Interventions, Life, Art and Storyboards

Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?

In the news of late, many articles dealt with the word intervention. Intervention is a powerful word, it grabs our attention and we are never quite sure if the storyline will be about war, drugs, climate change, a new television show, a family in crisis…the list is long. For example:
  • Following the horrific deliberate downing of Germanwings flight 9525, many specialists are observing “what if” the co-pilot’s employer, doctors or family members would have combined their efforts and intervened to insist that he get treatment for his mental illness(es).
  • This past week a few “rich and/or famous” families are in the news because family members are organizing interventions to help their loved ones who are struggling with addiction and more.
  • Some communities around the country have issued press releases to announce the establishment of crisis intervention specialists who will work with “at-risk” youth and young adult populations in an effort to prevent long term and perhaps irreversible damage resulting from exposure to drugs, alcohol and crime.
  • On March 22, 2015, television fans were pleased to see A & E bring back the series Intervention.

So the aged old question remains; does life imitate art or does art imitate life?  It is true that real life events take place and artists, writers and producers are inspired to create paintings, sculptures, novels, movies, television shows…and suddenly we have art. Then again, more than a century ago Oscar Wilde opined that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” This philosophical discussion will go on.

Mad Men returns for its final episodes…

It was last May when we published a blog about Don Draper’s intervention. While Don’s partners insisted that he take some time off, a leave of absence to deal with his alcoholism (albeit they avoided saying the word), they never insisted that he needed to go to treatment. Don, the character, knew he had a problem and his co-workers, among others, knew it, too. Interestingly, in the first episode of Season 7, (which aired April 2014) Don meets a woman on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The stranger speaks of being a widow and when Don observes that she looks too young to be a widow, she offers that her husband died at age 50. Don asks what could have happened to a man so young. She answers: “He was thirsty, and he died of thirst.”

Last month it was reported that Jon Hamm (Don Draper) recently sought treatment for alcoholism. It was also reported that many fans were shocked and Mr. Hamm shared that he had the support of his family and asked for consideration and privacy.  At least one news outlet referenced “life imitating art.”

The power of storyboards

While Don Draper is a fictional character who works for a Madison Avenue advertising firm, there is a lot we can learn from the process of building an ad campaign. Storyboards! Do you recognize the term? Storyboarding dates back before the 1930s, but the use of storyboards in business has taken on a role of its own in Mad Men, not unlike alcoholism. You will always hear Don Draper asking his team “what story are we telling?” And from that simple question the creative team draws the storyboards to present to the client. It is important to remember there are multiple boards and they can be shuffled to create a whole new story!

The intervention process is similar…the interventionist works to determine the real story and where to go from there. The process begins by having a conversation with the interventionist about the loved one you would like to help. Imagine each family member arriving with their storyboards. Because of professional experience in the field of addiction and recovery, the interventionist has heard it all – there are no stories or situations that haven’t already been heard and no story or situation will be judged, it will all be kept with the utmost level of confidentiality. Although it seems trifling to tell personal details to someone you don’t know, upon sharing your situation your reservation will be met with warmth and understanding and the weight you feel will begin to lift as solutions are proposed.

One last thought from the fictional Don Draper: “Everyone has their own story to tell. It can only go in one direction. Forward!”

Interventions: When Should You Seek Help?

What’s normal behavior and when should a parent be concerned?

If you’re a parent, regardless of the age(s) of your children, there probably isn’t a day that goes by when you don’t question some element of your child’s behavior. It is what parents do. Even before the baby is born we ask questions of our own parents, our peers, our doctors…always seeking validation that what we are experiencing is normal.

This validation process continues as children approach pre-school, elementary school, middle school and will move right through high school and even the college years. There is something about being a parent that makes us question our abilities to see things clearly and to relate the behavior we are seeing in our children with that which we experienced as we matured from childhood to adulthood. And this does not even take into consideration how our world continues to evolve and be shaped by: new technology, educational changes, family dynamics, separation or divorce.

