Recovery Talks: Family Counselor Talks Intervention

July 25th, 2019

In this episode, Kathleen is joined by David Leap, Outpatient Clinical Supervisor at Fairbanks as they discuss the first licensed Online Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program in Indiana and the program’s benefits. Read the full transcript from the podcast below or listen to it here or on iTunes or Google.


Kathleen Gill:   Welcome to Recovery Talks, a Fairbanks podcast. I’m your host, Kathleen Gill. I’ve worked at Fairbanks since 2007 and I am a woman in longterm recovery. Today on Recovery Talks, we’re joined by interventionist, Bruce Perkins. Bruce has facilitated thousands of interventions in his career, and many at Fairbanks. Thank you so much for being here today, Bruce.

Bruce Perkins:    Thank you, Kathleen, for the opportunity to talk about something that’s so dear to my heart and I’m still so passionate about, and that’s the process of intervention.

Kathleen Gill:   Fabulous. How in the world did this end up being your career path?

Bruce Perkins:   Well, Kathleen, it starts with my own recovery. In the 1970s I would go down once a year to Jamaica and live in the bush with the Rastafarians. That was a ritual of mine every year. Then in 1980 I had a group of Rastafarians come to me and say, one morning with a very concerned look on their face and said, mon, mon, mon, mon, we think you smoke too much of the [gaung 00:01:09]. When Rastafarians tell you you’re in trouble, that should be a hint that something’s not quite right.

Bruce Perkins:   I also had a rather serious drinking problem as well. I had an older brother who is an addictionologist at a treatment center in Minnesota and at that time I had a talk with him and he said possibly I should come up and take a look at getting into a treatment program and seeing what this is all about. I discovered two things. I discovered that substance abuse, it was an addiction, that was an illness, it was a sickness. And secondly, I discovered that I had it.

Bruce Perkins:   At that point, two weeks into a treatment recovery program, I announced to the staff that I’m going to become a therapist. They said Bruce, everybody with two weeks of recovery has a flight to mental health. And so come back in a year and if you’ve got a year’s worth recovery, we will show you what school to go to and we will direct your steps.

Bruce Perkins:   So 365 days later, I knocked on their door. One year recovery and I would like you to tell me where to go to school. So they pointed me into the right direction, a school, St. Mary’s, that dedicated their tract of teaching into addictions and family therapy as well. And finally I got to an internship and I had the good fortune of finding Dr. Vern Johnson, founder of the Johnson Institute, and Margaret Prosser and Jean Lead, the real pioneers of the field of intervention. I asked them if I could work with them and do an internship with them and kind of follow them around. They said, okay, Bruce, we’re going to give you a try.

Bruce Perkins:   The very first intervention that I sat in on, Margaret Prosser was the therapists. A woman in her 40s with four teenage children came to us and she said this is what I don’t understand. We’re going to go to my husband, we’re going to write up some letters, we’re going to share these letters and the two of you are going to make some closing comments and he’s going to agree to get help. It doesn’t make sense to us because in recent years, if we even mentioned to him the possibility that he might have somewhat of a little drinking problem, he becomes so angry that it becomes pointless. So this is actually going to work? And Margaret said it’s going to and we’ll move forward. And she says okay.

Bruce Perkins:   So we facilitated this intervention. At the end of it, this guy with tears rolling down his cheeks said I have never, ever had it presented to be like that. I clearly have a problem. I’m willing to get help or would you like me to do? We said, well, Bruce is going to drive you over to this treatment program and you will start to recovery. I was totally hooked at that moment. I just saw this miracle take place right in front of me. So I have been facilitating interventions since that day.

Kathleen Gill:   Wow. So how many years have you been fulfilling interventions?

Bruce Perkins:   This is 2000 interventions and 33 years later. And I still wake up with the passion in my heart to every day that I love this work.

Kathleen Gill:   Wow, that is amazing. Let’s start at the beginning.

Bruce Perkins:   Yes.

Kathleen Gill:   What is an intervention?

Bruce Perkins:   Well, there’s a myth to substance abuse that’s still prevalent in many areas. That myth is you can’t help someone until they want to get help. An intervention turns that completely around and says well, ultimately they do have to choose to get help, but can we in a very loving, gentle, supportive, encouraging manner, approach this loved one and share with them how much each individual in the team, the intervention team, loves them, cares about them, while at the same time in a very nonjudgmental manner, being able to share their concerns, worries and fears about how their substance abuse issues have impacted the individual, the substance abuser, and family members and France and concern members as well? It’s remarkable how consistently successful it is.

