How to Conduct an Effective Intervention (Part 2)

February 6, 2017

BCC Note: This post is the second of two posts. It completes an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies an “Overcoming Addiction” seminar that Brad developed. This portion is an appendix to the seminar.

Phase Two: During the Intervention

Once you get to the intervention, the only surprises should be whether your friend shows up and how he or she responds at the end. If you prepare well, everything in the middle should be well established. Here are some suggestions for the intervention.

  • Remember the Objective: Your goal is to prompt your loved one to engage the recovery process. When you begin to think your goal is to “save your loved one,” the dynamics of the meeting will become much more emotionally intense. Review the meeting objective with the intervention team prior to the meeting.
  • Never Meet Resistance Head On: If the intervention becomes an argument or debate, you lose; the likelihood your friend will begin to engage recovery will diminish significantly. The following points are meant to help you “roll with the resistance” that is likely in the intervention without delving into debate or conceding to your friend’s perspective.
    • Stay emotionally even keeled. When you display anger or exasperation, you are a distraction from your point. Your friend can focus on how you’re talking instead of what you’re saying. Being at peace with the idea that you can’t change anyone and that your responsibility is to speak the truth in love (i.e., in the most receivable manner under the circumstances) will help you remain even-keeled.
    • Evidence good listening. At the beginning of the meeting you said you would listen. So, listen. If your friend begins to talk for a long time and doesn’t want to be interrupted, ask if you can take notes, because what is being said is important to you. Begin what you say, when it’s your turn to speak, with a summary of what you’ve heard; this is not a time for rebuttal. Represent the tone and content of his or her words fairly when you summarize.
    • Raise discrepancies as friendly questions. After you summarize, there will doubtless be discrepancies in what has been said. It is okay to point these out. Be sure you begin with the most central and solid examples. Be sure you raise the discrepancy with respect. You might say, “You say you want to be a good husband and father, but your wife says you are usually home for less than an hour before you start drinking each evening. How does that fit with your desire to have a strong family?” Or: “You say your career is important to you, but your last three performance reviews have marked you down for inability to focus at work because of sleepiness and excessive sick days when you’re hung over. We have a hard time understanding how your lifestyle is fitting with your life goals.” After a statement like this, listen again.

“If there is going to be a battle, you want it to be between the person and God, not between the person and yourself. … If love rather than anger is clearly expressed during the intervention, addicts typically appreciate what was done after they are sober.”[1]

    • Ask how the person would like the concern raised. If raising discrepancies meets resistance, don’t meet that resistance head on either. You might say something like this, “We know these things are hard to hear. We love you too much to be silent. Can you tell us how to raise these concerns in a way that is more receivable? We have tried as individuals but we didn’t feel heard. We are open to anything that is truly for your good.” Then, listen. Respect his or her right to choose. The choice of your friend will be the end of the meeting—for better or worse. Either the meeting will end with your friend pursuing recovery, or the meeting will end with your friend rejecting the concerns raised. The team needs to be prepared for either outcomes and should resist looping the meeting back to the beginning when the desired outcome is not met. If your friend chooses to dismiss the concerns raised, then the next point becomes relevant.
  • Provide Consequences: Consequences are not the same as punishments. Punishments seek to inflict unpleasant experiences to coerce or motivate change. Consequences, in this context, are a way for those near an addict to opt out of supporting or enabling the addictive lifestyle.

“Families often give enough financial and personal support for the Precontemplator to avoid the harshest of consequences of their addiction. In effect, these families neutralize the educational effects of negative consequences (p. 123).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

Consequences might include:

    • Cutting off or restricting access to the money necessary to support the addiction
    • Reporting an instance of suspected DUI activity to law enforcement
    • Having a set time at which doors will be locked and access to the home will be unavailable until the morning
    • Limiting access to children to supervised times when sobriety can be verified
      • Note: This step would require some legal intervention to be enforceable if the person is uncooperative
    • Asking the person to move out of the home and force him or her to bear the responsibilities of living independently
    • Refusing to rescue the individual from the consequences (direct or indirect) related to the addictive lifestyle

Phase Three: After the Intervention

The most important post-intervention note is to follow through on whatever is decided at the intervention. If your friend is cooperative, follow through on the support roles you indicated you would play. If your friend is uncooperative, follow through on the consequences you indicated you would enforce.

In many ways this is the hardest part of the intervention. This difficulty is why the group intervention is good for each member of the intervention team. The group provides accountability for each member of the group—whether it is to fulfill supportive roles or to avoid lightening consequences. When there is cooperation, the group also allows the supportive roles to be divided amongst more people so that the level of support can be sustained over an extended period of time, because recovery is usually an extended process.

Join the Conversation

What have you learned about intervening with those who struggle with addiction?

[1] Edward T. Welch, A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Co., 2001), 94, 110.


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