Let’s talk a bit about anxiety…

Recently, we came across an interesting article published on (owned and operated by North Jersey Media Group), Kids and anxiety: Parents face a conundrum over whether to seek help. 

We hope you will take a few minutes and read the whole article, it offers helpful information and insights from professionals that may guide parents to consider getting help for their child or children. For example:

Anxiety is the most prevalent psychiatric illness among children and teens. As many as 1 in 4 children and adolescents are affected by an anxiety disorder at one or more times in their lives; disorders can strike children as young as 3 but typically gets diagnosed between ages 7 and 9, according to mental health experts.

Kara Yorio, staff writer for The Record offered: “…for children who have significant anxiety issues that are disrupting their lives, intervention is imperative. Years ago, many parents took a “they’ll grow out of it” stance, but research has shown that isn’t the case for kids with true anxiety disorders. Intervention is important.”

And Dr. Anne Marie Albano, who is the director of Columbia University’s Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders added: ‘ “The more the child struggles with anxiety early, the more likely they develop more anxiety disorders over time.” By middle childhood and adolescence, anxiety disorders can lead to depression and substance abuse.’

Intervention is important…

Many parents and other family members would be quick to agree that making the decision to intervene was a positive step for the child suffering from anxiety and for the entire family. There are also many parents and family members who did not seek help early on and years later found their child struggling with substance abuse and other mood disorders like depression. As time goes by the intervention, rather than planned and safely executed by a professional (doctor, counselor or trained interventionist) will wind up being managed by the court system or the medical professionals trying to save the family member who may have overdosed, attempted suicide or had a life threatening motor vehicle accident.

Some closing thoughts…

Parenting is a journey. It is not always an easy journey. There can be many twists and turns along the way. It is important to remember that resources are available. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and be your child’s advocate. Talk to your primary care physician, talk to your child’s teacher(s), talk to someone in your Employee Assistance Program, talk to your school’s nurse, or even call your local hospital for information.

If you want to talk about planning an intervention…contact us.

Dallas Taylor: An Artist Who Saved Many Lives



“I understand what it is like to be an angry, depressed addict who needs so badly to be liked that he gets on stage and sweats and bleeds and hopes that people will somehow connect.”   Dallas Taylor


Saying good-bye to Dallas Taylor

We would be remiss if we didn’t dedicate today’s blog post to Dallas Taylor. While many of you may remember him as an accomplished drummer, there are hundreds perhaps 1000s who will be forever grateful to Dallas for his dedicated work as a drug counselor, interventionist, family program treatment counselor, drug court advocate and speaker, and MusiCares supporter. Dallas passed away on January 18, 2015, at the age of 66.

Dallas before recovery…and more

As the related articles below will report Dallas Taylor is that drummer who performed at Woodstock with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He went on to play with Steven Stills and the band Manassas. There were Gold Records and there were many tours, but by 1984 Dallas was almost dead from his renowned alcoholism and drug addiction. And in December 1984, at the age of 36 Dallas found sobriety and recovery. From that point on he dedicated his life to help others who are suffering from addiction.

His journey was not always easy and he found himself with five years of sobriety and a failed liver. He underwent a liver transplant and some years later in 2007 he required a kidney transplant. But through each part of his incredible journey Dallas continued to work with those seeking sobriety and recovery.

Last evening at the 57th GRAMMY Awards there was a Memoriam to honor those artists and professionals who the music community said good-by to in 2014 -2015. Of course, Dallas Taylor was among those listed. 

Dallas’ work with families

Dallas, of course, went to school to become a Certified Addiction Specialist, did 1,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training and throughout this career continued his education. From 2000 through 2011 Dallas assisted many southern California treatment centers in designing and conducting their Family Programs. One of our associates had the privilege of attending a Family Program with Dallas Taylor and she recalls:

“I noticed on the first day we all seemed to cry when Dallas asked ‘how are you doing?’ Imagine! He wants to know how we are doing. I also noticed that by Friday, we were all able to talk about how we are doing, sans tears, and know we are not alone in this world of addiction.”

Dallas had a way of working with families and the individual addicts that was amazing to witness. He enjoyed working with young people and reached beyond the artists’ community to be of service.

