Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

An Intervention Of Love

June 26, 2000

An intervention is a method for getting an addict to commit to getting help for their alcohol or drug problem. It is a decisive and loving attempt to break through a disease of denial.

Paul Brunsberg of the Lost and Found Ministry in Moorhead, Minnesota, taught me about interventions. The standard and widely accepted method for doing an intervention is called the Johnson Institute method developed in the early 1960s. Using this method, there is an 80-90 percent chance of success.

Planning an intervention. The family meets with an intervention specialist. They are given two assignments. The first assignment is to gather a group together and to decide on a recovery program - inpatient treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous, outpatient treatment - they want their family member to use.

They are then to invite up to 12 intimate friends or family members - as young as 8 or 9 - to come to a meeting. The word intervention is not used. "Would you come to a meeting where we can sit down and discuss how to help Bob?"

The people who are invited should have direct knowledge about the chemical dependency problem and/or changes in personality, values or behavior. Former drinking associates who are now sober can be included. The meeting is lead by two trained intervention specialists who have had good recovery themselves.

Caution should be taken about inviting people who have a drinking problem themselves. Those who are angry with the alcoholic should not be invited. Sometimes, even a spouse may not be included if marital conflict might interfere with the process. A spouse might come to the planning meeting but not attend the actual intervention because of the potential for conflict.

No intervention is better than a bad intervention. A bad intervention is when people dump anger, lay on guilt, give opinions and accusations, and are oppositional and confrontive in nature. Love has to be demonstrated.

When an intervention is done right, there is no such thing as a failed intervention. It may result in a delayed reaction in a month or even six months later. Family and friends feel relief they have taken a responsible step for their loved one. The alcoholic remembers the faces and voices whenever he or she drinks.

Preparing for the intervention meeting is important. The group meets, gets acquainted, and each person says what he or she knows. Sometimes they are taught about the disease concept of alcoholism. Each person who will participate in the intervention is then given an assignment to write down precisely what they are going to say during the intervention. A second meeting is held to discuss the details of the intervention and to role play the speeches and order each will take during the intervention.

The intervention is to be kept a secret. Nothing is left to chance. Assignments are made about who will get Bob there, how the cars will be hidden, etc. An intervention is most effective after a drinking episode while the alcoholic is still sick. The group is prepared and ready to act on short notice.

The Intervention. The group sits in a semi-circle in pre-assigned seats and has a designated order of speaking. The intervention proceeds "by the book." Bob is seated and one of the two interventionists says, "Bob, your family and friends have gathered today to share some information with you. Would you listen to them?" and gets a commitment. Then a trusted friend or family member who has credibility with Bob is the first speaker.

In order, each speaker then gives their prepared thoughts, first stating their love and concern and then the "facts" about they have observed. These facts are said with love - without criticism or anger. Bob can handle anger, not tears. The facts chip away at denial.

If Bob interrupts, the interventionist firmly but gently reminds Bob of his commitment to listen to what his friends and family have to say. Bob’s most trusted friend is the last to speak. He or she shares the plan for recovery and all the arrangements that have been made. Everyone in the room individually states their consent with the plan.

The second interventionist then asks, "Bob, these people love you, do you agree?" If Bob agrees, each person expresses their love and appreciation to Bob and the intervention is over. Bob is not left alone until the plan goes into effect.

The consequences. If Bob says, "No thank you," round two begins. This time each person expresses their personal consequences for Bob if he doesn’t follow through. These are not threats. They are actions that will be carried out. They are said in a loving and caring manner. If Bob interrupts, the interventionist reminds Bob that he agreed to listen.

After the group finishes, the interventionist then tries to get a commitment for following through with the plan. If Bob refuses again, round three goes into effect.

The interventionists share their story. From their own background they talk about their experiences with addiction. One shares his or her story of recovery and the positive things that have happened. The other interventionist takes the opposite approach and describes in horrific detail the negative consequences of alcoholism.

If Bob says no again, he is thanked for listening, and given a chance to share his feelings. Then everyone in the room gets up and one by one gives Bob an expression of love and concern before they leave. The intervention ends the same way whether or not Bob agrees with the plan. An intervention begins and ends with love.