By SARA ARTHURS
Chances are, you don’t like to be confronted — most people don’t.
So an internationally renowned psychologist who created a nonconfrontational approach to “intervention” with substance abusers came to Findlay to teach others this week.
Robert Meyers, Ph.D., has been in the addiction field for 39 years, with 23 of those at the University of New Mexico.
He developed the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), an evidence-based program used to engage resistant substance abusers to enter treatment. Currently director of Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D. and Associates and a research associate professor emeritus in psychology at the University of New Mexico’s Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addiction, he has delivered training in 31 states and 15 countries. He has published more than 100 scientific articles or chapters and co-authored five books and one manual on addiction treatment, including “Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading and Threatening.”
He led a training for family members and professionals at First Presbyterian Church this week, sponsored by the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services. In an interview Wednesday, he said the CRAFT approach teaches “different ways to interact.”
He doesn’t advise yelling, arguing or getting angry.
“Never judge anybody,” Meyers said. “Never lecture anybody.”
He said it is “all about engagement” — engaging the drinker to not only enter treatment, but stay there. The idea is to let the person focus on what they themselves want to do.
He said it’s best if you can get people into treatment sooner, rather than letting things get worse and worse.
CRAFT also looks at when the best time is to talk to the person. Meyers said it is best to approach them when they are more lucid and in a good mood.
Meyers also teaches positive communication skills, so people can talk in an understanding and empathetic way. The idea is to treat people in a way that there are “no judgments” and to try to keep upbeat when they are sober.
One approach might be, if the family member is themselves going to therapy regularly, they might invite the substance abuser to come along for a session.
“This is a process and it’s going to take some time,” Meyers said.
Meyers said his own father was an alcoholic and it caused great stress for his mother, so when he began research as a psychologist, he was looking for ways to help people like her.
He said it was good to see people in Findlay wanting to learn this evidence-based approach.
“It does really work,” he said.
Research studies have found that CRAFT may get 64 to 86 percent of cases into treatment, a higher rate than the Johnson Intervention or Al-Anon, according to an ADAMHS brochure.
Meyers’ research has also looked at the health of the loved ones themselves: their anxiety, depression and anger along with physical symptoms such as headaches or gastrointestinal issues. They’ve found that these subsided after learning this approach. So, he said, even if a wife doesn’t get her husband into treatment, she may reduce her own depression through the training.
Meyers said many family members judge themselves for their loved ones’ drug use, saying things like, “I must have been a bad mother.” He teaches them, “This is not your fault.”
Family members’ self-esteem is often at a very low level, and a goal is to help them empower themselves and take back their own lives.
Meyers said more than 90 percent of attendees at his trainings are women.
“I can’t figure out why,” he said. “I wish I could.”
Whether a substance abuser or not, “No one likes to be confronted,” said Amber Wolfrom, deputy director of the Hancock County ADAMHS Board.
And, Wolfrom said, the person generally already knows their life isn’t the way they want it to be.
“You’re not telling them anything new,” she said.
So it is about engaging the person to seek help. Wolfrom said it’s not contradictory to what ADAMHS already practices.
“It’s another layer of hope and compassion and understanding” for family who try to protect and surround and “engage” the person with the substance abuse, she said.
Misty Gobeil, substance abuse therapist at Century Health and Tree Line, said many family members trying to get their loved ones into treatment say, “I don’t know what to do.” This training will help give them tools they need.
She sees often “the helplessness.” People love their family members, but can no longer support how they are living, she said. And there are so many dilemmas, such as wondering if they give them money for food they are supporting their habit.
Gobeil encouraged a “nonjudgmental stance.” To an outsider, it may seem easy to judge a mother who lets her drug-abusing son live in her home but, as she pointed out, “A mom is going to be a mom forever.”
Jonna Brendle, counselor and clinical manager at A Renewed Mind, said a lot of family members are not sure “where to go” and feel frustrated.
Wolfrom said 36 people attended this week’s session and they represented “a good mix.” Some, like Brendle and Gobeil, are professionals, but others were family members.
Wolfrom found people “energized” by the training.
“What I’m hearing is, ‘Oh, this is how we could do this,'” she said.