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4 Key Considerations for a Family Intervention
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In the last section, we discussed the six different negotiation styles found
in the families of addicts: Adversaries, aggressors, appeasers, avoiders, and
analysts, as well as the constructive form of negotiation, the ambassador.
In this section, we will discuss preparing for a structured family intervention
by discussing four key considerations. These are, the addict should not be
forewarned of the intervention; many clients need to be reminded that the addiction,
not the addict, is the adversary; family members need to learn skills for an
intervention; and possible complications might require additional professional
As you know, a structured family intervention is ideal
for a family that wants to take action against the addiction quickly and
precisely. A structured intervention aims for immediate results. About 85
percent of family interventions motivate the addict to accept treatment the
same day. Most of the remaining 15 percent eventually admit themselves within
days or weeks. Only a small percentage resist treatment entirely.
As you know, family intervention is a team effort, but
I find that some family members are resistant to working as a group. Andrew,
37, firmly opposed his family’s plan to intervene with his brother
Robert, who was addicted to methamphetamine. He insisted that he would be
able to convince Robert to get into a treatment program by himself. Andrew
went to Robert’s apartment by himself, and with no firm plan, and tried
to initiate a conversation about Robert’s addiction.
When he realized
Robert was not going to cooperate with him, he blurted out, "I’m
doing you a favor! If you don’t get it together, the whole family
is going to march in here and do an intervention!" By doing this,
Andrew not only failed to get Robert into treatment, he undermined the
family’s plans and set everyone back.
4 Key Considerations for an Intervention
♦ # 1 - The Addict Should Not be
Forewarned of the Intervention
First, some family members will want to tell the addict
that the family is planning an intervention. As you are aware, this is not
a good strategy, as forewarning the addict gives them a chance to
prepare for a fight. Do you have a client who needs to be reminded that in
an intervention, we use surprise not as a deception, but as a way to disarm
the disease of addiction?
♦ # 2 - The Addiction,
not the Addict, is the Adversary
Second, I have found that many clients need to be reminded
that in an intervention, the addiction, not the addict himself,
is the adversary. I ask these clients to visualize the addict as a hostage
who has been brainwashed by his captors, who no longer can tell his rescuers
from his captors. Thus, the addict does not know he needs saving. Intervention
is a strategic ‘rescue plan’ designed to subdue
the addiction long enough to convince the addict that his family is there to
help. I also remind these clients that intervention is, essentially, an act
♦ # 3 - Learn Skills for an
Third, In my experience, it is important that family
members learn the skills needed for an intervention before they
attempt one. The families of addicts are used to coming up with their
own solutions to the problems caused by addiction, and are often resistant
to learning new information.
Rather than initially recommending professional
interventionists to resistant clients, I ask them to consider what kind of
help they need. Although most families involve a professional in their intervention,
some are able to conduct fully successful interventions on their own by using
guidebooks and other resources. The key is not what resources are used, but
the family’s willingness to complete all the necessary
♦ # 4 - Complications might Require Professional
Fourth, though many families of capable of proceeding
with an intervention on their own, a family facing complications with
the addiction needs professional help. If your client is dealing with an addict
who is threatening suicide, has a history of mental illness, violent or abusive
behavior, severe depression, or prior treatments followed by relapse, they
are in need of professional help. The skills of a professional are also needed
when an imminent crisis means there is no time for the family to prepare on
their own. I also strongly recommend a professional interventionist
when family relationships have become badly deteriorated. A professional can
possibly help unite family members who are unwilling to combat
If my client needs help, but is incapable of paying for
a professional interventionist, I recommend that they seek the help of their
pastor, priest, rabbi, or other clergy. Other potential sources of help are
a former coach or teacher, a colleague, a highly respected friend, or a recovering
addict from the community. I have found that often, someone from outside
the immediate family can command a level of respect from the addict that
members of the immediate family cannot.
I find that some family members are highly resistant
to intervention because of their ideas about conflict. Some honestly believe
that conflict always leads to an end to a relationship. Family members of
addicts are used to ‘no problem’ households; they deal
with differences and conflict by ignoring, denying, avoiding, giving
in, coercing, forcing, or giving up. For these individuals, dealing with addiction
through an intervention may seem terrifying.
♦ 3-Question Conflict Coping Exercise
Remember John and Betty from the last section? As they
and their family prepared for an intervention with their cocaine-addicted
son Ben, I introduced the Conflict Coping exercise to them. This exercise
consists of three questions:
-- Question # 1
First, I asked John and Betty to think about
how they usually reacted to conflict. I asked, "Do you usually give in? Do others usually give in to you?
Do you avoid conflict by denial or ending relationships?" John and Betty
agreed that they usually gave in to Ben.
-- Question # 2
The next question in the exercise concerns power plays.
I asked John and Betty, "Have you ever gotten into power plays, trying
to force the other person into behaving the way you want? How has this worked?
Are you in a relationship with someone who tries to control you through power
plays?" Betty answered, "When Ben says he won’t talk to us
anymore if we do an intervention… that’s a power play, isn’t
-- Question # 3
Finally, I asked John and Betty to think about times
they had successfully negotiated conflict; times when both parties have entered
into negotiations that resolve the conflict in a mutually acceptable way.
I then asked them to think about how those conflicts felt, and what attitudes
and behaviors they displayed. John and Betty were able to describe numerous
conflicts with their two daughters that were resolved successfully. By asking
John and Betty to reflect on conflicts they had handled successfully, I reminded
them that some conflicts can be resolved in a mutually satisfactory way.
In this section, we have discussed preparing for a structured family intervention
by discussing four key considerations. These are, the addict should not be
forewarned of the intervention, many clients need to be reminded that the addiction,
not the addict, is the adversary, family members need to learn skills for an
intervention, and possible complications might require additional professional
In the next section, we will discuss the first five steps in making an intervention
checklist: building a team, setting up a planning meeting, choosing a team chairperson,
discussing the negative consequences of the addiction, and listing ways family
members have unwittingly enabled the addiction.
What are four key considerations in preparing for a structured family intervention?
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