Kathleen Gill:   So clearly the disease of addiction does affect not just the individual with the substance abuse but also the entire family. How does a loved one know when it’s time to explore intervention?

Bruce Perkins:   If a loved one has someone that they’re worried and concerned about, family member, friend, coworker, and this individual is abusing substances or alcohol, that there’s negative consequences and at that point they still refuse to recognize that they need help, then it’s a good turning point. It’s a good plan at that juncture to be able to say let’s seek out an interventionist. Let’s get a board registered interventionist who knows this process, who can direct our steps and help us see if we can’t turn their life around and bring them to the table that hey, it really is time to seek help.

Kathleen Gill:   What does that interventionist or counselor do in that process?

Bruce Perkins:   So I will get a phone call almost every day from a family member or a loved one or a partner, the significant other, that says listen, I have this person in my life and I’ll say well, who is the person and what’s their first name and what’s your relationship to them? They start to tell me that they’re very worried and concerned that there’s quite a history of substance abuse here and the person refuses to look at it or is unwilling to even really talk seriously about the possibility of getting help.

Bruce Perkins:   At that point when they refuse to acknowledge that it’s a problem or get help, then I get the phone call and what I will do is set up an initial hour and a half session with them. I’ll have them bring two or three friends or family members that are worried about this person and I’ll get a good overview of what’s the substance abuse history, what are the family dynamics, who’s being impacted, how are they being impacted emotionally, mentally, physically, relationship wise. Oftentimes financially, legally and I will put together an intervention team. To be on that team, the person has to clearly care about love, appreciate and want the best for this loved one with a substance abuse problem. They also have to have in a general idea that it really is a problem, have some firsthand information as well about what’s been going on.

Bruce Perkins:   I will put this intervention team together in whichever city that I go into, and I typically cover Columbus, Ohio, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, certainly all of Indiana and parts of Chicago. So I will drive into that city, plan the intervention one day, facilitate the intervention the next day, and then we will take the person, a 90% to 95% success rate. We will take them to treatment that day.

Bruce Perkins:   Now in the planning session, the first 30 minutes or so, people are just getting their feelings out. They’re scared, they’re worried, they’re trepidatious, but they’re also filled with hope that this could be the miracle that turns this life around and turns our life around as well.

Bruce Perkins:   Then I will have them write out a list of why they love them. I do not participate in any kind of intervention that would have even a hint to being shaming or judgmental. The spirit of intervention should be able to build someone up and give them hope and inspire them to get help. Now there’s some straightforward honesty, but even that comes from a place of love about the concerns and worries.

Bruce Perkins:   So they will share just the most tenderous parts of their relationship with them, how they appreciate them, their wonderful attributes and give very specific examples about what their life means to them. The kind of stuff that’s shared at funerals. We go, let’s don’t wait for that. Let’s do this now.

Bruce Perkins:   Now addicts and alcoholics, and I being one of them, we typically have many defense mechanisms. We rationalize, we justify, we intellectualize and if you push us too hard on it, we’ll play the victim.

Bruce Perkins:   So in the intervention I have to be able to break through those defense mechanisms without offending the person. So we work on that list and it’s not that, oh look what you did wrong and how bad you were. It’s more of out of our love for you, out of our care for you, out of our wanting the best for you, we have to be honest with you about what we’re seeing here.

Bruce Perkins:   So I’m very careful about the words that are used in intervention. They’re not judgemental or preachy, but can state really clearly what’s been going on, hopefully without offending the person.

Kathleen Gill:   I think I saw an article that was written about you that was about an intervention being about an act of love. That would be a very difficult, when you’re at the point where you’re seeking help from an outside source, I would imagine that the family member has to be so frustrated and so tired and so angry that it’s hard for them to remember that it’s about love.

Bruce Perkins:   It really is and sometimes I have, in the beginning I ask let’s write on our letters about how much we love them and some of them just say this is going to be so difficult, but we can break through that. After a little bit of nurturing and encouraging, they start to really tap into the they really are underneath this illness a wonderful and loving person and I can really express with them just how much I care.

Bruce Perkins:   So I had one intervention where the father, we were writing out the list and we spent quite a bit of time putting these letters together. I asked the father, I said, would you please read me your affirmation list for your daughter about how much you love her? He looked over at at me, he held his letter up and he looked at me and said, well speaking, what he’s going to share with this daughter the next morning. And said well you’re my daughter and I guess that says it all. I said well dad, that really says nothing.

