Helping a Loved One Get Help: How to Plan an Intervention

Reviewed Mar 27, 2016

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Summary

  • An intervention is a strategy to engage a person about a problem behavior and motivate the person to get help.
  • It works best when tone is loving and non-confrontational.
  • Interventions require careful planning.

If a loved one needs help for a harmful behavior but refuses it, or denies a problem even exists, you can take action by planning an intervention.

At an intervention, family members, friends, and concerned others join forces to engage a person about a problem behavior in a loving and non-confrontational way and invite the person to get help, explains Phil Scherer, a board-registered interventionist and Director of the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. It can reach people who refuse or are resistant to help for issues such as:

  • substance and alcohol use disorders 
  • addictive or compulsive behaviors, such as with gambling, sex, Internet use, gaming, shopping
  • eating disorders

Planning is vital

A well-carried out intervention involves thoughtful planning and is best done before a crisis happens, notes Scherer. These steps can help guide you:

  • Mobilize a planning team. Ask a few close friends or family members to help you. Talk about the problem and set a goal. An example goal would be for your loved one to agree to enter a treatment program.
  • Research help choices and make all needed arrangements before the intervention. Says Scherer, “If your loved one agrees to your wishes but you don’t have the whole plan in place, the person will likely change their mind in the time it takes to make any needed arrangements.” Think of every detail, from making reservations to deciding who will drive your loved one from the intervention to a care center.
  • Set a time and place. Timing is especially important if your loved one has a drug problem. Pick a time when the person is most likely to be sober and clearheaded, such as after work or first thing in the morning. Choose a comfortable and private location where your loved one would readily go, such as a friend or family member’s home. You also need to decide the approach you will take to get the person to the meeting. Some research suggests that asking a loved one to an intervention works as well if not better than a surprise intervention.
  • Decide whom to invite. Participants should be important to or influential to your loved one and might include close friends and family members, a pastor or rabbi, coach, teacher, roommate, or employer. “You want to invite people who the loved one cannot easily discount,” notes Scherer.
  • Plan what to say. Many people find that writing a letter can help them organize their thoughts and make sure the message is delivered in a loving, caring, and respectful way. The letter should express your love and concern and cite specific cases of how the behavior has caused problems for you and for your loved one. The letter should end with a request that your loved one get help and an expressed willingness to be involved. Try to anticipate how the person will react and be ready to respond to excuses, objections or attempts to bargain. Scherer cautions attendees from blaming, shaming, or passing judgment. “You won’t get anywhere with this approach,” he says.
  • Set consequences. Each participant should be ready to name a consequence should your loved one say no to the group’s terms. “Families and friends often struggle to identify actions they can take that might motivate their loved one to seek help,” says Scherer. Withholding financial help, restricting contact with children, and ending a romantic relationship are some examples.
  • Organize the meeting and rehearse. Choose someone to act as a spokesperson for the group and facilitate the meeting. Make sure participants know the goal, how to plan, and how much time they will have to speak. Decide seating and the order of speakers. Rehearsing the intervention is a good idea. This gives all participants a chance to hear all the letters and to make sure that the collective message is caring and consistent.

After the intervention

If the intervention is successful, you and others close to your loved one should play an active role in healing. This could involve making changes at home or work or finding a new set of friends to lower the chances of relapse. Family or one-on-one counseling can help you and others work through tough emotions and dysfunctional patterns that get in the way of family healing.

If the goals of the intervention are not met, the consequences must go into effect right away. In time, your loved one might make the choice to get help. But Scherer says that this is unlikely if you or others weaken and fail to stick to your plans for the long term. Look for ways to support and hold each other accountable, which can help keep up the group’s unity over time.

Involving a professional

Scherer advises consulting an interventionist, addiction specialist, or other skilled counselor, who can help plan and facilitate the intervention. Moreover, a professional can help family members learn better ways to communicate and look at the problem in the context of the family system. “An important part of intervention is for family members to accept that they play a contributory role in the problem and they too need to make changes for the family to heal,” says Scherer.

