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How Do You Stage an Intervention?

Denial is one of the most destructive forces that can work against an addict’s successful transition into recovery. It’s difficult to watch someone you care about hurt themselves and those around them (including you) through their addictive behavior, and feel helpless to do anything about it because they refuse to admit they have a problem and/or refuse to seek professional help for it.

An addiction intervention is a formal, structured method of presenting the addict with an opportunity to really see the effects their addiction is having on their loved ones. The purpose of an intervention is not to force the addict into treatment, but rather to try and give them the motivation to want a better life for themselves.

Staging an intervention is like the next stages of addiction recovery in that the best way to approach it is with the help of an experienced professional. An interventionist is a psychologist, psychotherapist, mental health counselor or other licensed mental health care professional who specializes in addiction treatment and who has intervention experience. The interventionist can help you prepare for and execute the intervention in ways that will best yield the desired result: to have your loved one willingly enter a rehabilitation program.

Before the Intervention

The interventionist will work with you to come up with an intervention plan. The first step is to plan the “who”: assemble a list of people who agree to participate in the intervention. A group of about half a dozen people is a good size — friends and family interventions are common, but, if appropriate, the group can also include people like the addict’s colleague or religious advisor. Every person involved must be stable and committed to sticking to the intervention plan, and should be liked and trusted by the subject of the intervention. The only person in attendance the addict won’t know is the interventionist.

Participating in an Intervention: What to Say

When planning what to say to your loved one during an intervention, it’s important to be specific. Include examples of the addict’s destructive behavior and how it made you feel. Describe exactly what action you will be forced to take — such as cutting off financial support, refusing to visit or let your children visit them, etc. — if the addict refuses the treatment plan. Also offer them positive encouragement, i.e., that you want them to get treatment because you believe they can get better, and because they are a great (warm, talented, smart, strong) person who deserves to heal.

┬áNext is the “what”: it’s important for each person involved in the intervention to know what they are going to say. They should write it down and practice, and bring the written version or notes with them to the intervention. The entire intervention group should get together at least once to run through what they plan to say and what is expected to happen on the day — it can be very helpful to have the interventionist attend this meeting, as well.

The “when” and the “where” of the intervention should be planned with the goals of choosing a time when the addict will be sober, if possible, and a place where they will feel comfortable.

During the Intervention

On the day of the intervention, your loved one will come or be brought to the location of the intervention on a pretense; for the intervention to have the most impact, it’s important that they don’t know about it in advance.

Despite your best efforts to frame the intervention as constructive and non-accusatory, many times the person who is the focus of the intervention will feel defensive and judged, and maybe like all the people they know and love best are ganging up on them, especially if they are still holding on to their denial about their condition.

Whether it is an eating disorder intervention, alcoholism intervention or other drug intervention, be prepared for resistance. You may already have experienced this resistance if you have tried unsuccessfully in the past to talk to your loved one about their addiction. When caught off-guard by a collective confrontation of their addictive behavior, they may react even more strongly, possibly displaying rage, aggression and even violence. They may try to leave the intervention venue.

In the emotionally charged situation that an intervention inevitably creates, the interventionist serves the important role of mediator and objective voice of reason. They can help to keep reactions in check and to keep the intervention proceeding as practiced. They can also be the one to present the specific treatment plan that you have worked together to prearrange for your loved one.

After the Intervention

Ideally, the result of the intervention will be that the addict agrees to enter the prearranged treatment program, usually at an inpatient rehabilitation center.

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