Documenting his life…


In 1995 Dallas wrote and published his book Prisoner of Woodstock. According to the overview provided by AMAZON:

“This is the story of his life before, during and after the band. The book captures the “Real Sixties” during one of musics’ greats’ times. Prisoner Of Woodstock is a graphic depiction of Dallas’ experience with success and it’s excesses, and his spiral into the world of addiction, and remarkable return as one of the Nation’s leaders in helping alcoholics and addicts. In 1990 Don Henley helped organize a benefit concert to help Dallas get a Liver Transplant. The book has a wonderful sense of the “Recovery Spirit,” and is an inspiration.”



An interventionist is 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.

Dallas’ passing has been covered widely by the news media: The New York Times, PEOPLE Magazine, Los Angeles Times, TIME Magazine, VARIETY, UPI, Billboard, TV Guide, etc. We will miss Dallas. Beyond being a great musician, he was a husband, father, grandfather, and friend. To many he was their sponsor and someone they could call if they needed help. He once said: “Whether or not your loved one agrees to seek treatment or not, you should remember this — there is no such thing as a failed intervention – After all, how can any attempt to save the life and future of a loved one be?”

If you have questions about having an intervention, please feel free to contact us.

Interventions: A Look At Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment

Interventions can happen in so many ways…

This weekend we happened to see The Homesman. This is one of those movies that captures your interest just by reading the cast’s names. You wonder how actors who have won multiple acting awards and nominations find themselves wrapped up in a story about the rescue of three mentally ill women being transported “home” to their families.

Take a few minutes and watch the trailer.

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

You learn so much from this film…and for sure every viewer brings their own life experience to this film. Behavioral health professionals will certainly see this film as a powerful example of how interventions dating back more than 100 years were planned to assist those who are suffering from mental illness, depression, anxiety, and the like.

When Meryl Streep’s character Altha Carter inquires of Tommy Lee Jones’ George Briggs, something to the affect, “Have you seen any improvement in their(the mentally ill women) behavior over the weeks that you have traveled with them?” it seemed that Altha Carter knew instinctively that their rescue and their time traveling together and being cared for was, for all intents and purposes, an intervention.

Learning of Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment (CAST)


Interventionists are called upon by family members, friends, co-workers, employers and even the justice system to have a neutral person who is an expert in addiction and recovery intervene upon the addict and their family to bring the addiction and its harmful impacts to the surface so that recovery and healing can begin.

As such, it is imperative that we are constantly learning and staying abreast of new research and studies that are designed to create new modes of intervening.

This week we learned that researchers at Florida State University led by Professor Brad Schmidt were looking for a way to assist veterans and other groups who suffer from high anxiety and whose stress may bring on thoughts of suicide (ideation).

The researchers used Cognitive Anxiety Sensitivity Treatment (CAST) which is a 45 minute treatment consisting of videos and a true and false questionnaire.

The results of this study were published in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Randomized clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of a brief intervention targeting anxiety sensitivity cognitive concerns.

According to Science World Report, the researchers found:

The program works by helping to reduce racing thoughts as well as the inability to concentrate and make sure that others are not a danger to themselves as well as not an implication that something bad is about to happen.
Those who received CAST training saw their anxiety scores drop significantly more than those who just learned about healthy living. Furthermore, the decrease was similar to that seen in many therapy sessions.
Researchers believe that military members could stand to benefit, especially those who may be at an increased risk of suicide or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Looking forward…

Continuing to conduct research for ways to improve the intervention process is critical. People continue to hide their needs…they may suffer from addiction, depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. But getting help is the most important goal. Sometimes people will be reluctant to seek help for fear that they will jeopardize their relationships both personal and on the job.

The holidays are here. Be vigilant with your loved ones; don’t overlook a cry for help. Celebrate the holidays and celebrate life. Recovery is the best gift.

