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How to Plan an Intervention

  1. Select and contact a treatment center.
  2. Engage an interventionist.
  3. Gather the intervention team.
  4. Select the intervention type.
  5. Agree on the ground rules.
  6. Set consequences and boundaries.
  7. Choose the location.
  8. Invite the individual.
  9. Manage the outcome.

When a loved one is struggling with drugs or alcohol, family or friends may want to intervene by holding an intervention to help get the individual into treatment. However, most people faced with this challenge have never tried to stage an intervention before and may not know how to get started, let alone the full process to follow.

When staging an intervention, it’s important to know exactly how the process will go, what to do if things don’t go as planned, and how to follow through on the process to give the individual the best chance at committing to, entering, and completing treatment. The following checklist is designed to be a starting point that can help people who may not otherwise know what to do to get their bearings and plan for this challenging but potentially life-changing event.

checklist

Each step of the process requires thoughtful decision-making, based on the details described below.

1. Select and contact a treatment center.

As emphasized by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in their Principles of Effective Treatment, it is important that treatment be readily available as soon as a person makes the decision to enter rehab. For this reason, it is vital to have a treatment facility ready and waiting to admit the person.

When seeking a facility, there are certain qualities to look out for to make sure that the individual entering treatment has the best chance at long-term recovery. Make sure the facility provides:

  • Research-based treatments
  • Medical support for detox and treatment, if needed
  • Appropriately certified treatment professionals and programs
  • Behavioral therapies
  • An aftercare program
  • Personalized treatment plans based on the individual’s specific needs

The professionals at the treatment center can also provide some guidance in helping to get the individual to agree to treatment. They may be able to refer those who are planning the intervention to resources and other professionals who can help.

2. Engage an interventionist.

One of the professionals who might be able to assist in planning and performing an intervention is an interventionist. These professionals can provide guidance and support in completing the next steps for planning and holding an intervention. As stated by the Association of Intervention Specialists, the goal of this professional’s work is to create a process through which the individual who is engaging in drug or alcohol abuse will be able to hear and listen to the loved ones who are trying to help.

For many people, the idea of hiring someone to help in this process may seem awkward or like an unnecessary expense. However, the specialist can create an intervention process that is more likely to get the loved one into treatment, mitigating the financial and emotional costs of the individual continuing the addiction.

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3. Gather the intervention team.

Once the facility is selected, and with the help of the interventionist, the people planning the intervention can gather other family members and friends who will support the intervention. As described by Mayo Clinic, this team should consist of people who are close to the individual, who the individual trusts, and who also want to support the loved one in getting help.

In order to avoid being too overwhelming or threatening, the group participating in the intervention should be limited – most include fewer than 10 people. All of the individuals included should be ready to participate in a rational, factual manner, with a combination of compassion and objectivity. They all should also be prepared to follow through on the consequences of the loved one not entering treatment, should this be the case. This will help the intervention go smoothly and give it its best chance of success.

4. Select the intervention type.

The classical intervention technique, also known as a Johnson Model intervention, is recommended by the American Psychological Association as the type of intervention that works most readily for families trying to get a loved one to seek help. The process generally involves the following steps:

  • The family or friends getting the individual to agree to meet with them
  • The team presenting a statement of concern about the drug or alcohol abuse
  • Each individual providing a factual account of the addiction’s effects on them
  • The team encouraging the individual to get help
  • The team presenting consequences and boundaries if the individual does not get help
  • Immediate follow-up based on the individual’s decision

When each individual confronts the loved one, they should state how much the loved one is loved, what addictive behaviors have been observed, and how that behavior has affected the team member. It is a loving, personal presentation of the issue.

The specifics of the process are established in the following steps.

