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An intervention is an orchestrated attempt by one or many people – usually family and friends – to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction or some kind of traumatic event or crisis, or other serious problem. The term intervention is most often used when the traumatic event involves addiction to drugs or other items. Intervention can also refer to the act of using a similar technique within a therapy session.
Interventions have been used to address serious personal problems, including, but not limited to, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, drug abuse, compulsive eating and other eating disorders, self harm and being the victim of abuse.
Interventions are either direct, typically involving a confrontational meeting with individual in question, or indirect, involving work with a co-dependent family to encourage them to be more effective in helping the individual.
The use of interventions originated the 1960s with Dr. Vernon Johnson. The Johnson Model was subsequently taught years later at the Johnson Institute. There are some pockets of thought within the substance abuse treatment and intervention industry that the uninformed alcohol or drug dependent person is negatively affected by so-called "ambush" inherent in the Johnson Model direct intervention. However, beyond anecdotal evidence, there are no scientific studies which confirm that theory.
Two of the major models of intervention that are utilized today are known as the Systemic Family Model and the ARISE model of intervention. While the ARISE model utilizes a predominantly invitational approach, in practice many of the same aspects of the Johnson Model are used. Systemic Family Model interventions may use an invitational approach but often utilize the direct approach. Both models rely heavily on having the family as a whole enter a phase of recovery. This helps take the focus off the addicted individual and notes the need for the entire family unit to change in an effort for everyone who is involved to get healthy.
Plans for an intervention are made by a concerned group of family, friends, and counselor(s), rather than by the drug or alcohol abuser. Whether it is invitation model or direct model, the abuser is not included in the decision making process for planning the intervention. A properly conducted direct intervention is planned through cooperation between the identified abuser's family or friends and an intervention counselor, coordinator, or educator. Ample time must be given to the specific situation, however, basic guidelines can be followed in the intervention planning process. (Note that an intervention can also be conducted in the workplace with colleagues and with no family present.)
Prior to the intervention itself, the family meets with a counselor or interventionist. Families prepare letters in which they describe their experiences associated with the addict's behavior, to convey to the person the impact his or her addiction has had on others. Also during the intervention rehearsal meeting, a group member is strongly urged to create a list of activities by the addict that they will no longer tolerate, finance, or participate in if the addict does not agree to check into a rehabilitation center for treatment. These consequences may be as simple as no longer loaning money to the addict, but can be far more serious, such as losing custody of a child.
Family and friends read their letters to the addict, who then must decide whether to check into the prescribed rehabilitation center or deal with the promised losses.
There are questions about the long-term effectiveness of interventions for those addicted to drugs or alcohol. A study examining addicts who had undergone a standard intervention (called the Johnson Intervention) found that they had a higher relapse rate than any other method of referral to outpatient Alcohol and Other Drug treatment.
More research needs to be done in the area of long term effectiveness of pre-treatment interventions specific to drug and alcohol abusers.
Sometimes direct interventions involve physical force (for example, by family members or friends) to capture or confine the targeted person. Civil libertarians argue that in such cases the intervention may be illegal because it deprives the person of liberty without due process of law.
There is a good-humoured account of a well-meant but perhaps misplaced intervention in Jayne Ann Krentz's All Night Long. The family of the protagonist (Luke) want him to abandon his "destructive" writer-lifestyle and return to the family business. Irene, his new partner, only learns of the intervention at breakfast, after it has already begun.
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