Heart to Heart: The Honorable Approach to Motivational Intervention is primarily a cookbook for those who desire a thorough understanding of my intervention process. The book describes intervention as a tool to help the lay public, paraprofessionals, and established professionals. It is a quick read, intended to acquaint the reader to my method of intervention. It’s sort of a bird’s-eye view of the Storti Intervention process.  -Ed Storti

Success Steps of the Intervention

Throughout my research, I have found specific reasons for the success of an intervention. In other words, ask me why this process works, and I will tell you three critical points that must be taken to ensure the success of an intervention.

First and foremost is surprise. The prospective patient is caught off-guard with this bold presentation, this gift of solution for his/her well-being. This is not a “Judas” act, rather a necessary step to create a temporary imbalance of the addict’s defenses. In actuality, I have found that the addict is usually relieved, quiet and agreeable, always retaining his/her dignity. It is not as if the person were kidnapped and taken somewhere “for their own good”. It is more along the lines of a spontaneous group visit from those who love the person most. It may not be an especially festive occasion, but it is still a happy, powerful surprise.

The surprise takes place anywhere, depending on the circumstances surrounding the loved one. There have been times it has been held in a hospital, at the airport, in a hotel room, at the person’s own home, in a car or on a yacht—wherever it can be counted on that the addict will be available and the meeting will be private. The most normal and comfortable setting is the patient’s home.

The people-mix or presence is the next step that influences the success of an intervention. One of the easiest ways to imagine an intervention in terms of the people who participate is to see the loved one as if he was at his own funeral; the other participants are those who would gather round to honor his life. Who would be the pallbearers, who would give the eulogy? Using the Storti Model of Intervention, it is critical to have a dedicated, motivating and united group.

Usually, eight to twelve people (though it can be slightly more or less) participate, and the group is not limited only to family members. In fact, there is a certain power outsiders carry that goes a long way toward inspiring the dependent. Someone he hasn’t seen in years can be very inspiring; an old coach or friend from college, or a mentor from years past, often holds more power than the family members do. Another “user” (another alcoholic or person with the same addiction, whether they themselves are recovering or not) is also often helpful. The intervention specialist must monitor this involvement so that the patient does not become defensive and see it as a matter of “who’s calling the kettle black?” A lot of times, though, a person with the same addiction, someone “coming from the same place” as the addict, is able to appeal to the dependent on equal ground and thus, their words of encouragement carry more weight.

On the other hand, caution must be used with someone who has just been through a treatment center and wants to get his spouse/loved one, etc. to do the same thing. Sometimes a person bubbling with the enthusiasm of their newly-found recovery can influence the addict the opposite way in which it is intended. The people-mix is very important, and the intervention specialist can help the nucleus group in the assessment of the types of people (friends, relatives, clergy, doctor, etc.) that should be considered.

I often include special guests in an intervention, as they can reach the addict where the family cannot, for whatever reason. A special guest may be someone with the same addiction, as mentioned before, with a similar background or living circumstances as the patient (someone that the patient may not know). It may be someone in the same profession who is in his own recovery, a special friend or old college pal, a boss or co-worker. These people connect to the addict from a different aspect of the addict’s life than the family does and may remind him of a part of themselves or their lives they thought was lost. It gives them another ray of hope to know they are cared about outside the family. The whole presentation is likened to the Ralph Edwards’ “This Is Your Life” show, where everyone is present to honor the selected individual by reminding them of their loving history.

Another dimension of the people-mix is the audio/visual presence in an intervention. It is common to have letters of caring and concern from particular relatives and/or friends who would like to participate but could not be there in person. In the same vein, audio and video tapes may be presented. These are usually only referred to and shared for a minute or two and then left for the loved one to read or watch or listen to on his own. This is often the best way to include children who are important in the patient’s life. In one case in which I intervened on an elderly woman, I read excerpts from a letter one of her grandchildren had written, and then the woman wanted to hear from others who had written. She was not nearly as impressed with the relatives who were sitting in front of her as she was by the children who had written about their love for her and their hope for her well-being.

The participation of young children in an intervention is an issue that must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The intervention specialist must gauge the stability of the child and anxiety level toward the addicted person, as well as their knowledge of the problem. Usually this information comes from the parent. The responsibility for contacting the participants and providing any equipment needed to use audio/visual lies with the core of participants who were part of the assessment.

The third part of making the intervention a success is in the genuineness of the participants. The group members normally make it clear right away that they are there out of love for the addict, that they feel good about participating and would have felt left out otherwise. Humor is allowable when it comes naturally, but not sarcasm or teasing. Intervention is a rescue mission from the heart and everyone must tread lightly. This is not the time to point to things the loved one has done (or not done) or to showcase the consequences of his addiction; these are better left to be discussed in subsequent therapy.

I was quite concerned about this issue in one particular case where we were intervening on a woman alcoholic, since her husband was an engineer. He was very precise and analytical, and I hesitated to call upon him for fear he would outline his wife’s drunken escapades and the damage she had caused with certain people. But I will never forget the moment when he spoke. The man got up from his chair, knelt down in front of his wife, and said, “I love you, Marianne, and no matter what happens, I will always love you. And right now, in front of all these people, I want to rededicate myself to you, because you mean everything to me.” It was so emotional. All of us were teary-eyed to witness such a sincere endearment, especially from one who is normally so rational and unemotional. At that moment I remembered my underlying faith and spirituality in the intervention process.

In another case, a football coach whom the patient had not seen for five years was a special guest. He had mentioned that he wanted to memorize something to say when it was his turn to speak. I was a little reluctant about this, too, because the key to the presentation is spontaneity and sincerity of the words each person says at the time. Eventually, however, I conceded. As it turned out, the coach recited a poem that the whole team had learned in training about a man looking in the mirror and being totally honest with himself. It was so touching to see this big, athletic, normally outspoken man repeating this insightful piece of poetry. He had never been a man of words, per se, but the poem had touched his life through sports, and he was able to use it again to touch the life of a young athlete.

This area of being genuine is what the Storti Model cannot provide on its own. There is a “magic”, a spirituality of the group that transcends structure and is actually the core of the intervention. I am continually amazed at the simple eloquence of people.

Another tool I have used to help people put aside their anger or hostility toward the addict is to have them imagine I am a physician who has just given them the news that the patient has only a short while (maybe an hour) to live. From this perspective I would ask “What do you want to say to this person?”

This is not an attempt to excuse or gloss over what the addict may have done or said that has been hurtful to others—an intervention is just not the time to discuss these issues. This time will come in therapy, in treatment, or learning to detach with love.