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Tips for Staging an Intervention

by Kayla Gill on August 29, 2021

When most people think of an intervention, they picture the classic scene that’s often shown in TV shows and movies: a group of family and friends gathering for a meeting in the living room. And while this is one way to do it, there are actually many ways to stage an intervention. Everything from the setting to the addiction treatment professionals who help you can be quite different from what the media portrays.

To begin with, staging an intervention requires more behind-the-scenes planning than you may realize. The more prepared you are, the more you’ll increase your chances of convincing your loved one to get the help they need. What you do to prepare will depend on how you want to stage your intervention and what kind of intervention you want to do.  

So whether you’re ready but simply need encouragement, or you know you want to stage an intervention but don’t know where to begin, keep reading for more facts and professional tips on this challenging but important step. Here, we’ll cover details on the following:

How Interventions Work 

Interventions often become necessary because many people aren’t aware how harmful their behavior actually is to themselves or others. This happens frequently with people who struggle with substance or alcohol use disorders, as denial is an inherent part of addiction1.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), an intervention is a “short-term counseling strategy2 based on motivational enhancement therapy.” In other words, an intervention happens when concerned family and friends gather to try to motivate or convince a loved one to get professional help for their substance use or mental health disorder. 

When successful, an intervention can help your loved one do the following:

  • stop immediately harmful behaviors (like drug consumption) 
  • gain a clearer understanding of the benefits of treatment
  • equip them with the necessary information to get help
  • take steps to get the help they need

The ultimate goal of an intervention is to get someone to change their behavior, preferably by willingly seeking professional help.

How to Know When Someone Needs an Intervention

An intervention can be done for any loved one who has a problem with using substances or alcohol, or has mental health problems preventing them from living their fullest life. Your partner, friend, or family member doesn’t have to “hit rock bottom” for you to feel like you want to help them. 

If someone you know is showing signs of addiction, like engaging in risky behaviors or neglecting normal daily activities, it’s appropriate to host an intervention. Some examples of addictions that interventions have been used for include the ones below:  

If you suspect someone could benefit from an intervention, but aren’t confident moving forward, it’s a good idea to talk to their close friends and family (if you’re comfortable doing so) to have a better understanding of their condition and life situation. Another option is to consult with an intervention professional, which we discuss further below. 

Why Interventions Work 

When a group of people, like family members and significant others, gather to show and voice their genuine concern for the welfare of a mutual loved one, this alone can be a powerful tool to show someone the severity of their addiction and to motivate them to change their behavior. Results from several studies also support this idea. 

An intervention is considered a success when a person commits to treatment, according to the US National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Based on this criteria, the NCADD claims that when performed correctly, intervention success rates are above 90%3

Another U.S. organization, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) reviewed results from numerous studies on the effects of interventions and reported that these studies “suggested that brief intervention can reduce alcohol consumption4 in a substantial number of at-risk or problem drinkers and can facilitate the referral of dependent drinkers into specialized alcoholism treatment.”

What Happens During an Intervention 

In general, an intervention involves family and friends meeting with a loved one to motivate that person to seek treatment. Ideally this is done in a nonthreatening manner and environment. The exact details may be somewhat different depending on which approach you decide to use (see the intervention options discussed below). 

The main difference is that interventions can be done with or without the help of professionals. Below we’ll discuss the two main ways to stage an intervention: 

  • Make a plan to do it on your own.
  • Consult with and involve a professional interventionist. 

DIY Interventions

When you do an intervention yourself it simply means you’re planning, preparing and executing the event without a professional interventionist’s help. This is a realistic option for many people if they feel confident and are committed to thoroughly organizing the intervention. 

The key to staging an intervention on your own is choosing someone, whether yourself or another person, to lead the intervention. The best person to lead an intervention is someone who can stay strong throughout the conversations and can quickly and calmly handle any conflicts that arise. It’s important that the leader of the intervention educates themselves on common arguments that people struggling with addictions use so they know how to address these comments if they come up. Lastly, the intervention leader will be in charge of giving the loved one the choice of going to rehab or not. 

See the Staging an Intervention Checklist below for more preparation tips.  

Even if you don’t hire a professional interventionist, you can still invite a doctor, a therapist, a spiritual or faith leader, or even a licensed alcohol and drug counselor to the intervention. Just be aware that some of these professionals still require fees for their services. 

Professional Intervention Services 

Some mental health specialists are experts at diagnosing disorders and building strategies to solve them. These professionals are interventionists, and if you hire them they can help you through every step of your intervention. 

