One thing Bruce Perkins has learned, over many years and thousands of interventions, is that it’s a myth that you can’t help someone with a substance use disorder (SUD) into recovery unless they want it.
In recovery himself, the Muncie-based family counselor and interventionist decided to study therapy after getting sober. Since then, he’s orchestrated over 2,000 interventions, which is the process of getting someone with an SUD into treatment. Perkins presented a public forum on interventions this fall at Fairbanks.
They typically start with the interventionist or counselor receiving a call from the subject’s family or a treatment center. Perkins will schedule an initial session with relatives to learn details. He’s seen everything from the parent of a teen caught smoking cannabis who’s otherwise doing fine in school and life to an adult with multiple drunk driving convictions who doesn’t believe there’s a problem. Perkins uses that information to determine the severity of each situation and whether it requires an intervention or just monitoring.
If an intervention is deemed necessary, Perkins meets with anyone who wants to participate. While some are hopeful it helps, he’s encountered plenty of others who are initially convinced it won’t but want to anyway just so they can say they tried.
Subjects of interventions are rarely told about them beforehand, even though participants often fret they’re ambushing them.
“They’d never show or they work themselves into such an emotional, defensive frenzy that it’s counterproductive,” Perkins said.
Those participating are asked to write lists about the person, both what they love about them but also how their substance abuse is hurting them. However, Perkins doesn’t believe in using shame to persuade someone into getting treatment.
“We addicts and alcoholics are down on ourselves enough,” he said. “Using shame in an intervention can often be quite destructive.”
Many of the affirmations family members write about the intervened are things they haven’t heard or been discussed in a long time.
“Sometimes we do much more than an intervention,” Perkins said. “Sometimes it completely changes the dynamics of how families respond to each other and starts a healing process.”
A common hurdle in interventions is that many people in active addiction don’t think their habit is really that bad. They’ll use many defense mechanisms when confronted about it – from intellectualizing to playing a victim. That can make it a delicate balance of lovingly and respectfully conveying how their addiction is affecting their family and friends without resorting to humiliation.
“The intervention has to be a unified front,” Perkins said. “It’s not about ganging up, but showing you love this person so much that you want them to get help.”
He makes it a point to thank the subject for hearing everyone out after they share their affirmations, but also emphasizes that they’re concerned about their substance abuse and overall well-being.
“The hope is they’ll want to be part of the solution, that they’ll want something better for themselves,” Perkins said.
Of all the interventions he’s helped stage, only a fraction have resisted getting treatment. But even among those, most soon relent, especially if their families and friends stop enabling them to continue their using.
One of the best aspects of being an interventionist for Perkins is following up with those he’s helped into treatment. That can be right after starting the process to celebrating sobriety milestones years later.
Another myth he’s busted from experience: You have to hit rock bottom before you seek help.
“If you have a loved one with substance abuse or alcohol problem, whether it’s me or another interventionist, we’re always just a phone call away,” Perkins said.
Those needing an intervention for a loved one may contact Perkins through his website, BrucePerkins.com. Those who are ready for help with a substance use disorder may contact Fairbanks at 800-225-4673.