How to Set up an Intervention for a Client

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) explains that an intervention is an event that is directed by a trained professional to discuss a person’s addiction issues. An intervention is usually a face-to-face meeting with the interventionist, those who are concerned about someone’s drug or alcohol use, and the person who has been struggling with substance abuse.

An intervention is meant to honestly and seriously pose concern for a person who is struggling with a problem and to communicate this concern directly to the person. While it may not be a secret that someone is abusing drugs or alcohol, or facing negative consequences from substance use, people may be in denial or feel very ambivalent about their circumstances. They may feel that their lives are manageable, even in the face of legal, relationship, financial, or employment problems. Because drug and alcohol use impairs the user’s ability to think clearly, the person who is the subject of the intervention may not have a good understanding of how serious the situation has become until confronted with the facts from outside sources.

An intervention is an opportunity for family, friends, and others to talk about concrete examples of the challenges they are observing in order for the person to have a clearer picture of what the substance abuse is doing, and how it is eroding positive aspects of life. Hopefully, the intervention helps the drug or alcohol user decide to make a change before even more serious consequences occur.

Mayo Clinic recognizes that it can be difficult to help those who are struggling with addiction, but points out that direct communication can be a productive start to initiating recovery. There is strength in numbers; though the person may have heard from various people individually about the issue, a focused conversation with a team of people can have a much stronger impact. This conversation is focused and pointed – the message is clear: The substance abuse issue is hurting everyone, and professional help is needed.

Types of Interventions

doctor helping set up an intervention for an addict

There are various types of interventions – the Johnson Model, crisis interventions, and family system interventions, among others – and each model involves a different planning and implementation process. Professionals who stage interventions generally specialize in a specific type of intervention.

Doctors, therapists, and other professionals who may be involved in setting up an intervention for a client generally refer concerned family members and friends to a professional interventionist. In some instances, therapists who specialize in addiction treatment may stage the intervention themselves; however, generally, a professional interventionist handles the entire process from start to finish.

Some interventions involve the person struggling with addiction in the entire process, including the planning meetings. More traditional models of intervention, like the Johnson Model, involve a surprise approach, where the person is invited to a location where the intervention team members confront the person regarding the substance abuse issue. When choosing the type of intervention to use, it’s important to consider the individual in question and how that person would react to each approach.

Who Should Attend the Intervention?

According to NCADD, it is typical for friends, family, and those who the individual respects or has a history with to attend the intervention. A professional interventionist will ask the people nearest the client to identify who should be present. Possibilities include:

  • Parents
  • Spouses
  • Siblings
  • Friends
  • Coworkers
  • Spiritual leaders

In some instances, it may be appropriate to have children present at an intervention, but this should be assessed on an individual basis. The child’s maturity should be considered, and if an emotionally charged atmosphere is anticipated, it may be better to ask the child to write a letter for someone to read at the intervention.

Having the right mix of people present can provide a fuller breadth of information in the meeting. People from different segments of the person’s life are able to point out different kinds of negative consequences of substance abuse, and more fully able to indicate the extent of concern, and future support, involved.

How the Intervention Works

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) explains that the intervention is centered on a caring approach, and the overall tone of the meeting should be one of empathy. The group is not there to judge or intimidate; the point is to inform and set up clear expectations of the next steps in a compassionate way. Each person present should agree on the kinds of messages that will be given in the intervention before it begins: supportive, predictable, and caring. Messages should center on facts, not on opinions. Giving specific examples of how substance abuse has caused a negative effect is most useful.

There is a series of steps that Mayo Clinic recommends should be part of the overall intervention. The first critical step is to have a plan. Professionals can guide the intervention planning process and the actual event, and increase the likelihood of a positive end result.

Assemble as much information as possible about the extent of the problem before the intervention. Find out what there is to know about the kinds of substances being used, the kinds of activities or behaviors involved, and the possible paths to treatment and recovery.

Once the intervention team has been formed, a date and place are selected for the intervention. Again, consistent messages are essential. The group will meet before the intervention date to rehearse. Though the process is highly emotional, participants should aim to keep the rehearsed messages centered on facts. Messages should be delivered with empathy and concern. The goal is for the subject of the intervention to feel loved and supported rather than attacked.

During the planning sessions, the interventionist will discuss consequences with the intervention team members. These consequences are what will happen if the subject of the intervention does not seek help. Consequences may vary, depending on the people who are on the intervention team. For example, a spouse may decide to move out if the person doesn’t seek help, or a loved one may withhold financial support if the person doesn’t agree to go to rehab.

Because the intervention is such an emotionally charged event, each person should prepare ahead of time. Sometimes, participants will read letters they have written. The interventionist will lead the discussion, ensuring it stays on track. Typically, the interventionist will ask the subject of the intervention to decide then and there if they will accept help and agree to treatment.

Finding an Interventionist

Including a professional interventionist is one of the single most important components of a healthy, productive intervention. NCADD explains that these specialists are trained as substance abuse experts who are equipped to handle complex situations and can provide guidance, especially in cases that are complicated by:

  • A history of violence
  • The presence of serious mental illness
  • Indications of suicidal behavior
  • Use of mood-altering drugs or combinations of substances

The interventionist’s role is to take into account the unique specifics of each intervention, and plan and guide the intervention toward a positive outcome. Treatment centers can generally provide referrals to interventionists. Listings of interventionists can also be found at the Association for Intervention Specialists, a professional network of interventionists around the world.

An intervention is often the starting point to guide a loved one or client toward treatment and to initiate recovery when someone is not ready to do it alone. Of course, some people will not accept help, but the presence of an interventionist increases the likelihood of a successful intervention. An intervention can be carried out safely, with love and care, and begin the process of healing and hope for everyone involved.

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