On the last track, we discussed preparing for a structured
family intervention by determining if the skills of a professional interventionist
On this track, we will discuss the first five points of a checklist
to help families prepare for an intervention: 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.
As you know, preparing for a structured family intervention
involves a lot of time and willingness to learn, whether the family is working
with a professional interventionist or not. In my experience, there are ten essential steps to laying the groundwork for an intervention. It is important
to remember that this checklist is an overview of the basics, it is not meant
as a training course for conducting an intervention.
1-5 of 10 Steps to Prepare for an Intervention
Step # 1 - Build a Team
I find the first step is to build a team. Have your client
build a list of every significant person in the addict’s life. Encourage
your client not to overlook people who they do not think will participate-
for examples, former friends who have moved or drifted away. Once your client
has created this list, help them select the individuals who will produce the
strongest intervention team.
I find that the strongest team usually consists
of between three and eight people, but smaller or larger teams can be just
as effective with proper planning. There are three kinds of individuals who
I believe should be left off of the list: individuals who cannot keep confidence,
anyone the addict deeply dislikes or mistrusts, and those currently suffering
from addiction. It may be helpful to refer to Track 5 for pointers on helping
communicate with potential team members.
Step # 2 - Set Up a Planning Meeting
The second step in my experience is to set up a planning
meeting. Once your client has assembled their team, schedule a meeting
to decide how the family and friends want to handle training for the intervention.
First, the team should decide if they want to hire a professional, or prepare
using other reliable resources. If the team decides on a
book, everyone in the group should read the text before processing.
team decides on a professional, suggest interviewing three interventionists
before deciding on which is best for the family.
Next, the team should set
a definite date for the intervention, when everyone is available, as well
as dates for rehearsals. If the family team is not working
with an interventionist, I recommend they appoint a detail person to
gather and distribute information about interventions, and about the planning
Step # 3 - Chose a Team Chairperson
The third step I recommend is to chose a team chairperson.
I find this step is essential if the family team is not working with a professional
interventionist. The chairperson is the individual who acts
as the spokesperson during the intervention. The best person to serve as chairperson
is someone who the addict respects and will not want to disappoint.
member who is emotionally entangled with the addict is not
a good choice. In my experience, the ideal chairperson is usually someone from
outside of the immediate family. As you know, the chairperson must be capable
of remaining calm during the intervention, so anyone with
high anxiety or a quick temper should not be considered. The chairperson
must be available to actively participate in all of the training
sessions, and be ready to handle the addict’s objections.
Step # 4 - Discuss the Negative
I find that step four is to discuss the negative
consequences addiction has caused. I find that this is a vital step;
the team needs to understand the scope of the problem before
an intervention can take place. As a team, the family should review how the
disease is disrupting the addict’s life. Encourage your client to start
from the basics. Talk about when the problem first began, and what types
of drugs the addict has used.
Usually, this open discussion is the first
time the family realizes the full extent of the problem. During an initial
meeting, my client Jerry said "Dad always told me that construction
workers worked hard and played hard. I remember once when I was 6, he was
driving me home from school once, and he went into a ditch. I told him if
he could get the truck out, I could drive it home. So I did it. I had to
turn the key on and off every time I needed to slow down to make a corner.
Then I had to wake Dad up to help me make the last turn into the driveway." This
was the first time Jerry had told the rest of his family
how his father’s drinking had affected him.
As you are aware, if the team is poorly informed about
the problem, they will be more easily swayed by addicts who are convinced
they do not have a problem. A well informed intervention team will find it
easier to stand firm. It is also important to have a drug use history when
arranging for an admission into a treatment center. Encourage your
client and his family to write down all of the negative consequences they
have witnessed. I find it useful to tell them to keep in mind that they are
cataloging symptoms of a disease, and how it has manifested in the addict’s
family life, work, friendships, and emotions.
Step # 5 - List Ways the Team has Unwittingly Enabled the Addiction
After building a team, setting up a planning meeting,
deciding on a chairperson, and setting up a planning meeting, the fifth step
is to list ways the team has unwittingly enabled the addiction. This exercise
is sometimes easier for members of the team to do individually. As you
know, enablers are responsible for the longevity of addiction.
addicts with the resources, opportunities, and permission to continue using.
One of the most important components of intervention, and of family healing,
is to recognize how love and fear become enabling behaviors.
Have your client write down how they have been an enabler in the past, and
what they hoped their enabling would accomplish.
It may be useful to review
Track 2, on the threaten, punish, and relent cycle, and Track 7, on caretaking,
to help your client compile this list. I ask my clients to show their enabling
list to at least one other member of the intervention team,
and to make a vow not to help the disease in the future. Once enabling behavior stops, the addict is more willing to accept help.
I find it is very difficult for family members who have been living
with addiction for a long time to break out of the enabling cycle. Al-Anon,
Nar-Anon, and Families Anonymous are 12-step groups that have resources to
help families change these behaviors, and I find them to be invaluable resources
for clients dealing with a family member’s addiction.
On this track, we have discussed the first five steps in preparing for a structured
family intervention. These are 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. On the
next track, we will discuss the final five steps: writing an intervention letter,
brainstorming objections, determining bottom lines, rehearsing the intervention,
and the intervention itself.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cordova, D., Huang, S., Pantin, H., & Prado, G. (2012). Do the effects of a family intervention on alcohol and drug use vary by nativity status? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(3), 655–660.
Gorman-Smith, D., Tolan, P. H., Henry, D. B., Leventhal, A., Schoeny, M., Lutovsky, K., & Quintana, E. (2002). Predictors of participation in a family-focused preventive intervention for substance use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 16(4, Suppl), S55–S64.
Hogue, A., & Liddle, H. A. (1999). Family-based preventive intervention: An approach to preventing substance use and antisocial behavior. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 69(3), 278–293.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What are the first five steps in preparing for a structured family intervention?
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