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How to Troubleshoot an Intervention

Some specific tips regarding the planning and staging of the intervention can help prevent or troubleshoot potential problems:

  1. Select the appropriate intervention team.
  2. Rehearse the intervention.
  3. Maintain objectivity.
  4. Anticipate objections.
  5. Stay on track.
  6. Follow through.
  7. Get professional support.

When a family plans an intervention to help a loved one get treatment for drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, there is always the possibility that something can go wrong. The high emotional intensity surrounding addiction and the effects it has on family and friends can result in disruption to even the most carefully planned intervention event.

Troubleshooting the issues that may arise before the event is held can help in keeping an intervention on track and making the process run as smoothly as possible. In addition, knowing what to do during the intervention if unexpected problems arise can keep the whole process from being derailed, giving the loved one a better chance at making the decision to enter a treatment program.

1. Select the appropriate intervention team.

One major challenge of staging an intervention is getting the individual to feel that the situation is not threatening or confrontational. To further this goal, it is important that the members of the intervention team be people whom the individual has a close relationship with, or who have a positive effect on the person’s life. The people who are involved in the intervention should be able to emphasize their love and support of the person while still standing firm that continued substance abuse will not be tolerated.

The American Psychological Association describes the fact that the members of the intervention team need to be able to address both the needs of the individual and their own needs as well. If there are family or friends who mean a great deal to the individual but who may end up losing their temper or who may possibly be enabling the drug abuse, it’s best to avoid having them at the intervention. If their influence is important, they can write an objective letter that can be read by someone else at the intervention.

All members of the intervention team should be prepared to follow through on any promises or consequences presented to the loved one during the intervention. If any individual feels that it would be impossible to enforce the consequences, that person is best not included on the intervention team. One member of the intervention team should be assigned as the central contact point and coordinator to manage the rest of the team and help in making these determinations.

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Troubleshoot issues

2. Keep strong emotions in check.

Another reason to be careful about the family and friends who are on the intervention team is the potential for moments of intense emotional response to the circumstances. While emotions are a major element of the reason for holding an intervention, enabling emotional outbursts during the process can be counterproductive. For example, responding to the loved one’s denial of there being a severe problem by getting angry may only serve to cause the person to withdraw further, refuse to listen, or walk out of the intervention. Some of these strong emotions may even result in the session turning violent, which is to be avoided at all costs.

To prevent this, it’s important for all team members to agree to keep strong emotions in check and present objective accounts of the effects the individual’s substance abuse has on the members of the intervention team. While these accounts necessarily include the team members’ emotional responses to the addictive behaviors, it is important to keep the emotions themselves in check as much as possible.

If, during the intervention, a team member’s emotions get out of control, it is up to the other members of the team to help that person get under control and refocus on the situation at hand and on the established intervention plan. Knowing how to get anger or other emotions under control in advance can mitigate this problem if it occurs unexpectedly during the intervention. The American Psychological Association provides tips that may help intervention team members. These can help to keep strong emotions from derailing the whole session.

3. Anticipate issues or objections.

As explained by Mayo Clinic, the individual for whom the intervention is staged probably wouldn’t need an intervention if there was already a willingness to get help. Because of this, it is likely that the person will come up with objections or reasons not to enter the treatment program that has been selected by the team. The individual may try to bargain for a different type of treatment, such as shorter-term outpatient treatment or participation in 12-Step meetings only. To keep this from derailing the plan, the intervention team should prepare in advance for any objections and have responses to them.

For example, if the individual is a single parent, arrange for childcare in advance so an objection about being unable to leave the children is countered. Other offers that can be helpful include:

  • Providing financial support
  • Arranging for a leave of absence from work
  • Agreeing to attend counseling sessions together
  • Offering immediate travel to the rehab center

Preparing for potential objections in advance can help to avoid another way that the individual can derail the intervention, keeping the team on task and focused.

4. Stay on track.

As has been mentioned several times above, sticking with the plan is vital to the chances of its success. Per Mayo Clinic, the loved one may try to derail the intervention through a variety of behaviors, such as:

  • Bargaining for a different result
  • Accusing team members of betrayal or hypocrisy
  • Becoming angry or violent
  • Withdrawing or ignoring team members

The intervention team should be prepared for any of these behaviors, and others, and maintain resolve to stick to the plan no matter what the individual might do to try to alter the situation. Any member of the team going back on the agreements made in the planning process can result in a failed intervention and ongoing emotional tension that results from resentment and frustration.

If any team member begins to be drawn off track, it is the responsibility of other team members to gently return to the plan and guide each other to maintain resolve that the agreed-upon treatment plan is the only acceptable outcome of the intervention.

5. Follow through.

Similarly, it is important that each team member is prepared to follow through on the consequences set during the planning process if the individual should refuse treatment. Again, the subject of the intervention may try to bargain the consequences down. However, as explained by Psychology Today, this also can result in a failed intervention because the person does not feel enough pressure to get help.

Consequences for refusing to enter rehab often feel harsh. They can include withdrawal of financial support or housing, separation or divorce, or refusal to let them see children. It can be challenging to resolve to implement these consequences if the loved one refuses help. However, it is also important for family members and friends to take care of themselves. The point of an intervention is to change the circumstances of the drug abuse; if the person refuses to change, then other changes must be made to protect friends and family from the risks of the loved one’s drug abuse.

In addition, it helps to remember that the individual who is dealing with the consequences of drug or alcohol abuse is more likely to reconsider treatment when the effects of the consequences are being keenly felt. This can result in the failed intervention turning into a success after the fact.

6. Rehearse the intervention.

Because a key element of an intervention is the ability for the team to stick to the plan, it can be helpful to hold a rehearsal of the intervention before the actual event occurs. This can help settle nervousness, bring any unexpected issues to the team’s attention, and solidify the resolve of the team to follow through with all elements of the intervention plan.

In addition, by rehearsing, team members can recognize where emotions might be higher, where unanticipated objections might arise, and whether or not each person can truly stick to the plan. It makes it possible to adjust any weak points in the plan before the loved one is confronted. In other words, many of the above issues can be avoided or mitigated by having a rehearsal first.

7. Get professional support.

One of the best tips to help with all the potential issues that might arise before, during, or after an intervention is to engage a professional interventionist to help with the planning and staging of the intervention. Organizations like the Association of Intervention Specialists emphasize that these professionals have the overarching goal to help family and friends guide the loved one toward getting treatment. These professionals have training and experience with a variety of intervention types, potential snags or challenges in the process, and ways to troubleshoot problems.
However the intervention is handled, knowing in advance where problems may occur and how to work through or troubleshoot them is key to holding a sincere, loving, and resolute event with the highest likelihood that an individual struggling with drug or alcohol abuse will get needed help. In addition, a successful intervention makes it more likely that family and friends will all share in recovery from their loved one’s addiction.