Interventions Are Key To Ongoing Scientific Research

Curiosity and determination inspire scientific research studies…

It’s true! Scientific research and studies that involve human physiology and behavior are most often provoked by a certain determination and enough curiosity to seek answers to problems that are impacting our society. Over the past two years our blog posts have often discussed the results of a new study; we share this information with our readers to spark their own curiosity and prompt them to seek more information on the intervention process should their family circumstances demand it.

The KNICK television drama weaves a story with history, medical research and addiction

The KNICK takes place in New York City’s Knickerbocker Hospital in the early 1900s. One could ask “what’s so captivating about this time and place?” This is a series that offers the viewer an inside view of what not only life in New York City was about in 1900, but also a candid view of how medical research and new inventions were developed “hands on.”  And yes, drug addiction is part of The KNICK’s storyline, as well as the concept of doing an intervention and getting someone to treatment.

Here you can watch a snippet of the season finale, Episode #10…

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

Two new research projects are worth noting…

If you have ever worked in a hospital emergency department (ED or ER), then chances are you’ve noted that a good percentage of the patients presenting (non-trauma) have either a primary or secondary issue tied to substance abuse. These patients arrive at the ER due to an accidental overdose, accidental injuries due to substance abuse (auto accidents, slips, falls, fights), chronic diseases due to substance abuse (pancreatitis, hepatitis, liver failure) or physical detox / withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens. This being the case it would stand to reason that when a patient comes to an ED and admits to or exhibits signs of substance abuse this could be the perfect time for the medical professionals to intervene beyond treating the acute symptoms. But what intervention protocol works best in these situations?

Michael Bogenschutz. MD, chief of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science is indeed looking for answers to how best manage the opportunity to intervene when patients present with substance abuse symptoms.

According to UNM Health Science Center News Beat, Dr. Bogenschutz is focusing on how well screenings, interventions and referrals work by conducting two studies:

  • Bogenshutz is leading a five-year study of opioid-addicted patients who visit the ER. Past research, including his own, has shown that brief ER interventions had little or no effect on heavy drug users, so the current study takes a more active approach. Case managers follow up with patients to steer them toward addiction treatment and to assist with other needs, like housing or legal representation. 
  • In a second study, Bogenschutz focuses on older adult alcoholics. Researchers in Denmark, Germany and New Mexico will compare patients who receive four motivational counseling sessions with those receiving the four sessions, plus an additional eight weeks of more active therapy focused on finding rewarding alternatives to drinking.


Looking to the future…

We understand that substance use disorder is a chronic disease; however, with intervention, treatment and aftercare, remission is possible and long term sobriety is achievable. Ongoing research about addiction serves to validate these processes that promote health and wellness.

Is An Intervention Ever Too Early?

Let’s talk about interventions

The word intervention is often used when speaking of political, financial, commerce, legal and medical situations. Basically it means to come between disputing people or groups to intercede or mediate in an effort to change the course of events.

When it comes to health, particularly mental and behavioral health we define an intervention as:

An orchestrated attempt by one or many people – usually family and friends – to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction or some kind of traumatic event or crisis, or other serious problem. The term intervention is most often used when the traumatic event involves addiction to drugs or other items.

The process of this type of intervention was introduced in the 1960s by Dr.Vernon Johnson who was a recovering alcoholic and an Episcopal priest. He promoted what he referred to as “early intervention” to interrupt the disease of alcoholism before the process of the disease destroyed one’s life.

Johnson’s concept is key to what many family members ask themselves everyday…”should we have noticed earlier what was coming, could we have prevented the escalation of the disease of addiction…should we have intervened earlier?”

