Working with the Person Who Contacts Me

Photo credit: jppi, Morguefile

Over the years, I have often received calls and emails from the loved ones of people with addictions, asking for help for their addicted friends and family members.  When they contact me, they often want to tell me all about the other person—wanting to know how they can help them and how I can help them—and they seem surprised when I start asking questions about themselves.

My guess is that because loved ones of addicts have put their own needs on the back burner for such a long time, they are taken aback when someone asks about THEM. Even if I am able to start them talking about themselves, it generally doesn’t take long before they are talking about the addict again. In my experience, this happens over and over again until I name that dynamic for them—and even then, they often forget and begin talking about the other person again.

When an addicted person contacts me for counseling, that generally shows me their level of willingness to begin (or in some cases to continue, for those who have already started on that path) the difficult and courageous journey of self-discovery. But most often, I find that a loved one of an addict will first call me on his or her behalf, asking me to set up an appointment with that person.

While I deeply appreciate the desperation that loved ones are feeling when they initially connect with me, I try to tell them—as soon into our conversation as I can—that the person who is addicted will have to call me themselves to set up a session with me—or even a 15-minute free telephone consultation. I do, however, encourage the loved one who called to come in to see me, at least for one session, so that we can assess how this heartbreaking situation is impacting them and to explore different strategies—such as differentiating between their own ‘enabling’ and ‘helping’ behaviors, as well as how to set and maintain healthier boundaries—they can use when dealing with their addicted loved ones.

My policy today is to first see the person who contacts me—rather than to try to force an addicted person, who may or may not be ready, to come in. And, time and time again, I see what a relief it is for the loved ones who set up a session with me to finally have someone to talk to who can understand their painful dilemma and offer some sound suggestions that actually work.