Intervention – Being an Attorney & Interventionist

Part Two of Our Interview with Jeff Merrick

Intervention on a family systems level has given attorney, Jeff Merrick, and the families he serves a second chance at life.  “Sometimes, the most usefulness I have – and it’s the most powerful position I am probably ever in – is to not take a particular case and let that family know that my help might be a contingency that their loved one’s recovery depends on.   Meaning that they shouldn’t just give unconditional legal support any more than they should give unconditional monetary support to someone in their addiction.”   Jeff tries to empower families with the knowledge that a legal crisis often presents powerful motivators for change, and new partners such as the court, and probation, in bridging their loved one to necessary but often unwanted treatment.   “Often a client refusing help will agree to go to treatment when they understand I really cannot help them effectively avoid serious jail time unless they are helping themselves.”

“I’m a much better lawyer when I realize that these are often disguised opportunities for intervention.  I am really not serving my client’s best interests when I focus only on their drug charges, how to beat a DUI.   I have to explore every defense obviously, but the best defense is often to stay out of custody and spend time that would otherwise be wasted away in jail or even prison getting the life skills and recovery that addresses their underlying addiction.”  Without this help, Jeff explains, most addicted clients will graduate to more serious crimes and descend into worsening addiction, alcoholism and untreated mental health disorders.  Jail time, he adds, almost always produces worse criminal behaviors and thinking, not at all unlike addictive thinking.

Remembering what it was like to live in the darkness of his own addiction fuels Jeff’s desire to bring his best self to the table today.  An addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol while practicing law produced several  moments of demoralization, and he remembers the insanity of the disease as it took him further away from his family and friends.  He was doing drug cases and giving legal services to addicted friends.  At that time he says he never had a dealer he didn’t love and never had a dealer without a case.  He was busy!

Jeff’s best solution during his lowest point – the solution to being high in court, having close calls and clients whose freedom hinged on his defense – was not to stop using drugs but to stop practicing law.  So he definitely understands the skewed thinking of an addict: the solutions they come up with to avoid the pain of looking within, the back peddling, blaming and manipulation of the family.  In terms of guilt and manipulation, Jeff has witnessed the solutions of today’s addict, operating on all cylinders to make sure that they train their family system to help them avoid not just pain but any consequences to their behaviors.

“Everyone doesn’t have to be a black belt in Al-Anon to get some very simple rules of the game,” says Jeff.  Unknowingly, families and friends  keep removing the addict’s pain, but this prevents the addicted loved one from seeing their problem.  When families manage for that loved one what they have lost the ability to manage for themselves, they become a part of the problem.  Jeff and the professionals he collaborates with take on the challenge of healing the family system through positive actions and teamwork.  He facilitates open dialogue and works toward taking out of the equation all the guilt, shame and fear that motivates a parent to continue attempting to remove the pain of their adult child and transforming it into positive action.

Jeff with intervention partner, Dr. Louise Stanger.

Jeff with intervention partner, Dr. Louise Stanger.

While Jeff worked in treatment he witnessed more and more families taking tours of the facilities without their addicted loved one but describing the amenities and surroundings to them on the phone.  When the young addict was a part of the visit, it was usually a round-trip because the parent left the door open to say, “I really don’t like this treatment.”  This kind of disguised unwillingness that comes up with, “Well, I’ll check out what kind of treatment center you come up with – but then I’m going to pick it apart and I’m going to show you who’s in control.  And I’m not really willing to do that.  I’m willing to do outpatient.”  Which would be fine if an addict used on an outpatient basis but they use 24/7 and manipulate 24/7.   Most addicts don’t get better on an outpatient basis.

Part of what happens in an intervention is that parents and friends realize that they don’t have power where they thought they did, but that they have more power than they ever thought.  Jeff tries to pass along to the families he works with the real power of the Serenity Prayer – “a message so important that we close every meeting with it, whether it be AA or Al-Alon.”  Jeff adds that this helps us remember that while we must accept powerlessness over people and behaviors over which we have no control, we also have to find the courage to change the things we can.  “And this basically comes down to power over our own choices and behaviors and the call to action that comes from joining in the difficult work of moving forward.”

As to our own behaviors, Jeff explains, “we get to say as an intervention team we will only support health and wellness – no more helping addiction and no more staying stuck in the problem.”  When we surrender the power we don’t have, he explains, there can be powerful re-alignment, a united front where everyone detaches from the problem and attaches to the solution.   “Intervention works best when it comes from a place that tells the addicted loved one not what he or she is going to do differently but what his family and friends are going to do differently.”

This is such an important aspect of the work that Jeff says most interventions cannot succeed without it.   “Long-term recovery depends on the whole system changing.  A family that stays stuck in old behaviors can be just as bad as returning to an old using environment or a favorite bar.”    Working in a treatment center was really eye opening for Jeff on this front.   He saw several clients, often the subject of successful interventions, leave treatment after just a couple weeks with mothers and husband “getaway drivers”, clients who would return too early after treatment to their parents’ homes, or furnished apartments and with no real aftercare or sober living plans.   “Too many interventions stop when the loved one goes off to treatment. This is a mistake that ignores the long-term planning and strategies that successful recovery requires. Short-term goals lead to very poor results in my experience.   The intervention process must continue if success in recovery is to continue. ”

Continue to follow our blog for Part Three of Jeff’s interview. For more information on Jeff Merrick and his services, please visit his website

  • David Cunningham
    Posted at 08:36h, 04 June Reply

    Love these two people that continue to help those still suffering…………..

  • Sandi
    Posted at 12:30h, 04 June Reply

    We know first hand how attuned Jeff is to his clients , possessing a great deal of empathy tempered with intellect, background and forward thinking We have highest praise for this guy!!

  • Coleen H.
    Posted at 12:27h, 05 June Reply

    Terrific article. So great to be reminded of the importance of the whole family’s commitment to continue a life of recovery and wellness.

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