5. Agree on the ground rules.

Some basic ground rules make an intervention easier:

  • Emotional control: The intervention should be presented in as objective a manner as possible. Losing tempers or becoming emotionally distraught can make the loved one feel threatened or manipulated, which may have the opposite effect desired. If tempers are lost, it is a good idea for that team member to agree to leave the room until they have calmed down.
  • Objectivity: Basing an intervention on emotional appeal may leave the individual room to continue being in denial about the actual consequences of their addiction. Presenting factual information about the effects of the behavior, on the other hand, can confront the loved one with the negative consequences of drug or alcohol use that might not have been acknowledged before.
  • Follow-through: The next step of the process involves setting consequences and boundaries for the loved one, so the individual knows that the intervention team is serious. A major ground rule is agreement to follow through on those consequences. Without the intention to follow through, the intervention may backfire and the individual may not get the help needed. It may be difficult, but it’s important to the process to stick to the plan.

A professional interventionist can provide a great deal of support with the ground rules. This person is often a steadying presence that can keep the team members on point and focused on the goal of getting help for their loved one.

6. Set consequences and boundaries.

As described on the Association of Intervention Specialists blog, the main message that the intervention team is trying to offer to the person struggling with addiction is, “We love you and things have to change for all of us.” For this message to be driven home, the intervention must be backed with real, irrevocable consequences in the case that the loved one does not agree to get help. This can be the hardest step in the process, but it is necessary to demonstrate that the intervention team is serious about the need for change.

The consequences will usually depend on circumstances regarding the individual. For example, if housing or financial support is being provided to the loved one, a consequence of not getting help may be to have the person move out or remove the financial support. Whatever the consequences are, they must do two things. First, they must actually be of consequence in order to demonstrate that continued drug or alcohol abuse will not be tolerated. Second, they must be able to be upheld and supported by all members of the intervention team.

Again, it can be hard for family and friends to uphold the consequences in the event that the person refuses rehab. However, this is vital to demonstrate the intervention team’s resolve that the person’s behaviors are not acceptable and must be changed.

7. Choose the location.

Choice of location for the intervention can have a profound effect on the process. It can help to have a neutral location selected for the event, such as a hotel conference room or similar location. There are a few reasons for this. For example, neutral ground may help the person feel less cornered while at the same time providing a sense of formality that underscores the seriousness of the situation.

In addition, if the intervention takes place in the individual’s home or another place where the person can retreat to a private space, it may be harder to require them to stay and hear out the entire process.

It can help to be as near to the selected treatment center as possible, so the person can easily be transported and admitted to care as soon as treatment is agreed upon.

8. Invite the individual.

Once all of these details have been worked out, it’s time to invite the loved one to the event. In most cases, the loved one is invited to the event without knowing what it is really about to prevent the possibility of backing out. This may be a good idea if it is suspected that the individual would resist attending otherwise. However, for some people, it may be possible to at least give them an idea that the appointment is to discuss a serious matter. The family and the interventionist can determine the best plan together based on knowledge of the individual and the specific circumstances.

There is always potential that the individual will choose not to come or will leave once the purpose of the gathering is known. It is important to remember that this is not a forced admission to care. It is not possible to force the person to want to enter rehab.

Even more importantly, a forced entry to rehab can harm the trust the individual has for the loved ones who stage the intervention. Working with the individual’s decision makes it more likely that future interventions may work or that the individual will understand the loving way in which help is being offered and make the decision to enter rehab at a later date.

9. Manage the outcome.

Whatever the individual decides, the final step is to follow through on it immediately. If help is accepted, the individual should be admitted to the treatment program right away, while the resolve to change is fresh. This provides the best opportunity for receptiveness to the goals of treatment, motivation to engage in the treatment plan, and subsequent recovery.

Nevertheless, it is a real possibility that, no matter the intentions of the family and friends, or the success in creating a positive intervention, the person may still resist treatment. If this is the case, the consequences should be enacted without delay. The individual should be left to understand that the consequences are based on the family’s inability to support the person’s continued drug or alcohol abuse.

If the intervention is not successful right away, it is also important for the members of the intervention team to get help for themselves, if needed, in dealing with the effects of the individual’s addiction on their lives. The loved one may decide later to enter rehab, or a future intervention may be successful. In the meantime, family and friends should take care of themselves via professional support.
With determination and love, and through focus on following these steps, an intervention may be the best chance for a loved one who is struggling with addiction to get much needed help.