Intervention in the old school sense used to rely heavily on tough love. Families would gather at a pre-designated location and unbeknownst to the addict, surprise him or her with strict words and an ultimatum. The sole focus was to get the addict into treatment and away from the family. The more co-dependent a family, the more the need to separate them. But things have changed – for the better.
I sat down with attorney, Jeff Merrick, last week in Larchmont Village and discussed the “new, more powerful intervention” – a systems approach that addresses the family’s behavior, specifically co-dependency. It is an invitation for the entire family to join together for their loved one, getting them to be accountable to each other in order that they can all move towards change in unison. I discovered what makes Jeff tick, what he’s passionate about and how he’s helping families who struggle with addiction issues transform their lives. I received so much valuable information from Jeff and found this topic so fascinating and relevant that I decided this would be Part 1 in a series covering Intervention and Legal Defense.
Jeff Merrick is a former big firm litigator whose work is now as an interventionist as well as an attorney and advocate. He lived in a world that emphasized winning at any cost, rationalizing behavior after it happens and rewarding people for behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated on the playground. “It’s very alcoholic that way, litigation,” says Jeff who understands this well because he is also an alcoholic in recovery. “In todays big law firm, arguing about people’s money and their businesses and the contentious nature of litigation, although I was good at it, it was my lowest self. I can be a talented arguer; I can be all about the argument and the rationalization, I am also an alcoholic. What I really have to keep myself in check on is what brings me joy.” Being able to align his recovering self with his lawyering self is his joy.
Jeff has helped to create a holistic approach to intervention by partnering with the court, with probation, with other professionals, treatment providers, court services, and today’s treatment center. He is able to bring into collaboration with a client, all these moving parts and establish a solution that is not just one-sided. While his client is in treatment, the family has their own recovery and as they are able to have some space from the problem, they naturally become attached to the solution.
The solution is something Jeff speaks about repeatedly. He believes that where intervention is concerned, it is of maximum importance that the addict is given the solution in the form of treatment, but that they also understand the problem and that they understand that the people who love them are no longer willing to be manipulated. This will be expressed on the day of the intervention. Family and friends will express their pain, their sorrow, but they will also express their resolve – that it’s not going to be business as usual any longer.
Through partnering with the renowned clinician, Dr. Louise Stanger, Jeff has implemented “change agreements” with accountability team meetings designed to move the family system forward. “If that system doesn’t move forward it’s going to defeat treatment and recovery.” Jeff describes it as being akin to going into a using environment that hasn’t changed – it’s going to be too much for those in early recovery. The system remains stagnant, the addict eventually relapses and it’s business as usual with them once again.
Additionally, avoiding the old school dialogue is a component of the new, powerful intervention. It used to be, “How many days am I in? I’m only doing 30.” “No, you’re doing 90.” Jeff’s experience has shown him that if a family agrees to 90, they won’t get a day over 90! For some addicts this is an adequate start but they will still need a year of some kind of treatment. What Jeff is recommending now is instead of getting into the dialogue dance as a family, they say, “You’re going to be there as long as clinically advisable and we’re not going to have a conversation about what’s less and we’re not doing the bare minimum when it’s a disease that wants your life.”
Jeff’s work in intervention is about showing families that this is not less love, it’s loving from a really deep level, a place that says we are not willing to do business as usual. We’re not willing to play by your rules.
Continue to follow our blog for Part Two of Jeff’s interview. For more information on Jeff Merrick and his services, please visit his website www.attorneymerrick.com.