Research results examines the outcome of early intervention in children

It was 1991 when the Fast-Track Project study began. This was a collaborative study including researchers from Duke University, Pennsylvania State, Vanderbilt and the University of Washington. They screened nearly 10,000 five year-old children who lived in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and rural sections of Pennsylvania. Of these 10,000 the researchers identified 891 who were at high risk. Half of these were selected as a control group and the other half were assigned to participate in the Fast Track intervention. Here is an overview of the Fast Track Project as provided on the website:

Fast Track is a comprehensive intervention project designed to look at how children develop across their lives by providing academic tutoring and lessons in developing social skills and regulating their behaviors. Selection began when the participants entered kindergarten and children were placed either in the intervention group or the control group. The intervention was guided by a developmental theory stating the interaction of multiple influences on the development of behavior. There can be multiple stressors and influences on children and families that increase their risk levels. In such contexts, some families that experience marital conflict and instability can cause inconsistent and ineffective parenting. These children can sometimes enter school poorly prepared for the social, emotional, and cognitive demands of this setting. Often the child will then attend a school with a high number of other children who are similarly unprepared and are negatively influenced by disruptive classroom situations and punitive teacher practices. Over time, children in these circumstances tend to demonstrate particular behaviors, are rejected by families and peers, and tend to receive less support from teachers, further increasing aggressive exchanges and academic difficulties.

As youth get older, their risk for these behaviors increase due to peer influences, academic difficulties, and their personal identity development. The Fast Track project is thus based on the hypothesis that improving child competencies, parenting effectiveness, school context and school-home communications will, over time, contribute to preventing certain behaviors across the period from early childhood through adolescence.

The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

The study’s findings…

The study was to cover 10 years and over those years the researchers published numerous progress reports. Most recently Kenneth A. Dodge, Ph.D. at Duke University (who headed the original project and secured the original sponsorship of the NIMH) worked with researchers from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Alabama, Tufts University and Simon Fraser University. The goal was to reach out to the original subjects and determine how they were doing some eight years after the program had ended. The full results are published on-line in the American Journal of Psychiatry: Impact of Early Intervention on Psychopathology, Crime, and Well-Being at Age 25.

This study showed modest improvements in psychological markers that predict long-term antisocial behavior and criminality and according to a Los Angeles Times article.  

Program graduates had fewer legal problems, substance abuse issues and risky sexual behaviors. The data suggest that intervention can work, and effects can persist over many years. Overall, the likelihood of psychological, criminal, sexual and behavioral problems dropped by about 9 percentage points from those of nonparticipants, the study found.

Dr. Dodge is quick to point out: “It’s not miracles; it’s not huge impacts. We weren’t successful with every child, but on average we have been able to prevent some of those [negative] outcomes.”

Some closing thoughts…

Being a member of a family is a journey that we all take. We travel through good times and difficult times that include financial hardships, illness, and emotional trials that if not recognized early can impact many members of the core family group and beyond. Often parents will notice signs, but are reluctant to ask questions and seek answers. Even spouses will look the other way and hope for a positive outcome. It is always best not to look away, but to reach out for help when you realize that your loved one is experiencing mental health issues and/or addiction.

Correctly guiding ourselves through life is challenging enough and trying to help a loved one who is suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction can seem impossible.

Often, the person in active addiction has difficulty managing their own lives and as time goes by it seems to get worse. The impact of their addiction on their lives are evident through loss of things like jobs, relationships and self-care. Perhaps several attempts and conversations have been initiated to help them without success. This is because the person trying to help is often too close and doesn’t have the professional background to be both emotionally neutral and aware of resources that match the needs of the addict. Such addiction professionals can help via home interventions or through recommending applicable treatment for the addict who is suffering.

Bottom line: It is never too early to consider an intervention!

Will You Celebrate National Recovery Month ~ 2014?

I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time. Robert Browning

Do you welcome the autumn season?

It is a funny thing about the seasons. We all tend to have our favorites. Most of the time how we look forward to a season has more to do with our interests, our fond memories of childhood, our life experiences. For example, it could be you love to garden, so spring time brings you joy as the perennials start to bloom and the ground is calling you to plant some annuals. If swimming and boating brings you enjoyment, then summertime jumps to the top of your list. Those of us who have childhood memories of building snowmen or tobogganing can’t wait for the winter months. On the other hand negative childhood memories will make us dread certain seasons.

Autumn…is special for many people. The earth is very colorful in the autumn months and as Albert Camus once said “every leaf is a flower.” It is a time to harvest, a time to renew…a time for new beginnings.