Final thoughts

“Intervention involves risk. You risk ending a relationship with somebody you care deeply about in the hope that they will accept your offer of help,” says Scherer. “But doing nothing is also a risk.” A successful intervention offers the chance for personal triumph over a harmful behavior and the chance to restore meaningful relationships.

Resources

The Partnership at Drug-Free.org
(855) 378-4373
www.drugfree.org

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
(800) 662-4357
(800) 487-4889 (TDD)
www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov

Association of Intervention Specialists
(717) 392-8488
www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffrey Foote, Carrie Wilkens, Nicole Kosanke and Stephanie Higgs. Scribner, 2014.

It Takes A Family: A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety by Debra Jay. Hazelden, 2014. 

By Christine Martin
Source: Phil Scherer, CAADC, PCGC, MISA II, BRI II; Intervention: A Free Resource for Addicts, Friends, and Family. Recovery Connection. http://www.recoveryconnection.org/InterventionGuide.pdf; Intervention eBook. Partnership for a Drug-Free America. http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Intervention_Guide.pdf; Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/intervention/MH00127; Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention, 2nd edition, by Jeff Jay and Debra Jay. Hazelden, 2008; Garret, J, Landau-Stanton, J, Stanton, MD, Stellato-Kabat, J, Stellato-Kabat D. “ARISE: a method for engaging reluctant alcohol- and drug-dependent individuals in treatment.” J Subst Abuse Treat.1997;14(3):235-248.

Summary

  • An intervention is a strategy to engage a person about a problem behavior and motivate the person to get help.
  • It works best when tone is loving and non-confrontational.
  • Interventions require careful planning.

If a loved one needs help for a harmful behavior but refuses it, or denies a problem even exists, you can take action by planning an intervention.

At an intervention, family members, friends, and concerned others join forces to engage a person about a problem behavior in a loving and non-confrontational way and invite the person to get help, explains Phil Scherer, a board-registered interventionist and Director of the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. It can reach people who refuse or are resistant to help for issues such as:

  • substance and alcohol use disorders 
  • addictive or compulsive behaviors, such as with gambling, sex, Internet use, gaming, shopping
  • eating disorders

Planning is vital

A well-carried out intervention involves thoughtful planning and is best done before a crisis happens, notes Scherer. These steps can help guide you:

  • Mobilize a planning team. Ask a few close friends or family members to help you. Talk about the problem and set a goal. An example goal would be for your loved one to agree to enter a treatment program.
  • Research help choices and make all needed arrangements before the intervention. Says Scherer, “If your loved one agrees to your wishes but you don’t have the whole plan in place, the person will likely change their mind in the time it takes to make any needed arrangements.” Think of every detail, from making reservations to deciding who will drive your loved one from the intervention to a care center.
  • Set a time and place. Timing is especially important if your loved one has a drug problem. Pick a time when the person is most likely to be sober and clearheaded, such as after work or first thing in the morning. Choose a comfortable and private location where your loved one would readily go, such as a friend or family member’s home. You also need to decide the approach you will take to get the person to the meeting. Some research suggests that asking a loved one to an intervention works as well if not better than a surprise intervention.
  • Decide whom to invite. Participants should be important to or influential to your loved one and might include close friends and family members, a pastor or rabbi, coach, teacher, roommate, or employer. “You want to invite people who the loved one cannot easily discount,” notes Scherer.
  • Plan what to say. Many people find that writing a letter can help them organize their thoughts and make sure the message is delivered in a loving, caring, and respectful way. The letter should express your love and concern and cite specific cases of how the behavior has caused problems for you and for your loved one. The letter should end with a request that your loved one get help and an expressed willingness to be involved. Try to anticipate how the person will react and be ready to respond to excuses, objections or attempts to bargain. Scherer cautions attendees from blaming, shaming, or passing judgment. “You won’t get anywhere with this approach,” he says.
  • Set consequences. Each participant should be ready to name a consequence should your loved one say no to the group’s terms. “Families and friends often struggle to identify actions they can take that might motivate their loved one to seek help,” says Scherer. Withholding financial help, restricting contact with children, and ending a romantic relationship are some examples.
  • Organize the meeting and rehearse. Choose someone to act as a spokesperson for the group and facilitate the meeting. Make sure participants know the goal, how to plan, and how much time they will have to speak. Decide seating and the order of speakers. Rehearsing the intervention is a good idea. This gives all participants a chance to hear all the letters and to make sure that the collective message is caring and consistent.

