Intervention: Principles and Practicalities

A family’s decision to set up a structured intervention to confront the self-destructive behaviours of a loved one in the hopes of persuading them to seek professional help is, for the most part,  motivated by powerful emotions.  Failure to recognise the kinds of feelings that may underpin the desire to undertake an intervention could see the process go horribly wrong and even become counterproductive.

Preventing emotions from undermining the process

The kinds of interrelated emotions at play include fear, anger, resentment, hurt, grievance, helplessness, despair and loss of control. There is commonly an underlying co-dependent desperation to get the loved one to change; for them to give up their addictive attachments to alcohol, drugs or behaviours without delay for everyone’s sake.  There may be a urge to punish or seek some sort of payback for wrongs suffered or endured or to achieve a measure of control over the wayward individual. None of these attitudes are likely to help. To ensure they do not undermine the purpose, they must be named and honestly aired in advance by those seeking to take part.  If it is clear that any family member cannot get past such feelings they should not be included in the intervention team.

Consistency to the empathic approach is essential

The group conducting the intervention should be limited in number and must keep consistently to an emotional perspective of love, compassion and care. An intervention is not a court of righteous moral judgement. The empathic purpose is to help the person to face and acknowledge the grip that addiction has over them as a first step to seeking help, for which it is made clear there will be ongoing support. Each person will tell their family member what has been causing them such concern for the subject’s wellbeing, being as specific as possible.  

Guidance from a professional interventionist

A professional interventionist will advise that detailed and careful preparation is vital, including choosing a neutral venue to which the family member is invited. Personal perspectives will have been individually written. They should not be too long. They should be clear and straightforward. Other members of the team should review these in advance so that all the letters have collective approval. A sequence is agreed as will how and by whom the process will be introduced.  Treatment options will have been carefully investigated with the intervention team agreeing which one to present as being, in its reasoned opinion, the best for the person at this time.  It is essential for each member to be clear about the consequences as far as they are personally concerned should treatment be refused.

Preparing for reactions

The team will have discussed the possible range of reactions which may be shown by the subject of the intervention and on this point, if not before, the advice of an experienced specialist would be wise. Whatever the outcome, following the intervention each family member should turn to their own sources of support.

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