What Is An Intervention?

By Mitchell E. Wallick PhD CAP CAGC

The most difficult part of dealing with addiction is that the addict does not feel that they have a problem. In fact, most are quite convinced that the problem is not theirs, but everyone else’s.

Irrational thinking is most apparent to rational people. Those looking in from the outside clearly see the destructive behavior of the addict. Unfortunately as a result of the illness, this is not even a thought in the head of the addict.

Those who love the addict recognize their need for help. For those of us in the field, we have a clear understanding that the movement to recovery occurs when the fear of changing becomes less than the pain of the disease. An intervention is helping the addict feel his/her consequences are so great that they have no choice but to seek treatment.

After years in practice I have learned that those planning an intervention must overcome their natural feelings of not wanting to betray, to protect and otherwise not anger the addict. Prior to explaining specifically how an intervention is organized and occurs, I think that it is important that we look at the underlying philosophy and purpose of an intervention.

An intervention is an act of love. It is providing someone with what they need, even if it is not what they want. In truth, that is real love. Protecting someone from horrible consequences by interrupting or preventing the dangerous behavior is what an intervention does. It accomplishes this by making the pain of the illness greater than the fear of changing quickly. It does this by using painful consequences that do not have the deadly effect of allowing the disease to take the addict to its natural end of institutions, insanity or death.

In deciding to do an intervention one must decide the following:

1. Do I love the person enough to give them what they need instead of what they want?

2. Is it better to have the person angry with them for a few days, or to be angry with themselves for the rest of their lives because they could have done something and chose not to?

Having made the decision to do an intervention, one must take the following steps:

1. Who is going to be involved in the intervention? People who care about the person and recognize the problem of the addict is of course the obvious answer. Additional qualifications for an intervention participant need to be taken into consideration:

a. Is the person strong enough to follow through with consequences if they need to?

b. Can the person hold their temper and control their emotions during the intervention?

c. Can this person be trusted not to warn the addict either deliberately or accidentally?

d. Will the person be a positive or negative influence on the addict? One must remember that some people are like fire and gasoline, and those will automatically make the addict resist.

2. Decide on the intervention leader. This can either be a friend, a family member, or a professional. If the family can afford it, it is a good idea to hire a professional interventionist. If they can’t then the family and friends can do it without professional help. Here are the steps to take:

a. Decide on a time and place for the intervention to take place.

b. Choose a leader.

c. Have each person write a letter to the addict. The letter should be in three parts:

i. I love you very much, however; I cannot continue to accept your negative behaviors. On _______date you__________ and you scared me. (eg. Ran over the baby’s bicycle in the yard). I cannot stand by and watch you kill yourself. Please accept the gift of treatment that we are offering you.

If the addict responds yes, immediately put those into the car or plane and off they go to treatment. If the addict says no, then the second part of the letter is read. ii. If you choose not to accept treatment the following consequences will occur. (List the things that will happen. Eg: we will not help you with money, you will lose your job, you will not be allowed to see family members, your marriage will end, etc. )

Again if the addict agrees to treatment, off they go. If not step three occurs:

iii. Consequences are implemented. Families must hold strong. The consequences that they have threatened must be implemented and adhered to. This means if the addict makes contact, the first question asked is, “are you ready to go for treatment?” If the answer is yes, off they go. If the answer is no, hang up the phone. Prior to the intervention participants should practice reading their letters. They should also have someone role play the addict so that they are prepared to answer any objections or obstacles the addict may raise to treatment. (eg. I need to take care of my dog. Someone has to be ready to assume that responsibility taking away the excuse from the addict).

Also prior to the intervention, a treatment program should be chosen and a bed reserved. The program will be able to tell you what additional arrangements for admission must be made.

In closing, I would ask you to remember, love is giving a person what they need not what they want. Cowards will back down. I hope and pray that those who read this and know someone who needs an intervention will stand up and have the courage to save a life.

Mitchell E. Wallick PhD CAP CAGC is Executive Director of Professional Training Association @ CARE.