After the intervention

If the intervention is successful, you and others close to your loved one should play an active role in healing. This could involve making changes at home or work or finding a new set of friends to lower the chances of relapse. Family or one-on-one counseling can help you and others work through tough emotions and dysfunctional patterns that get in the way of family healing.

If the goals of the intervention are not met, the consequences must go into effect right away. In time, your loved one might make the choice to get help. But Scherer says that this is unlikely if you or others weaken and fail to stick to your plans for the long term. Look for ways to support and hold each other accountable, which can help keep up the group’s unity over time.

Involving a professional

Scherer advises consulting an interventionist, addiction specialist, or other skilled counselor, who can help plan and facilitate the intervention. Moreover, a professional can help family members learn better ways to communicate and look at the problem in the context of the family system. “An important part of intervention is for family members to accept that they play a contributory role in the problem and they too need to make changes for the family to heal,” says Scherer.

Final thoughts

“Intervention involves risk. You risk ending a relationship with somebody you care deeply about in the hope that they will accept your offer of help,” says Scherer. “But doing nothing is also a risk.” A successful intervention offers the chance for personal triumph over a harmful behavior and the chance to restore meaningful relationships.

Resources

The Partnership at Drug-Free.org
(855) 378-4373
www.drugfree.org

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
(800) 662-4357
(800) 487-4889 (TDD)
www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov

Association of Intervention Specialists
(717) 392-8488
www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffrey Foote, Carrie Wilkens, Nicole Kosanke and Stephanie Higgs. Scribner, 2014.

It Takes A Family: A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety by Debra Jay. Hazelden, 2014. 

By Christine Martin
Source: Phil Scherer, CAADC, PCGC, MISA II, BRI II; Intervention: A Free Resource for Addicts, Friends, and Family. Recovery Connection. http://www.recoveryconnection.org/InterventionGuide.pdf; Intervention eBook. Partnership for a Drug-Free America. http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Intervention_Guide.pdf; Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/intervention/MH00127; Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention, 2nd edition, by Jeff Jay and Debra Jay. Hazelden, 2008; Garret, J, Landau-Stanton, J, Stanton, MD, Stellato-Kabat, J, Stellato-Kabat D. “ARISE: a method for engaging reluctant alcohol- and drug-dependent individuals in treatment.” J Subst Abuse Treat.1997;14(3):235-248.

Summary

  • An intervention is a strategy to engage a person about a problem behavior and motivate the person to get help.
  • It works best when tone is loving and non-confrontational.
  • Interventions require careful planning.

If a loved one needs help for a harmful behavior but refuses it, or denies a problem even exists, you can take action by planning an intervention.

At an intervention, family members, friends, and concerned others join forces to engage a person about a problem behavior in a loving and non-confrontational way and invite the person to get help, explains Phil Scherer, a board-registered interventionist and Director of the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. It can reach people who refuse or are resistant to help for issues such as:

  • substance and alcohol use disorders 
  • addictive or compulsive behaviors, such as with gambling, sex, Internet use, gaming, shopping
  • eating disorders

Planning is vital

A well-carried out intervention involves thoughtful planning and is best done before a crisis happens, notes Scherer. These steps can help guide you:

