Denial is a hallmark of untreated addiction. Without the mental ability to justify and rationalize one's behavioral choices and the related consequences, many addicts would experience too much emotional pain to continue feeding their addiction. The thought processes that help an addict deny and defend their addiction are comforting and protective, even if denial is confusing to the point sometimes of being out of touch with reality. Reality is, in fact, what the addict is trying to resist.
Intervention is a technique for breaking through an addict's denial processes. Rather than wait for the fabled “bottom” to bring an addict to his or her knees with the realization that there's a problem, some loved ones, coworkers and friends of addicts will engage in intervention tactics to break the addiction cycle before it's too late. Often, caring individuals will employ the services of a professional interventionist to facilitate the process.
Interventionists are addiction professionals who can assist people involved with an addict to confront the addict in an organized, meaningful and productive manner, with the goal of realization by the addict (sometimes called the “identified patient”) that a problem exists. A parallel goal of intervention is sometimes referred to as “raising the bottom,” a reference to older notions that before sobriety can be achieved, an addict must reach the end of their own level of tolerance for their addiction's consequences. Studies have demonstrated that both types of treatment patients – self-referred and those having gone through an intervention – have the same chance of experiencing inpatient treatment as a positive thing. Treatment of virtually any addiction – to drugs or alcohol, gambling, sex, spending, or eating disorders – might be started or re-started with such interventions. The Association of Intervention Specialists claims that more than 90 percent of addicts will accept treatment following a successful intervention.
Once a plan is established, individuals who can provide influence in the intervention (generally from among the addict’s coworkers, family members and friends) are contacted and informed of their role in the intervention. The interventionist trains the group prior to the actual time of intervention, and then facilitates the gathering.-Back to Top-
While there are some aspects of interventions that are quite similar across the board, each experience should be tailored for the needs of the people involved, both those of the addict and their caring individuals. There's more to a successful, compassionate intervention than simply confronting the addict without a plan. In fact, preparation is essential and an intervention that is not conducted skillfully can be more detrimental – to everyone involved – than helpful for anyone involved.
There are two basic models that professional interventionists might use as a foundation for their own services:
Considered the introduction of the intervention concept, The Johnson Institute Model is based on the now-classic book I'll Quit Tomorrow published in 1973 by Dr. Vernon Johnson. The focus is on the addicted individual's traits and their behavioral choices that have resulted in the need for intervention.
Twenty years after Dr. Johnson introduced intervention, his successor, Dr. James Fearing, fine-tuned the model to incorporate family systems theory into the intervention process. The addict is not the only person being served; rather, he or she is part of a group, all of whom participate in the recovery process. In this model, the interventionist's role is as liaison between the identified patient and their family.
Other models are often combinations of components from both of the original models, with variations of techniques or focus. In general, the earliest forms of intervention have transformed over the years toward being less adversarial in nature and more compassionate toward everyone's needs.
According to Dr. James Fearing, the field of intervention has changed for the better in its relatively brief history, but there still is no formal certification program or even standardized testing to assure that professionals who hang the interventionist shingle are well qualified. He recommends hiring only interventionists who are certified as addiction treatment professionals, but he also points out that an estimated 50 to 70 percent of addicts being treated for substance abuse have additional diagnosable mental health problems. Therefore, clinicians facilitating interventions should either be trained in dual disorders or have immediate access to colleagues who meet those qualifications.
When looking to hire an interventionist, Dr. Fearing suggests inquiring about the following areas for each professional candidate:
Finally, it is customary to ask treatment centers for a referral list of recommended interventionist.
The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) provides a member listing on their website. The AIS is not a governing or certification organization; it is a network of professionals who agree to adhere to the AIS Code of Ethics, which describes appropriate stances and behavior regarding:
Enlisting the assistance of a professional interventionist feels like a big step and can be a difficult choice to make. The question of whether or not to call a professional for help is soon followed by the question of when. Loved ones who wish to intervene might wonder if they're pushing too hard, too soon.
The fact is that some forms of brief intervention have been demonstrated to be helpful even for people who are not severely addicted. In such cases, facilitated intervention might actually prevent someone with the potential to become an addict from going any farther down that path.