Working with a professional interventionist is a good idea if the family and friends involved in the intervention (a.k.a. your “intervention group”) have strained relationships, don’t have adequate time to invest in prepping for the intervention, or may be holding on to grudges that prevent them from contributing constructively. In these situations, a professional can act as a “referee,” helping the group process their emotions before the intervention to avoid it becoming a hostile and counterproductive situation. 

As the Mayo Clinic, a U.S. nonprofit medical center, explains, it may also be critical to get help from a professional interventionist5 if your loved one meets the following criteria: 

  • a history of serious mental illness 
  • a history of violence 
  • suicidal behaviors, tendencies or thoughts 
  • current use of mood-altering substances
  • has been to treatment and relapsed 

A professional will know how to safely de-escalate any potentially violent situations and  address self-destructive behaviors during the intervention. 

If you choose a DIY intervention, conflicting emotions and family tensions may come up as you’re preparing. It’s okay to pivot and seek professional help if doing an intervention yourself becomes too difficult. 

To find an interventionist in the U.S., you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) also provides a network of professional interventionists6across North America and Britain.

Different Types of Interventions

As previously mentioned, interventions don’t always just look like a group gathering in the living room. There are several different types of interventions. These may be based on how many and what kinds of people are present, on how the intervention is organized and handled, or on the approach used.

Interventions Based on People Present 

The number of people involved in an intervention can range from one person to a mixed group of loved ones and professionals. 

    • Simple Intervention. This type of intervention happens when one person, such as a close friend or family member, confronts a loved one in a neutral environment to discuss their concerns and develop a treatment plan. 
    • Classic Intervention. A group of people gathering to talk to a loved one in a non-confrontational manner about their need for treatment is considered a classic intervention. Usually the group meets beforehand to set goals, decide each person’s role in the meeting, and plan the event. A professional may or may not be involved, depending on what the group decides.
    • Family Systems Intervention. In some cases family members are collectively involved in enabling a person’s addiction or struggle with substance use disorders themselves. Family systems interventions are intended to address all members of a family and encourage them to get treatment either individually or as a group. Families often have complex dynamics, so this is best done with the help of a professional who specializes in organizing this type of intervention. 
    • Crisis Intervention. This is usually unplanned and happens after a person experiences a potentially threatening or dangerous situation. Family or friends present then confront the loved one and try to persuade them to get treatment. Because of the situations that crisis interventions happen in, emergency workers like paramedics or police officers may be present. 

Interventions Based on Approach

Another way to think about interventions is based on what type of format you’d like it to follow. In general, the following approaches can be used in classic or family systems interventions:

  • Johnson Model.This approach is non-confrontational and focuses on family and friends communicating the facts, evidence and personal effects of a loved one’s substance use with the help of a professional. The interventionist plans the session with the intervention group, who also decide on at least three different treatment options to propose to the person they’ll speak to.
  • ARISE Model. Developed by the AIS as an alternative to the Johnson model, the ARISE approach has three levels that the intervention team works through.
  • Confrontational Approach. This is the type of intervention you usually see in TV shows, and is an aggressive approach that happens when people demand that someone gets treatment. This approach is rarely effective and therefore not recommended by professionals. 
  • Tough Love Intervention. Less aggressive than the confrontational approach, the tough love intervention happens when a group of people surprise a loved one with an intervention in order to persuade them to get help.
  • Love First Approach. The love first approach is less aggressive than the confrontational and tough love interventions. The intervention group typically meets first with an interventionist to develop their plan. Each person also writes a letter to read at the event.

How to Decide Which Approach is Best for You 

Deciding which type of intervention will work best for you, your group and your loved one can be difficult. One of the benefits of working with an interventionist is that they can help you decide the best intervention approach.  

Things to Consider Before Staging an Intervention 

If you’ve decided that an intervention is the right next step to getting help for your loved one, you’ll need to know how much money you should plan on spending and what your ultimate goals are before you begin. 

How Much Interventions Cost 

Unfortunately, in the U.S., interventions alone are not covered by insurance, though the costs of rehab treatment may be. Which means you will be responsible for any professional fees and costs. 

Interventions can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $18,000. This varies greatly depending on what kind of professional you hire and what’s included in their fees. Some professionals charge up front for all associated costs, while others charge per service offered. In general, you can fund a professional intervention for less than $6,000. 

Besides any costs involved with hiring an interventionist and hosting the intervention, your group may also want to plan for the costs of rehab treatment, such as transportation and facility check-in fees. This way, if the intervention is successful, your loved one can immediately get the help they need. 

