Approaches to an Intervention

As the Mayo Clinic explains, an intervention is a structured approach to helping a drug abuser face his addiction and need for treatment. The intervention can be helpful when a substance abuser is in denial about his abuse or behaves in a way that suggests he will not seek treatment on his own, despite the necessity of rehab. Another benefit of an intervention is that concerned parties (four to six is recommended) can join forces to encourage the substance abuser to get help.

An intervention is a well-planned process that can be developed with the help of a doctor, other licensed professional, or an intervention specialist (known as an interventionist). When an interventionist is utilized, he or she will moderate the group of loved ones and affected individuals as they all work together toward the goal of getting the substance abuser to agree to treatment. Also, an interventionist can guide the loved ones through the process of selecting an appropriate treatment center.

In general, interventions include the following features:

  • The substance abuser does not about the intervention, although in more recent times, there is a trend toward not making it a secret
  • Affected individuals telling the substance abuser about specific acts that have been hurtful or detrimental to them
  • Providing the substance abuser with a prearranged plan for treatment that is ready to be set into action if he agrees to rehab
  • Each affected person explaining the consequences of the substance abuser choosing not to go to rehab

A successful intervention is one in which the substance abuser understands that everyone in attendance is there to support his recovery and not to bash or ambush him. Working with a professional to design a well-structured intervention can help to avoid unintentionally creating a hostile environment. As the Mayo Clinic notes, in the case of a substance abuser with a history of violence or a volatile psychiatric illness, it is imperative to ensure the intervention process is safe.

While there is not one golden approach to intervention, a successful meeting is one that has been well prepared, including the members of the intervention doing their best to maintain emotional control and balance in the face of what can be a painful encounter. Intervention members are advised to keep the following principles in mind:

  • Schedule the intervention for when the substance abuse is likely to be sober or lucid.
  • Have one person serve as a point of contact for all members.
  • Hold a rehearsal intervention.
  • Get ready for opposition or even rejection of the rehab offer and plan on some key points to make in response.
  • Ask the substance abuser for an immediate decision.

It is critical to ensure that the intended treatment center is ready to receive the substance abuser as a new admission after the intervention. In the event the substance abuser accepts the offer, it is necessary to strike while the iron is hot and put the rehab plan in motion as soon as possible.

A Compassionate Approach

Intervention is an evolving model. Interventionist Stan Rockwell has been organizing and monitoring these lifesaving meetings for over 40 years and has witnessed seismic shifts in the approaches taken over the decades. As Rockwell characterizes it, early approaches used “in your face” tactics, while later evidence-based techniques focused on change, such as motivational interviewing (i.e., examining attitudes about personal change to help a person get motivated from within to make changes). While other approaches remain in use, a compassionate approach to intervention has gained traction as an intervention model.

Rockwell reviewed a book by veteran interventionist and recovered alcoholic, Howie M., entitled A Compassionate Approach to Addiction Intervention. Howie has conducted over 2,400 interventions over the course of more than 46 years and concludes that although the goal is always treatment, the process must be focused on respecting the substance abuser. An intervention requires a balancing of the substance abuser’s rights and loved one’s concerns about her health and safety. Part of the reason an intervention can turn hostile is that despite the best intentions, loved ones may begin to vent their anger and frustration over any damage the substance abuser has caused. Even in the face of this pain, Howie advocates for exercising the virtues of gentleness, patience, and respect. For this reason, it is critical that members of the intervention prepare themselves mentally for the encounter and make a personal commitment to keeping the treatment goal of the process at the center of their thoughts.

It is important for anyone who is considering staging an intervention to understand that the confrontational approach (designed to break down a substance abuser’s delusions) is not necessarily a recipe for success. Howie’s approach isn’t soft as much as there may just be a misconception that the intervention process needs to be hard. In his book, Howie describes some of his methods for organizing an intervention that can serve as a helpful guide to readers, including:

  • Meeting with and selecting the concerned individuals who will be part of the intervention team
  • Ensuring that the team members are people who will be able to listen to the substance abuser and show compassion
  • Having the intervention team prepare letters that they will read to the substance abuser
  • Making everyone’s safety a priority (it is important to find an appropriate location)
  • Saving the consequences segment for the end and, in some cases, not using it at all

Based on decades of intervention experience, Howie further advises that an intervention is never an end unto itself. Although loved ones may be tired out by the time an intervention is staged, it is important for everyone to see the recovery process as a marathon and not a race. A skilled interventionist can help concerned individuals to ensure efficiency, safety, and respect in the intervention process, but ultimately, the substance abuser will need to make the final decision on treatment. For this reason, the intervention process is also about the intervention team’s acceptance of the outcome.

Infographic: Top Four Models of Intervention

Here is a quick list of four models of intervention. These are the most common disciplines many certified interventionists. Learn more about these models.

Getting Advice on Whether Your Family Needs an Intervention

We understand the concern and care that goes into planning an intervention and we commend family and friends for taking this potentially lifesaving action. Our part in the recovery process is to provide expert addiction rehab services that can help give your loved one a chance to change. But we also have longstanding relationships with many successful interventionists throughout the country who are serious about treatment and not the kickback some centers provide. If you need the services of a professional interventionist, please call (844-567-9906) or contact our admissions team and we will help you consider your options.

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