Bruce Perkins:   So he wrote out this letter and the next morning we go to her. And we’re not always received with a welcome kind of we’re so glad you’re here to share with us about your concerns. This one woman, 39 years old, said whatever you’ve got to share, make it quick because I’m not in the mood for this this morning. The father who had nothing to share the day before said well, let me tell you about one of the best days of my life. And that was the day you were born and I held you in my arms and I completely fell in love with you and I still am. And he said and when you were seven years old and you got on that school bus for the first time, you were so nervous, you just whistled this little tune you just made up. And to this day when I’m a little down and depressed, I just think of that tune and it just cheers me right up.

Bruce Perkins:   She looked over and said dad, where have you been my whole life? And he says, I know. I’m just learning. I’m just starting to wake up and learn. So she was ready for treatment at that moment. I mean, she was virtually good to go.

Bruce Perkins:   So with intervention, this is a lot more than just trying to get someone into a treatment facility. We’re starting to reconnect, heal relationships and throughout the recovery process, families journey into their own recovery as well. So it’s really a thing of beauty to not watch just the alcoholic or addict recover, but watch family members reconnect and heal their relationships as well. That’s what intervention is really all about.

Kathleen Gill:   Wow. That is a beautiful story.

Kathleen Gill:   So you mentioned the myths and the misconceptions about interventions. What are the myths?

Bruce Perkins:   Well, I still have family members. Say I called into a mental health facility or I called into a treatment center and I told them that my 21 year old opiate addict son or daughter at IU has this problem and what can we do? And they will ask are they having any thoughts of hurting themselves or hurting someone else. And of course oftentimes family members will say no. And the response is well, there’s nothing you can really do until they want to get help. And then will hang that phone up and they will not, they believe that that’s the truth.

Bruce Perkins:   Now if they call on a very knowledgeable programs such as Fairbanks, they will say, well there is hope. You have options and alternatives. And one of them is possibly seeking out an interventionist. So we are going to give you a number here to call and they can reach out and start exploring about just what their choices are because they have them.

Kathleen Gill:   Fantastic. So are there people where an intervention would not be appropriate?

Bruce Perkins:   Sometimes yes. Sometimes there’s a co-occurring illnesses. Someone is gravely, psychiatrically ill and they’re simply too fragile for intervention. And there’s other avenues that family members who are going to have to seek.

Bruce Perkins:   But if it’s done with enough care and love, it’s a rather inclusive group of people that we can intervene on. But those are sometimes exceptions. But those exceptions I find are remote and rare.

Kathleen Gill:   So you mentioned that you have a 90 to 95 success rate. That is a very good success rate. What happens when someone refuses?

Bruce Perkins:   When someone refuses to get help, that doesn’t mean it’s a failed intervention. We planted seeds. And what happens is we start to change the dynamics of the family’s response. So if there’s seven people in an intervention, we try to see if we can get as many of those seven team members into support groups, 12 step support groups, their own counseling and start their own healing process. And paradoxically, when they start their own healing process, their responses and reaction to the illness become much healthier. Then in turn, the person still eventually gets help.

Bruce Perkins:   Truth is, we still lose some to this illness, to this sickness, but we’re trying to keep that number just as low as possible.

Kathleen Gill:   Do you find interventions happen more for people who have tried recovery in the past and relapsed or do you have a lot of first timers that are just beginning to explore recovery?

Bruce Perkins:   I think that’s about an even balance of people there. About half the people have never been in recovery before and then I get others that call and say hey, they’ve been in treatment two, three, four times. Well, then we’ve missed something and oftentimes they’ll need an extended sober house, but there’s a piece that’s missing. So just because someone has not received help or got into a continuum of care and recovery, intervention still can be very appropriate. We can find out what’s been missing and this time create a longterm plan for recovery. So those can be very successful as well.

Kathleen Gill:   Of course, modern day TV has shown people what interventions may or may not look like. Is what we’re seeing on TV, is that a fairly typical example of what an intervention looks like?