“Generally the people who thrive here are those who are willing to start their recovery journey,” says Laura Herrman, the Marketing and Outreach Director at Gallus Detox Centers. “However, we do work with a lot of interventionists that have people come in who aren’t necessarily completely willing yet. And what we do when they’re with us is find that motivation for change.”

If you decide to pay for some or all of your loved one’s treatment, be sure to give yourself enough time to research and choose the best substance or alcohol use treatment center for your loved one’s circumstances. 

Setting a Goal for the Intervention 

It’s important that both you and anyone joining you go into the intervention with a clearly defined intervention goal so you can plan your intervention around achieving that goal. A U.S. Surgeon General’s Report published by SAMHSA, explains that “the goals of early intervention7 are to reduce the harms associated with substance misuse, to reduce risk behaviors before they lead to injury, to improve health and social function, and to prevent progression to a disorder and subsequent need for specialty substances use disorder services.” 

Some examples of intervention goals might include your loved one demonstrating the following:  

  • acknowledging the harm in their behavior and the effects it’s had on others
  • taking actions to change their behaviors
  • agreeing to speak to a professional for more information on treatment
  • checking in to a rehab facility
  • scheduling another intervention meeting to discuss the situation further 

Your Staging an Intervention Preparation Checklist 

No matter how you decide to stage an intervention, use the list below to help you prepare.  

  • Decide Which Kind of Intervention You’ll Do. If you choose to hire professionals, get them involved right from the beginning so they can help you with the rest of your planning.
  • Plan Who Will Be Present. If you want a group of people present, stick to a small number who represent the “core” of close family and friends. This group will be your intervention group, or intervention team, and should be involved in the planning and preparation stages. 
  • Pick Your Location. The location will differ depending on what kind of intervention you choose, where your team and your loved one are physically located, and where you believe you’ll be most likely to achieve the goals you set. Above all, the setting for your intervention should be a neutral, safe space for all intervention members to express themselves. The U.S. Surgeon General explains in a report on SAMHSA that “early intervention services8 can be provided in a variety of settings (e.g., school clinics, primary care offices, mental health clinics)”
  • Prepare and Rehearse What to Say. Interventions can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, not just the loved one you’re talking to. Preparing speaking notes or even a script will help everyone keep their emotions in check and stay on topic throughout the process. It’s also a good idea to research and review terms and statements that everyone should avoid saying, like “alcoholic” and “junkie.” 
  • Manage Expectations. TV show interventions often skew our perspectives of what we think will happen. People aren’t necessarily happy to accept help or even open to discussing their problems. Which is why it’s important for your intervention group to establish boundaries and predetermine actions each person will take in case your loved one refuses help.
  • Conduct the Intervention. All of your preparation leads up to the actual intervention. Many people don’t follow through with their plans and aren’t successful at staging the intervention. It takes as much work to follow through as it does to get to this stage. 
  • Follow Up. No matter what the outcome of the intervention is, it’s important that all members uphold statements made during the intervention. For example, if parents say they won’t finance their child’s lifestyle unless they get treatment, they must follow through with that statement.

It’s important to keep in mind that, often, one intervention alone is not enough to motivate someone to take action. And even when someone does take steps to get help, follow-up interventions may be needed to encourage continuing care. 

Start Planning Your Intervention

Staging an intervention requires courage and preparation. Many people see an intervention as their one chance to convince a loved one to get the help they need, which is frequently the truth. That’s why it’s key to make sure you navigate this important moment  correctly and with the right intentions.

We hope the knowledge and information above will help you to confidently move forward with planning your intervention. 

For more on available addiction treatment options, explore our collection of luxury rehabs here.

 

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. “How Denial Can Harm the Treatment of Addiction.” Verywell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/definition-of-denial-22200. Accessed 25 Aug. 2021. []
  2. Enoch, M.-A., & Goldman, D. (2002). Problem drinking and alcoholism: Diagnosis and treatment. American Family Physician, 65(3), 441.
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  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1999). Brief interventions and brief therapies for substance abuse. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64947/
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  4. Fleming, M., & Manwell, L. B. (1999). Brief intervention in primary care settings. Alcohol Research & Health, 23(2), 128–137. []
  5. Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 24, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451 []
  6. Association of intervention specialists—Ais—Certified interventionist. (n.d.). AIS. Retrieved August 24, 2021, from https://www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org/
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  7. Administration (US), S. A. and M. H. S., & General (US), O. of the S. (2016a). Early intervention, treatment, and management of substance use disorders. US Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424859/
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  8. Administration (US), S. A. and M. H. S., & General (US), O. of the S. (2016b). Early intervention, treatment, and management of substance use disorders. US Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424859/ []