United States will show Bill W. on June 10th. To see if it will be playing in a theater near you, you can visit Page 124 Productions website. Of course, you can also buy the DVD or watch it online; however, there is something magical about joining others in a movie theater to enjoy this production.

Here is a trailer for Bill W.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

An intervention may be the first step

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has millions of members around the world. If you are looking for a meeting, you can visit their website or call information in whatever town or city you find yourself. There are times when the person suffering from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs will not consider going to an AA meeting. This is when you may want to consider talking with an interventionist who can serve as a mediator and necessary component to getting the loved one into a suitable drug and alcohol treatment program. Often, this is too great of a feat for the family and loved ones to do on their own because they are too emotionally involved with and impacted by the addict’s behaviors and despair. Interventionists provide knowledge where there is confusion, clarity where there is fog, solution where there is dismay and hope where there is despair.

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The Interventionist Insures Empathy Is Part Of The Intervention Process

“Empathy” is different than “sympathy”

It’s true; there is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Let’s look at the basic definitions of these two words.

Empathy is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

Sympathy is the sharing of another’s emotions, especially of sorrow or anguish; pity; compassion.”

The difference is subtle. A person can feel empathy when they are able to identify with the life experience of another, while a person can feel sympathy when they find themselves sharing in another’s sorrow or anguish. Let’s take the case of a good friend whose parent dies suddenly. You can sympathize with your friend’s loss; however, if you have never experienced the loss of a parent you cannot empathize with such a loss as you have never felt this pain.

An interventionist brings empathy to the intervention process

If you have a family member who suffers from the disease of addiction, then chances are you have considered an intervention. Often family members feel frustration when dealing with their loved one, as they cannot understand why they just can’t quit. The truth is addiction is a family disease, but it is not unusual for this disease to “skip” a generation or two, which means that parents and grandparents of the addicted person cannot empathize with their loved one’s experience, feelings, or thoughts. This inability to empathize can make for a difficult family dynamic. The parents and extended family members can feel sadness for their loved one’s situation, but they struggle to identify with the situation.

An interventionist can assist a family to successfully steer the addict/alcoholic (often suffering from co-occurring disorders) to drug and alcohol treatment, because more than likely the interventionist’s life story includes ongoing recovery from the disease of addiction.  The interventionist brings empathy to the intervention process, while the family members may only be able to feel sympathy for their loved one.

An interventionist is therefore a mediator and necessary component to getting the loved one into a suitable drug and alcohol treatment program. Often, this is too great of a feat for the family and loved ones to do on their own because they are too emotionally involved with and impacted by the addict’s behaviors and despair. Interventionists provide knowledge where there is confusion, clarity where there is fog, solution where there is dismay and hope where there is despair.


Empathy plays a role in Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon

One can experience the miracle of empathy when they are introduced to a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Al-Anon. The person suffering from the disease of addiction often has trouble feeling empathetic; however, becoming involved in AA can help a person feel safe with the knowledge that they are receiving empathetic support from their fellow AA members.  As the Twelfth Steps says: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Part of the message is expressing empathy.

According to Al-Anon: “after attending Al Anon meetings, they [family members] begin to understand how much they have in common with everyone affected by someone else’s drinking, regardless of the specific details of their personal situation.” The commonality experienced in an Al-Anon meeting is a form of empathy.

Can you teach people to be empathetic?

So, can you teach people to be empathetic? You might think the quick answer to this question is a resounding “NO!” But maybe the truth is you can teach people to recognize that they do share a common bond with those suffering from diseases, including mental health disorders.  Sometimes we are very capable of hiding our life experiences and avoiding empathy.

Just this week the Medford Mail Tribune (Medford, OR) published an article on a new training program being offered to members of the Medford Police Department to learn how to respond to a mentally ill person in crisis. As one police lieutenant offered: “Mental illness is a medical condition. It’s like diabetes. If I had diabetes, no one would think it was my fault.” The article, An Exercise In Empathy went on to say:

“The issue of mental illness hits home within all aspects of the community, Whipple said. There are officers with autistic children, parents who have Alzheimer’s, and siblings struggling with depression or other disorders, he said, adding he’s pleased with the changes, and eager to begin the training process.”

Also this week, we came across a really beautiful video produced by the Cleveland Clinic: Empathy

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can watch it here.

Like many challenges in life, you were not meant to face the disease of addiction alone –
an intervention is part of the road map to how you can spark help and hope for you and the one suffering from alcoholism and addiction through initiating an
intervention and drug treatment.

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