Bruce Perkins:   Sometimes, but I passionate myself as doing a much caring, a more nurturing, low key intervention without the drama. I had a television station called me once and said we want to talk to you about intervention and we possibly may have a situation for you we’d like you to facilitate. And when I told them about process, about how gentle it is, low key, almost no drama, very nurturing, supportive. They said, no, we want a show. We want some people, we want some drama. I said well, you’ll have to find somebody else the intervention should be a very gentle, soft, easy process. And maybe not comfortable but as gentle as possible. Not only for the intervention team, but for the person being intervened as well. They need to feel cared for and supported.

Kathleen Gill:   Is it common, I know it’s so scary for a family to take that step where they are intervening in that loved one’s journey. Is it common that they contact you and then back out?

Bruce Perkins:   Usually not. By the time I get the phone call and we have the initial session, now, sometimes they will. We’ll get close to the intervention. They’ll go, well, we’re just not quite ready to do that. Invariably three, six, nine months later I get the phone call and they’ll tell me their name. Do you remember we were so close to doing this and now we figured it out that nothing else has worked? So mostly even those will come back to me, but it’s very daunting for family members.

Bruce Perkins:   I remember that, oh about 10 or 12 years ago, one of our family members needed an intervention. And my older brother who is a well known national addictionologist and I, we looked at each other and thought who are we going to get to be the interventionist? We were too emotionally close to it. And it was just such a wonderful long straight have somebody hold our hands and walk us through it. It was extraordinary that we were unable to do that on our own family.

Kathleen Gill:   Yes, and that you were able to be aware that that would not be the healthiest for him to do that.

Bruce Perkins:   And not only aware of it but it was is really quite amazing for me cause I got to understand just the challenge of being a family member in an intervention team because I started having all of those thoughts. Oh what if they get mad at me? What if they don’t talk to us anymore? I go, wow. I always knew it was difficult for family members, but when I was on the end of being the team member of an intervention, it was really tough. It was very difficult and quite rewarding though at the success of it.

Kathleen Gill:   I would imagine that that rounds out your ability doing an intervention with having not only the experience of being addicted to substances yourself and knowing what it might feel like for the person using but also the family members.

Bruce Perkins:   Exactly Kathleen, exactly.

Kathleen Gill:   So you mentioned that affirmations are important. What does that mean and why are they essential to the process?

Bruce Perkins:   Well, those of us who are active in the illness, we carry such a high level of shame and guilt and remorse and we won’t let the family members and others know that. But this illness has usually beaten most of us down so low that we just have very little self esteem. And to come in, and most of them have been preached to and most of us have been preached to and moralized and have been told what we’re doing wrong, but to have the approach of coming in and say, we value you, we love you, we care about you, we recognize these extraordinary qualities in your life and you’ve been such a blessing to all of us and to beyond this in the community as well. And we just want to recognize what an extraordinary person you are and what a good spirit and heart you have. That really sets the stage for a successful intervention.

Kathleen Gill:   And with having done interventions now for 33 years, I bet there were not very many interventionists when you first started.

Bruce Perkins:   I was it in Indiana for decades and now there’s several interventionists and in many of them, very talented and accomplished and understand the fact that this is a loving, caring, gentle, nurturing process. So it’s encouraging to see that people are getting into the field.

Kathleen Gill:   And what about after the person has decided to seek treatment? Is there any additional work that you do with the family or the person seeking recovery?

Bruce Perkins:   Absolutely. I’ll get a release of information. So as you know, I come into Fairbanks almost weekly for 33 years admitting someone. And by the way, I’m always greeted with the access center who does just such a wonderful job. And the Fairbanks community does such terrific work is why I keep coming back. But I get releases of information and I will talk to the counselors at Fairbanks. What are they doing well? What are they doing poorly? What are the roadblocks to recovery? What’s the next continuum of care and how do we get there?

Bruce Perkins:   And in the coming days, weeks, months, a year, or sometimes a couple of years, family members may call me as often as they want for any questions, even when things are going well, questions come up. The person who’s in recovery stays in touch with me. I get phone calls all the time. Oh, I’m getting my 20 year token. Will you come? I was at a Circle of Hope dinner one night and just through serendipitous luck, people started talking. There was eight people at the table and four of them I’d intervened on and three of them were in the field of addictions. And it’s like I looked around and just thought, it’s so extraordinary how when one life gets into recovery, how many lives are impacted and it’s the gift.

Bruce Perkins:   And so the gift starts with, oftentimes with just a simple caring, loving intervention that turned this life around.

Kathleen Gill:   And it begins the process and the miracles are able to happen.

Bruce Perkins:   Exactly.

