When a loved one’s life becomes devastated by a substance use disorder, watching their descent is nothing short of heartbreaking. Family members and close friends feel increasingly hamstrung and helpless. The disease continues to gain traction. Your loved one is unresponsive to pleas for them to get help.
What can you do to break through to them?
An intervention is a facilitated gathering that gives family members or close friends a forum to describe to their loved one just how the substance use disorder has affected them. Interventions have been in practice for decades, but Episcopal preacher, Vernon Johnson, originated the modern concept of staging interventions in the 1960s.
When is an intervention necessary?
As substance dependence or addiction takes hold, it becomes incredibly difficult for the affected individual to discern the damage being done to others. When repeated pleas prove ineffective at reaching a struggling loved one, an intervention provides an opportunity for close friends and family members to address their concerns under the guidance of an addiction specialist who is trained to manage these delicate encounters.
During an intervention, the facilitator and team provide guidance and assistance to the family members as they communicate their feelings and concerns to their afflicted loved one. The goal of the intervention is to persuade the loved one to agree to get treatment for the substance use disorder.
Planning an intervention
Prior to an intervention, family members meet with a facilitator and any other intervention team members. The reasons for this preparatory meeting include:
- Allowing family members the chance to gain a sense of trust with the interventionist.
- Providing the interventionist with needed details about the loved one’s substance use disorder, mental health status and any other important information.
- Deciding which of the family members will read letters to the loved one.
- Determining which model — the “surprise model” or the heads up model” — to use for the meeting.
- Rehearsing the basic script and preparing for the possible outcomes.
What happens during an intervention?
The interventionist makes a plan for the family members to gather together in a comfortable and familiar setting on a particular date. The loved one will either be invited to attend or will be surprised by the gathering, depending on the facilitator’s guidance.
At the gathering, the interventionist will introduce themselves to the loved one and explain that the attending family members and friends wish to share their concerns. Participants then deliver prepared messages to demonstrate their heartfelt care and concern. The aim is to find words that will resonate.
The primary role of the interventionist is to facilitate and mitigate the process, helping the participants to stay on task. Interventions can be somewhat emotional and unpredictable, but the facilitator will manage any issues that arise.
The loved one may flatly deny they have a problem, or even become defensive, agitated or angry. Participants, however, are coached to remain calm while the interventionist continues to guide the meeting forward.
Each participant will include in their letter or script a description of boundaries and consequences for the loved one should they decline to get treatment. These must be very clearly articulated, and followed through on should they refuse to seek treatment. Finally, the interventionist poses the question to the loved one, “Will you agree to get treatment?” with the hopes that they will answer “yes.”
After an intervention
In the event the loved one agrees to receive treatment, it is cause for celebration. The family should be prepared in advance by having a short list of treatment programs and insurance coverage details handy.
If the loved one isn’t yet ready to commit to sobriety, all is not lost. Seeds will have been planted that will hopefully sprout in the not too distant future.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.