When meeting with a client to discuss a possible Intervention for a loved one, friend or co-worker, we frequently ask about their current understanding of the Intervention process. Responses tend to be as varied as the clients themselves. Tremendous misconceptions abound. So just what is an Intervention?

Simply stated, an intervention is a well planned, structured, highly personalized process where family, friends, or co-workers come together with one goal in mind: To help the addicted loved one agree to enter a recommended treatment program so that he or she can begin the process of recovery. This process breaks through the denial of someone who is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, an eating disorder or other compulsive behavioral problems. The process is accomplished in an environment that maintains the self-respect of the suffering individual, while avoiding old patterns of resentment, shame, or blame.

As you may have noticed, the key word above is “process.” An Intervention is not a random “event” that depends on luck or happenstance for a successful outcome. When orchestrated by family members or concerned friends, who though well meaning, are themselves victims of the destructive nature of addiction, old patterns of behavior or familiar dialogue typically follow. The stage is set for yet another confrontational event. The addicted individual uses the confrontation to add another layer to the wall of denial behind which they take refuge. Individuals caught in the cycle of addiction become masters at defiance and manipulation. Events such as these leave families divided, and the addict angry, hurt — and paradoxically — in charge! An Intervention conducted with love, care and concern, and facilitated by a trained and experienced professional, presents a very different scenario.

First, Interventions must be designed to meet the unique needs of individuals who are addicted to alcohol or drugs, as well as for those ensnared by compulsive gambling, an eating disorder, or people bound by many other dangerous behaviors. In addition, training of each participant, facilitated by a professional Interventionist, is crucial to avoiding the type of confrontational event described earlier. Two of the most important components in an Intervention are the preparation and the selection of the team that will participate.

Types of Interventions

A Family Intervention deals with family members who are typically tired, angry, frustrated, unsure, confused and afraid. It is hard to admit that their loved one’s broken promises and abuse has taken a toll on the family, making them all victims of the harmful and vicious cycle of addiction. One by one, they have been hurt and used in attempts to offer their addicted loved one “just one more chance.” The Family Intervention process involves unifying the family in a common strategy that focuses on healthy dynamics and setting boundaries for new patterns of behavior. This is accomplished through the carefully structured training and preparation phase. It is crucial that time for such preparation be set-aside in advance. While the focus of a Family Intervention will always remain on the addicted individual, the process will bring healing and restoration to families that have been devastated and divided.

Withdrawing from old friends, poor grades or absenteeism from school, lies, missing money and valuables, a sudden interest in belonging with the “wrong crowd.” All of these behaviors may signify the need for an Adolescent Intervention. Worried, frightened parents of a young person with an alcohol or drug problem, eating disorder or other compulsive behavior, have tried reasoning, grounding, setting stringent curfews, counseling, church, and maybe they have even experienced dealings with the police. Despite all of these best efforts, the adolescent seems more out of control than ever.

Similar to a Family Intervention, preparation for an Adolescent Intervention is critical. Attention is focused on the unique cognitive changes, developmental stages, and peer and family issues that typically occur during adolescence. Attempts to match the type of addiction, the personality and motivation of each youth with an appropriate treatment facility is paramount.

Addiction is also a problem in the workplace. High rates of absenteeism, tardiness, poor productivity, long lunch hours, careless appearance, or expensive mistakes can often be signals that a co-worker or employee is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. An Executive Intervention can be a very compassionate, productive, and cost effective solution to retain the valued employee, and more importantly, guide the person to recovery. Alcohol and drug interventions handled in the business environment include peers, coworkers, supervisors, as well as family members. This type of Intervention is very successful, however the Executive Intervention must be conducted in a careful, confidential, and professional manner.

Key to understanding the Intervention process is an awareness of what an Intervention is not. Intervention is not therapy. Once again, an Intervention has one goal: To help the addicted loved one agree to enter a recommended treatment program so that he or she can begin recovery. This means that the Intervention is not the appropriate time to list all the hurts each person has suffered. It is not the time to figure out the “why” of an addiction. It is also not the place to try to get the addict to make long-term promises about quitting. Most family members, friends, or coworkers have already tried these things and failed. Importantly, an Intervention is not a time to bring people together to “beat up” the addict. He or she is already doing that to him or herself!

What should someone be looking for when seeking a professional Interventionist to assist in getting a loved one into treatment? An Interventionist should be specially trained and certified, and not only in the Intervention process. This individual should be well versed in all forms of substance abuse and other behavioral counseling disciplines so as to be able to recognize addiction and mental health disorders that occur in conjunction with the addiction (such as alcohol induced depression).

Guiding clients to treatment programs that are best suited to helping their addicted friend or loved one is a key responsibility of the Interventionist. The Interventionist should be able to provide concerned family members and friends a comprehensive list of such programs and assist their clients in making contact with the appropriate individual at each facility. Clients are encouraged talk to staff at treatment centers about their experiences with the Interventionist. Ask the Interventionist for references and about his or her credentials as well as participation in organizations such as the Association of Intervention Specialists. Talk with others who have used the services of the Interventionist you are interested in. Ask many questions and talk to many people.

An Intervention is clearly successful when the individual enters treatment. It is also successful when friends and family become united in dealing with the issues that have been tearing them apart. Even when the individual does not choose treatment the day of the Intervention, the likelihood that he or she will make such a choice is greatly enhanced when the loved one can no longer drive a wedge between the team members. There is great strength in unity.
The Intervention process does work. Thousands of once “hopeless cases” enter into treatment and recovery every year. If you are contemplating an Intervention for someone you know, reach out for the help that a professional Interventionist can provide.

Dr. Jerry Law, D.Min., MDAAC, BRI-II, CIP