National Recovery Month takes place in September…

September marks the beginning of autumn with the autumnal equinox occurring in September, this year on September 23rd. September is also the month when we celebrate National Recovery Month. And this year is a special year, as it marks the 25th Anniversary of National Recovery Month. Indeed this is a time to harvest and renew all that we have learned about recovery and to encourage continued research and thoughtful intervention.

Each September, thousands of prevention, treatment, and recovery programs and services around the country celebrate their successes and share them with their neighbors, friends, and colleagues in an effort to educate the public about recovery, how it works, for whom, and why. There are millions of Americans whose lives have been transformed through recovery. These successes often go unnoticed by the broader population; therefore, Recovery Month provides a vehicle to celebrate these accomplishments.

Will you celebrate someone’s recovery this month?

Have you often tried to find a way to acknowledge how you felt about your loved one’s recovery? Maybe you wanted to send a card or just a quick email to honor their journey. The National Recovery Month’s website has a special section for just this purpose: Recovery Month e-cards.

Take a few minutes this month to speak up, reach out, find an event and join the voices for recovery.

New Study Examines Interventions For Drug Abuse VS Alcohol Abuse

Do you feed a fever and starve a cold or vice versa?


Brief interventions deemed ‘inadequate’ for unhealthy drug abuse…

There is this old adage:  “Starve a cold, feed a fever”…many of us have heard our parents of grandparents offer this advice and when you drill them with a few questions it turns out that nobody is really sure what works best for treating a fever versus a cold. It happens that way in the medical field…everyone makes a call based on their experience.

It turns out that experts in the field of substance use disorder are still trying to determine how best to intervene when a patient presents with unhealthy drug use as opposed to unhealthy alcohol use. Should the medical provider offer the same course of treatment for both or do we have to look closer at the specific disorder?

New study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health

In the August 6, 2014, edition of JAMA – The Journal of the American Medical Association the results of a new study were published: Screening and Brief Intervention for Drug Use in Primary Care, The ASPIRE Randomized Clinical Trial. The objective of this study was:

To test the efficacy of 2 brief counseling interventions for unhealthy drug use (any illicit drug use or prescription drug misuse)—a brief negotiated interview (BNI) and an adaptation of motivational interviewing (MOTIV)—compared with no brief intervention.

The lead researcher Dr. Richard Saitz is quoted in a statement:

…despite the potential for benefit with a brief intervention, drug use differs from unhealthy alcohol use in that it is often illegal and socially unacceptable, and is diverse—from occasional marijuana use, which was illegal during this study, to numerous daily heroin injections. “Prescription drug misuse is particularly complex, with diagnostic confusion between misuse for symptoms (e.g., pain, anxiety), euphoria-seeking, and drug diversion. Brief counseling may simply be inadequate to address these complexities, even as an initial strategy.”

Meet Dr. Saitz…

The JAMA Network offers a video interview with Dr. Saitz which explains the study and the results the researchers were able to verify. Take a few minutes to get a clearer understanding of the study’s parameters and results.  Medical Daily quotes both Dr. Ralph Higinson from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Dr. Wilson Compton of the National Institute on Drug Abuse who offered editorial comments:

“Although these studies offer no direct evidence of effectiveness for universal drug screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment in primary care settings, exploring drug use with patients should remain a priority in primary care. The goal for clinical research is to develop and test new interventions with potential for benefiting patients,” Dr. Ralph Higinson from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Dr. Wilson Compton from the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in an accompanying editorial. “If brief interventions are insufficient, then easily accessible treatment services with long-term follow-up may be needed, as will development of efficient primary care referral approaches to address risky substance use and related physical and mental comorbidities.”

Some closing thoughts…

This study is what you might call a “conversation starter.” The observations provided by the researchers might well serve to be the jumping off point to discover new and more efficient ways to intervene when a patient presents and admits to using both legal and illegal substances, not just alcohol.

Family members know all too well how difficult it can be to talk to and interact with their loved one who is an alcoholic or drug addict. Working with a primary care physician may be the first step and perhaps down the road the services of a professional interventionist may be required.

