How to Host an Intervention for a Family Member
What is an Intervention?
An intervention is an organized attempt by family or friends to get a person to seek professional help (such as entering into a rehab program) for drug or alcohol addiction, or some other serious problem such as compulsive gambling or an eating disorder. Often, an intervention will be done with the help of a counselor or intervention specialist (an “interventionist”). An intervention is primarily directed toward an individual, but can also be focused on the immediate family in order to get them to take responsibility for their drug-addicted or alcoholic family member.
Families and Addiction
An intervention can be frightening for a family. There are many reasons for this. An addict or alcoholic could have been through rehab several times before and have no confidence that it will work again. The family has probably already done a number of versions of interventions in the past – either planned and organized or totally off-the-cuff. Whatever the circumstance, the basic idea of an intervention is that the family is not willing to wait for “rock bottom” to occur. Rock bottom can mean “dead and buried.” The intervention is done in an attempt to halt the decline of the individual – to get them to come to their senses and go to rehab. If this means trying, yet again, when in the past they have failed, then so be it.
One reason it can be necessary to hire a specialist is that the family could have gone about it the wrong way for years. A family is so close in on the problem that it can be very difficult for them to be objective on the subject. Their lives have become inextricably intertwined with the drug user. They have a lot of emotions connected to this individual – sadness, anger, fear, worry, apathy. Some families are in a sort of numbness or denial about the addiction. They long ago started to completely ignore it, or when it does come to the surface it is met with so much volatile emotion that no one really makes any progress. The interventionist must work with the family and then carry that over to working with the addict.
Methods of Intervention
There are different approaches to an intervention. Some think of an intervention as a sort of “ambush” or surprise attack with a banner across the wall with “I-N-T-E-R-V-E-N-T-I-O-N” scrawled on it. An intervention at its best would be a forum where people can communicate freely, but in a factual and analytical context. It does not need to be a dramatic affair.
The generally accepted method of intervention can be traced back to the system developed by Vernon Johnson, an Episcopalian priest and recovered alcoholic who devoted his life to helping alcoholics. In the 1960s, following his own recovery from alcoholism, Johnson developed what has become known as the Johnson Model and co-founded the Johnson Institute in order to provide professional intervention training.
There are other methods of intervention. One is called the Systemic Family Model which focuses on the family of the addict or alcoholic. In a series of meetings, the counselor gets the family to look at their various issues before attempting the intervention meeting with the addict. For example, the family could be fueling or motivating the addiction in ways they may not realize or have thus far refused to acknowledge. The Systemic Family Model seeks to get the family up to the position of really being able to confront and deal with their loved one’s addiction.
Another system is called the ARISE Intervention or the Invitational Intervention. In general, this system invites the participation of the addict or alcoholic in a series of meetings. ARISE maintains that the surprise element of an intervention can be shocking for some and can have a negative effect. Their system focuses on getting the cooperation of the addict or alcoholic in working through the personal and familial issues.
How to Perform an Intervention
It is a good idea to get the help of a professional when organizing an intervention. But whether you are enlisting a counselor’s or pastor’s help, hosting one yourself, or using any of the methods outlined above, there are some general guidelines to follow in performing an intervention:
1. An intervention must be performed within the boundaries of the law. No physical force or restraint should be used. It may be necessary to consult with a lawyer when planning an intervention.
2. The intervention team is put together. Normally this consists of family and friends, and could also include co-workers. Often this is headed up by an intervention specialist.
3. The group meets and plans out the intervention. Each person is encouraged to write down what they want to tell the addict. These messages should be FACTUAL and non-accusatory. Often, people will describe how the addiction makes them feel and focus on how it affects them. It is a good idea to recount specifics as much as possible, such as: “One year ago, I had to bail you out of jail. I was worried sick about you and ended up quitting my job to spend more time with you to try and deal with the problem.” The family will normally express their love for the individual and that they pray and hope the person will take the opportunity being presented.
4. The communication from the family and friends should focus on the facts relating to the addiction, not other issues. When an addiction is properly dealt with, many other issues tend to get resolved as a result.
5. There is a tendency for tempers to flare and a wide range of emotions will come to the surface. For this reason, it is a good idea to practice the intervention ahead of time. The group must agree that the purpose is to get the individual to go to rehab willingly, and is not a forum for venting every complaint. It is not a punitive action.
6. The group should decide whether or not they are going to tell the person they are doing an intervention. They don’t even have to call it an intervention. They could just call it a family meeting. However, they should never lie to the person; the addict could use this as grounds to not cooperate from the beginning. Whatever approach is used, the space of the intervention should be calm and free of distraction. No children should be present. It is best to conduct one in the daytime on the weekend when there is ample time.
7. It is very important that the person is sober. If someone is drunk or high, you’ll only get the booze or the drugs answering. Make sure that they have eaten and have slept as much as possible. Many addicts have a lot of trouble sleeping so this is not always feasible, but you can at least make sure they are not hungry. If he or she has not eaten, you will not have enough of their attention and the meeting could be interrupted with the excuse that they must go eat. You could even have some food available to make it easier.
8. The group should have a treatment center worked out that they want to person to check into, and should know something about the program. They should also be prepared for the person to claim that no rehab program has worked for them in the past – he or she always relapsed. When this occurs, they should stress that the willingness of the individual to make a program work is extremely vital no matter the method of rehab. If they feel they have an approach that the person hasn’t tried that will help them, they can also stress this point.
9. They should also emphasize that the process does not end with rehab. Staying clean and sober is a lifestyle change that someone must work on daily. The family is there to help and support them, and they will not forget about them once they check into a rehab facility.
10. The group may wish to provide an ultimatum to the individual, such as cutting off finances used to support the drug habit, or more severe consequences like being forced to leave the house. But do keep in mind that the person should not feel “ganged up on” or bullied. Even though that may be a component of what you are doing, there is a fine line to walk between ultimatum and appealing to the willingness and innate common sense of the individual.
11. The more willingness you have on the part of the individual, the better. One reason rehab fails is that the person has no interest in it to begin with. A person can agree to go to rehab, yet have no real motivation. You, as a close family member, probably know what makes that person “tick” more than anyone, so you should work that into your approach. Chances are they will not be jumping up and down to go to rehab. Any willingness is better than none. But keep focused on the fact that the more they have a personal stake in it, the more they personally WANT to get clean and sober, the better.
12. Listen to what they have to say. Be a patient listener. When they tell you something, acknowledge it. You don’t have to agree, but at least let them know they’ve been heard. Depending on his or her frame of mind at the time, there is a good chance you’ll get the “addiction talking” and not the person. Drug addiction will make people act like another personality. When you are getting the real person, reinforce that fact. You can tell them point blank (in a friendly manner) that you’d like to hear what they have to say, rather than the drugs or booze. Keep the focus on COMMUNICATION rather than accusation.
13. Be prepared on what you’ll do if they refuse. You can’t make anyone do what they don’t want to do. If you’ve gone about it properly, you should get a positive response. But they will still have to make a sincere effort in order to get the desired results from rehab.
14. You want them to know that they have the full support of their family to get clean and lead a happy, productive, and prosperous life.