Major considerations in all interventions include the following:

a. How can I know if the interventionist is any good?

b. How urgent is my situation?

c. What should be the objective of my intervention? Who should participate in the intervention?

d. How should I handle angry, hopeless or reluctant family members?

e. How can we intervene when my family lives all around the country?

f. How much time will be required of the participants? How much elapsed time does an intervention take?

g. Where will the planning meetings and the intervention take place?

h. What kind of treatment works best?

Can my family do an intervention without professional guidance?

Interventions are difficult and delicate matters and it is important that they be done properly. Nearly all interventions can benefit from the advice and counsel of a professional experienced in the intervention process.

Many families waste a great deal of time and effort trying to organize an intervention by themselves and often it is so difficult that the intervention never takes place at all. Sometimes, unfortunately, it does take place and at best nothing happens at all and at worst a great deal of harm is done.

The first thing to do is to seek out the advice and council of an interventionist. At least make the call and talk a little. You don’t have to commit to anything until you are ready.

How can I know if the interventionist is any good?

Specialized training is required to guide a family and work colleagues through the intervention process successfully. Most people, including many in the addiction field, have a simplistic view of interventions, greatly underestimating the knowledge, skill, flexibility, and courage necessary on the part of an interventionist.

Although a background in addictions and human behavior is essential, the normal aims and methods of individual, group and family therapies are insufficient.

The amount of training, experience, skill and supervision among people doing interventions varies considerably, and it is difficult to evaluate an interventionist’s qualifications or performance.

So, when meeting an interventionist for the first time, inquire about how long he or she has been doing interventions, about how he or she conducts interventions.

Develop a sense of whether or not the interventionist knows what he or she is doing. Follow your instincts; you will know.

How urgent is my situation?

The driving force in many interventions is urgency and safety. Do you need to act immediately to save the person’s life, or is this an ongoing problem that does not pose an immediate threat? The answer often determines what actions can be taken.

For example, an elderly couple slowly drinking themselves into the grave is not in as urgent need as a man on a binge with the car keys in his hand.

A family dinner where adult children gather to speak reasonably to their parents about going into treatment could get the attention of the elderly couple, whereas nothing short of an arrest for drunk driving may stop the man on a binge.

Thinking about the level of urgency prior to the initial meeting with the interventionist will make the meeting more productive.

What should be the objective of the intervention?

The relief of suffering is the underlying agenda of any intervention. Changing the self-destructive behavior at the root of suffering is always the focus regardless of the form an intervention may take.

Nearly all families begin the intervention process in the same basic stance: “A person in my family is drinking too much. I worry he will have an accident and die. I want him to stop drinking so he will be happy and the rest of us can stop worrying. Nothing we have done so far has done any good. An intervention is our last hope. Will it work?”

An immediate objective of most interventions is to have the drinker accept help of some sort – detox, residential treatment, outpatient treatment, AA, therapy or some combination of these. The classical model often defines treatment for the drinker as its primary objective.

Sometimes a family can readily understand how changes in their own attitudes and behaviors can be a powerful influence on the drinker and are willing and able to invest time in their own education and treatment.

When this happens the objective of the intervention is broadened into having everyone in the family (including the drinker) accept help of some sort — education, self-help groups, therapy and other forms of appropriate treatment.

Who should participate in the intervention?

In the classical intervention, everyone who is meaningful to the drinker is a candidate for inclusion in the intervention. For a family systems intervention, anyone who is affected by the drinker’s behavior is a candidate for inclusion.

Elderly family members are sometimes not included because of their health or from a desire to minimize stress for them. This is often a mistake and serious consideration should be made to include them whenever possible.

Children are also powerful members of the family, and although they should be protected at all costs, they often can be participants in an intervention to everyone’s benefit including theirs.

Furthermore, the process is not dependent upon the number of people. Successful interventions can occur between a husband and wife or parent and child with little or no involvement from anyone else.

How many people actually participate depends upon many factors; geography and other practical concerns must be considered. If the family is dispersed around the country and some members cannot afford to attend, the intervention can still be conducted.

How should I handle angry, hopeless or reluctant family members?

Always discuss with the interventionist the most realistic and practical approach to use. Do not make decisions about these matters prior to this discussion; the interventionist may have some helpful ideas.

Sometimes people are too angry, too hopeless or too frightened to participate in an intervention. Other family members may want to be there to show support but are truly not interested in learning very much about the situation or in discussing how it has affected them.

Still others may be willing to do whatever it takes, within reason, of course. And still others are very aware that the problem is much larger than just one person and that everyone needs long-term sustained help. It is not uncommon to have all these positions present at the same time in the same family.

How can we intervene when my family lives all around the country?

During the initial stages family members often use the mail, phone and email to communicate with each other and with the interventionist. Sometimes they can only come together for a day at most and preparation work by phone or fax is the only option.

Other times they can come together for a long weekend (3-4 days) and can take advantage of all the benefits of face to face communication.

Sometimes a family member cannot participate fully due to schedule commitments, cost of travel or for other reasons. These situations can be accommodated also. People who cannot be present sometimes write letters that can be used quite effectively.

How much time will be required of the participants?

The minimum time investment usually involves two or three sessions with the interventionist, the time spent on intervention day, and a follow up session. Sometimes this can be reduced even further.

As a practical matter, however, interventions should be viewed as a long-term process requiring a rather large time commitment. Discuss this with your interventionist.

Families often use the intervention process as an opportunity to educate themselves about the illness, to develop an understanding of their role in the drinker’s problems, and to formulate and execute treatment plans for themselves.

Occasionally a family will decide that they want the support of extensive family therapy for the educational and emotional support they need to make the changes in all their lives.

How much elapsed time does an intervention take?

A normal time period is in the range of two to three days to several weeks preparation time prior to intervention day, and as much time as necessary after that. This can vary considerably.

Where will the planning meetings and the intervention take place?

Meetings among the family members, with or without the drinker, can take place anywhere that makes sense including the drinker’s home, the interventionist’s office, a friend’s home, a friend’s office, a church, a hotel room, anywhere at all.

What kind of treatment works best?

There is debate about what kind of treatment works the best. There are choices between inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, AA, and of course the “nothing but the person’s change of heart” approach. An argument can be made for almost any of these treatment approaches.

Sometimes it will be obvious which approach is more suitable. For example, if the person is in an acute crisis, inpatient care is more than likely advisable. Cost considerations also drive treatment decisions. The interventionist could favor one approach over another.

Again, your interventionist has a broad range of knowledge of the treatment resources available. Be open and discuss all these considerations.