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.

An Intervention May Be The First Step In The “Improbable” Journey Of Recovery

Finding “tools” to understand Interventions

We launched our blog on October 18, 2012, and at that time we promised to share news about addiction, mental health, family issues and the efficacy of interventions. Since that time our posts have dealt with tools of recovery, particularly the power of interventions and the varied ways that people can learn about and experience interventions.

If you are a regular reader, then you know that we once discussed how the A & E series INTERVENTION became a teaching “tool” for not only those suffering from the disease of addiction, but also the addict’s family members and friends.

Last month we turned our lens on the powerful AMC television series Mad Men. Specifically, we discussed how Don Draper faced a workplace intervention and the sometimes futile steps Draper has taken to getting sober and dealing with his chronicled mental health issues.

Again, sometimes we learn by reading a news story or a novel, or watching a movie or even other television series like HOUSE or NURSE JACKIE. But, there are other inspired tools that can urge one toward an intervention.

The Improbable Players offer live theater to audiences of middle and high school students

Now in its 30th year, the non-profit Boston based  Improbable Players bills itself as “educational theater for substance abuse prevention.” This theater troupe was founded by Lynn Bratley, M.Ed., and she continues to serve as the Artistic Director. The players have a clearly defined mission:

“to set the stage for prevention by educating the public about addiction and recovery through dramatic performances and theater workshops -presented by actors who are in long-term recovery from addictions – that help people recognize situations in their own lives and seek the help they need.”

In November 2012, William L. White had the opportunity to interview Lynn Bratley where they discuss her vision and evolution of the Improbable Players. Take a few minutes to read this interview.

Improbable Players at Medford High School 2009

Here is a four minute clip from the stage play presented to Medford High School.

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

Currently the Improbable Players offer five different plays and you can find out about booking them for your school here and see their current calendar here. They are working on a new play The Rope Tightens Around P.B. which will be ready for touring in September 2014.  It deals with opioid drugs:

“…It’s the 38 a day who die from prescription drug overdoses. That’s 2 classrooms disappeared /That’s 38 absent friends/That’s 76 weeping parents/Every. Single. Day.”


How the Improbable Players impact students…

This week published an article about the Improbable Players production at the Woodland Park Middle School.  The entire student body was invited and afterwards they were requested to complete evaluation forms.

Students who attend these productions usually find that they feel safe sitting with their classmates. Like any live theater production the audience is the fourth wall and with realistic theater the actors will often break that boundary and interact with the audience. While audience participation is not always verbal, one gets a sense that they are with others who understand what their life is about.  Here is one counselor’s impact statement from 2011.

“Less than a week after the program, we had the freshman and sophomores meet in groups of 12 students and an adult to reinforce the messages from the presentation, answer questions, and get feedback from the students on their own personal experiences. Many were talking about how the Players’ presentation was something that they can personally relate to, and in addition there were able to point out how their families were like or not alike a specific actor/actress. They were able to discuss experiences of their own in a safe place.”


Some closing thoughts…

Many families have one or more members who are suffering from addiction. Millions of children under the age of 18 live with a parent who is an alcoholic. This problem is not new. It is not even new for playwrights to journal the experience of families dealing with alcoholism and addiction. Consider Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Written in 1942, but first published in 1956, it won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Four characters – mother, father and two adult sons. The mother is addicted to morphine and the three men are alcoholics. The entire play takes place in one day.  And then there is Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. This play, too, deals with family relationships and alcoholism.

Novels, plays, movies, and televisions series can serve as conversation starters. And the intervention process starts with a conversation with the interventionist about the loved one you would like to help. Because of professional experience in the field of addiction and recovery, the interventionist has heard it all – there are no stories or situations that haven’t already been heard and no story or situation will be judged, it will all be kept with the utmost level of confidentiality. Although it seems trifling to tell personal details to someone you don’t know, upon sharing your situation your reservation will be met with warmth and understanding and the weight you feel will begin to lift as solutions are proposed.

It may be an intervention will be the first step in your loved one’s recovery journey!



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