The television show “Intervention” has both helped and hurt interventionists. On one hand, the program allows people to know that such a service exists. The show provided families the opportunity to see that action can be taken before the substance user asks for help or hits bottom. The drawback is the show’s portrayal of the interventionist’s role in the process, seemingly emphasizing the notion of the intervention being just about getting the substance user to treatment. A professional interventionist ideally seeks to achieve the substance user accepting help. At the same time, a primary goal of the interventionist should be to help the family heal, regardless of the substance user’s decision.
The role of an interventionist is to help families understand where they are in the madness and why. An interventionist is not brought in to act as a motivational speaker for the substance user, to function as the family’s primary therapist, or to delve into family secrets. An interventionist’s primary role is to help build the bridge to the family’s recovery while helping them understand the substance user’s behaviors and their reaction to those behaviors. A professional interventionist company should be composed of more than a single interventionist. The more people working on your team through the various stages, the better off the family may become. There are many good professional interventionists who operate alone. However, the problem that arises is their availability and support to the family after the intervention when the inevitable volatility surfaces between the substance user and family members.
What a Professional Interventionist Should Be Doing from Start to Finish
Phase 1: The Initial Inquiry of the Intervention Process
The intervention process starts with an inquiry into how we can help the loved one abusing drugs or alcohol. During this process, the interventionist seeks to identify the various roles and behaviors of each family member. This will help to identify where each family member is in their willingness to follow through with a formal intervention. For those family members who so choose, a goal of this phase is to begin a family consultation process. This is the time when the intervention is explained, and family members are allowed to interact and discuss their feelings and thoughts about moving forward with a professional interventionist.
Phase 2: Intervention Scheduling and Assessment
Once the family has committed to the intervention process, the two to three days needed for the intervention are scheduled. An assessment packet utilizing ASAM, DSM-5, and ASI criteria is sent to the family. Treatment plans are discussed based on assessment data provided by the family. The family also receives guidelines for the intervention letters to be written to their loved one. Family members are encouraged to focus on writing their letters and should be reassured knowing professionals are involved in the process. It is expected that the family will get last minute jitters, and that is OK. The professional interventionist team should be available to answer any questions.
Phase 3: Interventionist Arrival and Family Education
During this meeting the interventionist discusses your situation utilizing our addiction intervention manual as a guide. Understanding addiction is very helpful to help a family understand what the substance user is experiencing. This goal of this process is to help families see the effects of the addiction on their own behavior and be introduced to strategies they can utilize to encourage their loved one to accept help. When families see how this process connects their behaviors to comforting the substance user, it allows them to have confidence in the boundaries they set for themselves.
Phase 4: The in-Person Intervention with Family Members and the Substance User
This is where the rubber meets the road. During this phase, the interventionist takes on the role of facilitator and directs the intervention. The family is brought in when asked to read the letters they have written and reviewed during the family education phase. At this point, the family should be prepared for the intervention, have decisions made on boundaries, and follow through regardless of their loved one’s decision. This phase can take very little time or could continue for a good part of the day, depending on forward momentum. If the interventionist is gaining ground, the process moves forward until an acceptance of help occurs. If the substance user digs in his or her heels, the intervention team regroups and consults with the family.
Phase 5: Acceptance or Refusal of Help
Two outcomes are possible: the loved one either accepts or declines the help. Regardless of that decision, a professional interventionist should have prepared you to be ready for your family’s recovery. If the substance user accepts help, he or she is escorted that day to the treatment program, most often by the interventionist. If the substance user declines help, and the family agrees to explain to the loved one their boundaries and consequences, the interventionist regroups and processes with the family what has happened. It is important that the family commits to following through with their boundaries, irrespective of the manipulations of the addict or alcoholic. The family should be ready to remind the substance user that any further discussion would be on the consequences of not seeking help. The interventionist team should be prepared to assist the family through this process until the substance user agrees to accept their gift.
Phase 6: Continued Support from the Interventionist Team
Whatever the outcome, the intervention team needs to be available to handle the emotions and the inevitable volatility. If the substance user declines the gift, the family will need to be provided support as to how to address the refusal. If the substance user accepts, the family will need assistance handling their emotional detox as well as the separation anxiety as a result of the loved one going into treatment. Accepting help and leaving the home can cause families to go into a tailspin as they will want and need to react to and communicate with their loved one. There will be times when the family must be talked off the ledge from wanting to interfere with their loved one’s treatment. Change, even positive change, can evoke uncomfortable emotions. An intervention resulting in the substance user accepting help requires far more support than interventions that end in a decline for help. No matter the outcome, the family will need support.
Hopefully, the family is aware of the complicated role of the interventionist. Understanding the need for a team to support the family through the process can make a difference in the overall results. An interventionist who operates alone or with a small support staff could certainly be helpful and effective for some phases of an intervention. However, the ongoing support is the most time consuming and crucial part of the process. The family will be relieved to have a team to help them get through it. A family would hesitate to send their loved one to a treatment center that takes in only a few people. This may be a helpful consideration when choosing your interventionist. Your intervention team is ultimately your family’s temporary treatment team until the family can be bridged to their individual recovery resources.
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
Intervention Myths and Facts
Let’s address some of the common myths that people have about interventions, and set the record straight. You can also find answers to intervention FAQs here.
A Professional Interventionist Should Have a Goal of Providing Closure for the Family
An intervention can certainly help convince a substance user to accept assistance. Ongoing intervention support can increase the likelihood of continued sobriety within the family’s boundaries. And when effectively and professionally executed, family members should feel better after the intervention than they did previously, regardless of the outcome. Not all outcomes end with the substance user accepting help. Not every addict or alcoholic who accepts help stays in treatment or maintains sobriety from that point forward. Having no direct control over what the substance user is going to do is all the more reason for the family to do everything they can to empower themselves through their own recovery. The only control a family has is control over themselves. A family is most likely never going to be satisfied if their loved one declines help, leaves treatment early, or relapses. An interventionist can help family members understand enough about the addiction and their relation to it so that, should the loved one decline help, the family can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they did all they could.
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