Kathleen Gill:   What have you seen? I would imagine that many people try this on their own.

Bruce Perkins:   Yes.

Kathleen Gill:   What is the difference between a family trying it on their own and having the support of an interventionist?

Bruce Perkins:   I just think such as I stated earlier about my own family and two addictionologists and certified addiction therapists, who we just recognized that we were too close to it. And family members, I mean, the addict or alcoholic knows how to push those buttons. They know how to create conflict and family members oftentimes are just too emotionally charged to be able to navigate through all the difficulties and potential landmines of an intervention.

Bruce Perkins:   So the luxury to have a specialist walk through that makes all the difference. And the success rate of families who intervened on their own families, it’s really quite low. I get the phone calls afterwards going oh, you wouldn’t believe what happened. I thought, oh I wish you could’ve got me before and I’ll go in and clean it up and do the intervention. But it’s very tough on family members and usually ends up in with a result that wasn’t quite what they were hoping for.

Bruce Perkins:   They go in with big hearts. A lot of compassion, great intentions. They mean well. They can read the books, they can go to the internet and see how to do it. But they could go to the internet and see how to do surgery as well, but they’ll probably want to call a surgeon on their loved one.

Kathleen Gill:   That’s a good example. It is that being close. It is all of those personalities and knowing people’s triggers and I think it is easy to lose the focus of love when somebody pushes that button. And by having a moderator there and somebody to bring it back when it goes sideways, because I’m sure it often does.

Bruce Perkins:   It often does and a skilled interventionist mediator knows how to gently and softly bring it right back into the focus of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Kathleen Gill:   How does somebody contact you?

Bruce Perkins:   If someone wants to contact me they can go to bruceperkins.com. That’s all one word, bruceperkins.com. They can call Fairbanks Hospital and the staff will give them my phone number and explain to them what the process is and hey, here’s how you contact Bruce.

Kathleen Gill:   Right, right. You’ve shared several really heartfelt and beautiful stories with us today. Is there one that has been most powerful for you?

Bruce Perkins:   This was, I don’t go by the book with interventions. I’ll do what needs to be done. And there’s a lot of intuition, just all the experience.

Bruce Perkins:   I had a woman about 25 years ago, she must’ve been 45 at the time. And she just said no, I’m not doing this. And this is the only time I’ve done this. But I got down on my knees and begged her, I said I’m begging you to give this a try. She says get off your knees and save your dignity. I’ll go. So we took her to Fairbanks and she ended up volunteering there and got into recovery and sponsors a dozen different women and is still very active in recovery.

Bruce Perkins:   She calls me two or three times a year and just tells me how, 25 years later still tells me how grateful she was that I got down on my knees and begged that night. She said, because look at all the lives I’ve been able to touch. And had you not spontaneously extended that gesture, I probably wouldn’t be in recovery today.

Bruce Perkins:   So there’s just hundreds of those things but that’s one. If you say one that just stands out, that’s one that comes to mind.

Kathleen Gill:   Is there anything else that you would like to add and tell us about the process of an intervention? 3

Bruce Perkins:   Just that there’s hope because family members and partners and significant others can lose hope and they can just think this is what we have to live with, and they don’t. If they’ll reach out and educate them and explore their options and alternatives with recovery and with intervention, then the miracle can happen.

Kathleen Gill:   And oh, how beautiful life can be when recovery is part of that journey.

Bruce Perkins:   Indeed it is Kathleen. And thank you, and thank you to Fairbanks, who continues to do the best work in the country as far as I’m concerned.

Kathleen Gill:   Thank you so very much Bruce for joining me today. At Fairbanks we like to say together we can. It’s an open ended statement that means we can do more and overcome more when we do it together.

Kathleen Gill:   To end our podcast, we’d like to know how you would finish that statement. Together we can.

Bruce Perkins:   Together we can love, support, direct, encourage and nurture not only the ones with a substance abuse problem, but family members and partners and significant others as well, that we can nurture them and love them into lasting wonderful and enjoyable recovery.

Kathleen Gill:   Thank you, Bruce. We have created a good partnership over the years.

Bruce Perkins:   Yes we have.

Kathleen Gill:   This has been Recovery Talks, a Fairbanks podcast. If you or a loved one needs support in the journey of recovery, the experts at Fairbanks Treatment and Recovery Center can help. Visit our website at fairbanksrecovery.org to learn more or call (800) 225-HOPE for immediate help. Thanks for listening.