How to Conduct an Intervention: Scripts, Professionals, and More

When a loved one struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, their behaviors and even their personality are likely to change. They may experience financial or legal problems, loss of a job, strained relationships, divorce, mental health problems, and deteriorating physical health. They may suffer from abuse from intimate partners, or they may abuse their intimate partners or children. They may end up in jail, get into a serious accident, or suffer from an overdose.

People who love those struggling with addiction understandably have a hard time watching someone they care for suffer. Naturally, they will want to help. However, it is hard to know the best way to help someone in the midst of an addiction or substance abuse problem. Oftentimes, loved ones may unwittingly enable the behavior in an effort to protect themselves or their children, or they may be unable to take the psychological burden and subsequently remove themselves from the situation.

What Is an Intervention?

Family, partners, and friends all suffer when a loved one struggles with addiction. An important resource that can help everyone who is affected by the addiction is an intervention. This procedure has become popular because of docudrama series like Intervention, but it is not the same process as that portrayed on TV. Whether an intervention is created with the help of a professional interventionist, or developed with just friends and family, there is structure to the process, so ideally, the person struggling with addiction understands the problem and agrees to get help.

It is important that interventions are carefully planned, and the structure is followed during the meeting. An intervention should contain:

  • Specific examples of destructive behaviors the loved one has performed
  • The impact of these specific examples on the assembled friends and family members
  • Statements of specific support that friends and family can offer their loved one
  • Information on a small number of treatment options, researched ahead of time, that may suit the loved one’s health needs and personality
  • Statements from each friend and family member that draw boundaries around the relationship with the loved one, including what they will do if the person refuses to accept help and end their addiction

Interventions are about educating the loved one on potential resources to help them get well. While it is important for those present to let their loved one know that addictive behaviors have been harmful, dwelling on these issues is not likely to prompt the person to agree to seek treatment.

What an Intervention Is Not

To fully understand what an intervention should accomplish, it can be important to know what an intervention should not entail. According to the Association of Professional Intervention Specialists, an intervention is not:

  • Coercive
  • Based in shame
  • Angry
  • Hurtful
  • An ambush

The only way for interventions to be successful is if they are based in love, honesty, and support.

Discussions about emotional hurt, anger, fear, or concern should only come up if they reflect the love of family and friends.

An intervention is not a place to embarrass, shame, or scold the person struggling with addiction; these tactics are more likely to make the person retreat further into substance abuse patterns.

Whether family and friends seek help from a professional interventionist, social worker, clergyperson, spiritual leader, or therapist, or they decide to create the intervention themselves, developing a plan and sticking to it is essential. Friends and family members are likely to be emotionally hurt from their interactions with the person who is struggling with addiction, and it would be easy to deviate into rehashing psychological wounds. This is not helpful for anyone. Friends and family who are able to take on a leadership role, or a professional interventionist, should develop a plan for the event to keep everyone focused on the task at hand.

The plan may contain:

  1. A time and date that works for everyone
  2. Definitions of roles in the intervention, such as meeting leader, who will be present to speak, who will present rehabilitation program information, etc.
  3. A rehearsal schedule so all participants can process and learn to manage any big emotions before confronting their loved one
  4. An overall structure that likely includes:
    1. A small number of stories related to destructive behaviors and a script for these stories
    2. Information about the condition, and medical detox and rehabilitation programs that can help
    3. Specific offers of support during detox and rehabilitation, such as providing transportation to therapy, preparing meals for family members, pet sitting while a person is in inpatient care, etc.
    4. Consequences if the loved one does not get help (e.g., divorce, changes to child visitation arrangements, refusal of financial help, etc.)

There are two basic kinds of interventions:

  1. Do-it-yourself (DIY) interventions: Family and friends create the script and hold the meeting themselves. Even with the DIY model, there should be multiple planning sessions where the intervention team gathers to prep.
  2. Professional interventions: Friends and family members hire a professional interventionist, or other professional, to plan and host the event. Oftentimes, the professional interventionist escorts the individual to treatment following the intervention.

There are different types of structured interventions. For example, a spiritual leader may talk about religious tenants or specific spiritual practices and how substance abuse goes against these philosophies. A doctor may talk about the health consequences of substance abuse and show examples based on tests and diagnoses.

Social workers or drug abuse counselors may conduct a brief intervention, which is a one-on-one meeting, often lasting less than an hour. The professional will speak to the at-risk person about dangerous behaviors and health consequences associated with addiction. Brief interventions typically occur in hospitals after a person has suffered an overdose, in school if a student is suspected of abusing substances, in court-ordered educational programs, or in vocational rehabilitation programs.

The Johnson Model of intervention is the dominant process professional interventionists use when structuring interventions. The intervention team, including medical professionals, family members, and friends, gather and structure a conversation that is geared to motivate the individual to get help. This style of intervention is used to address a variety of issues, including drug and alcohol addiction, behavioral addictions (e.g., gambling addiction, shopping addiction, etc.), eating disorders, or mental health problems like depression or bipolar disorder.

Can a Professional Interventionist Be Helpful?

If friends and family feel too emotionally charged while working on a DIY intervention, they can consult a professional interventionist, social worker, therapist, or other counselor at any time for help. They may ask the person to lead the intervention or simply seek guidance in planning the event. Professional assistance at any level can be extremely helpful, as an outside perspective can guide the process toward the most beneficial conclusion and keep everyone focused.

In some instances, hiring a professional is essential. Professional interventionists are highly recommended if the person who is the subject of the intervention has displayed any of the following:

  • Serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc
  • A history of violence, such as domestic abuse or verbal abuse
  • A history of suicidal talk or attempts, or other self-harming behaviors
  • Polysubstance abuse

How to Find a Professional Interventionist

There are several ways to find a professional interventionist.

  • Ask trusted friends or family for recommendations.
  • Get a referral from a doctor or therapist.
  • Find a social worker, often through a nearby hospital, rehabilitation center, or therapy office.
  • Search local options online.
  • Contact health insurance providers to see if there are options covered by insurance.
  • Contact a community, religious, or spiritual leader for recommendations.
  • Search for options via the Association of Intervention Specialists.

Tips for a Successful Intervention

corrections cultureInterventions are most successful when they are planned and implemented well. If the meeting is structured, especially with help from a professional, interventions can be up to 90 percent successful in convincing the person to get the help they need. For a successful intervention, keep the following in mind:

  • The intervention is about the person who needs help overcoming substance abuse; it is not about anyone else. It is not a plan to vent about past wrongs.
  • Interventions are for education and showing love; they are not about lashing out, shaming, or abusing the person struggling with addiction.
  • Professional help can guide the intervention process in all instances. They are particularly helpful if loved ones are too emotionally involved to create a solid plan or if the subject has a history of violence or mental health issues.

Those struggling with substance abuse may be in denial about the harm they are causing themselves or others, but an intervention can help them understand that their behaviors are hurting those they love, not just their own physical and mental health. If the subject of the intervention knows they have support as they enter medical detox and a comprehensive rehabilitation program, they are more likely to agree to treatment.

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