  • Mobilize a planning team. Ask a few close friends or family members to help you. Talk about the problem and set a goal. An example goal would be for your loved one to agree to enter a treatment program.
  • Research help choices and make all needed arrangements before the intervention. Says Scherer, “If your loved one agrees to your wishes but you don’t have the whole plan in place, the person will likely change their mind in the time it takes to make any needed arrangements.” Think of every detail, from making reservations to deciding who will drive your loved one from the intervention to a care center.
  • Set a time and place. Timing is especially important if your loved one has a drug problem. Pick a time when the person is most likely to be sober and clearheaded, such as after work or first thing in the morning. Choose a comfortable and private location where your loved one would readily go, such as a friend or family member’s home. You also need to decide the approach you will take to get the person to the meeting. Some research suggests that asking a loved one to an intervention works as well if not better than a surprise intervention.
  • Decide whom to invite. Participants should be important to or influential to your loved one and might include close friends and family members, a pastor or rabbi, coach, teacher, roommate, or employer. “You want to invite people who the loved one cannot easily discount,” notes Scherer.
  • Plan what to say. Many people find that writing a letter can help them organize their thoughts and make sure the message is delivered in a loving, caring, and respectful way. The letter should express your love and concern and cite specific cases of how the behavior has caused problems for you and for your loved one. The letter should end with a request that your loved one get help and an expressed willingness to be involved. Try to anticipate how the person will react and be ready to respond to excuses, objections or attempts to bargain. Scherer cautions attendees from blaming, shaming, or passing judgment. “You won’t get anywhere with this approach,” he says.
  • Set consequences. Each participant should be ready to name a consequence should your loved one say no to the group’s terms. “Families and friends often struggle to identify actions they can take that might motivate their loved one to seek help,” says Scherer. Withholding financial help, restricting contact with children, and ending a romantic relationship are some examples.
  • Organize the meeting and rehearse. Choose someone to act as a spokesperson for the group and facilitate the meeting. Make sure participants know the goal, how to plan, and how much time they will have to speak. Decide seating and the order of speakers. Rehearsing the intervention is a good idea. This gives all participants a chance to hear all the letters and to make sure that the collective message is caring and consistent.

After the intervention

If the intervention is successful, you and others close to your loved one should play an active role in healing. This could involve making changes at home or work or finding a new set of friends to lower the chances of relapse. Family or one-on-one counseling can help you and others work through tough emotions and dysfunctional patterns that get in the way of family healing.

If the goals of the intervention are not met, the consequences must go into effect right away. In time, your loved one might make the choice to get help. But Scherer says that this is unlikely if you or others weaken and fail to stick to your plans for the long term. Look for ways to support and hold each other accountable, which can help keep up the group’s unity over time.

Involving a professional

Scherer advises consulting an interventionist, addiction specialist, or other skilled counselor, who can help plan and facilitate the intervention. Moreover, a professional can help family members learn better ways to communicate and look at the problem in the context of the family system. “An important part of intervention is for family members to accept that they play a contributory role in the problem and they too need to make changes for the family to heal,” says Scherer.

Final thoughts

“Intervention involves risk. You risk ending a relationship with somebody you care deeply about in the hope that they will accept your offer of help,” says Scherer. “But doing nothing is also a risk.” A successful intervention offers the chance for personal triumph over a harmful behavior and the chance to restore meaningful relationships.

Resources

The Partnership at Drug-Free.org
(855) 378-4373
www.drugfree.org

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
(800) 662-4357
(800) 487-4889 (TDD)
www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov

Association of Intervention Specialists
(717) 392-8488
www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffrey Foote, Carrie Wilkens, Nicole Kosanke and Stephanie Higgs. Scribner, 2014.

It Takes A Family: A Cooperative Approach to Lasting Sobriety by Debra Jay. Hazelden, 2014. 

By Christine Martin
Source: Phil Scherer, CAADC, PCGC, MISA II, BRI II; Intervention: A Free Resource for Addicts, Friends, and Family. Recovery Connection. http://www.recoveryconnection.org/InterventionGuide.pdf; Intervention eBook. Partnership for a Drug-Free America. http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Intervention_Guide.pdf; Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/intervention/MH00127; Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention, 2nd edition, by Jeff Jay and Debra Jay. Hazelden, 2008; Garret, J, Landau-Stanton, J, Stanton, MD, Stellato-Kabat, J, Stellato-Kabat D. “ARISE: a method for engaging reluctant alcohol- and drug-dependent individuals in treatment.” J Subst Abuse Treat.1997;14(3):235-248.

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