June 28, 2022

Interventions Are Not What You See on TV

Read time: 8 minutes

The word “intervention” might conjure up certain images based on what you have seen in the media. Perhaps the following scene plays out in your mind: A man comes home after a long day of work only to find his entire family sitting in the living room, solemn. They are there to confront the character about his drinking habit that has gotten out of hand. The man is backed into a corner by judgmental relatives and accusations, and he, in return, is defensive, either responding with anger or just shutting down and retreating to be on his own.

Then cut to a scene where the man is sitting sullenly in a church basement where a stranger rambles on about her own struggle to quit alcohol to a crowd of somber participants. It is obvious that he is only there to keep the peace with his family and that he is not getting much out of the meeting. After the meeting, the man leaves, feeling alone and resentful. When his loved ones ask him about how his sobriety is going, he lies just to get them off his back, when he is still secretly using substances.

Alternatively, the man might embrace sobriety and need nothing more than a push to quit using substances cold turkey. Perhaps he meets a quirky cast of characters in treatment, including a new love interest, who set him on the right path. He has his life back, and he could not be happier!

The Reality of Interventions

If this feels familiar to you, it is because it is an amalgamation of different television programs and movies representing interventions and stereotypes of 12-Step programs. While some of these media representations paint a grim picture about how interventions pit families against their loved ones, other media portrayals offer a lighthearted approach that misses the nuances of starting treatment. Whether this media takes a negative or positive stance on interventions, it can lead you astray from reality.

A family intervention with a loved one is not sinister or sneaky. It is one way of getting someone started with treatment. Sometimes, someone enters treatment because they are required by a court mandate to pursue treatment. Other people might voluntarily commit themselves to treatment without any outside influence.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. In this middle area, the problem is often readily apparent to you as a family member. You may feel like nothing will change with your loved one if you do not work together to intervene. Rather than forcing a loved one to accept treatment, as a family, you must be firm and persuasive but also sincere and caring. It is an act of love, not spite.

Traits of Successful Interventions

Staging a successful intervention requires clear communication and sincere concern rather than judgment. There is a time and place to have sensitive conversations like this. Bringing up your loved one’s substance use out of the blue and in front of uninvolved people can shut down the conversation quickly. It is important to make sure that you are in a comfortable and safe environment, and privacy is paramount. It is also crucial to have a trained professional guide the intervention.

Be Direct

There is no need to beat around the bush; the importance of being direct cannot be overstated. It is also necessary, however, to make observations instead of accusations. This can be achieved through the use of “I statements.” For example, one way to start this conversation could be by saying, “As someone who cares about you, I have noticed that you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Listen to Your Loved One

In addition to expressing yourself, listening to what your loved one has to say is also essential. They may be defensive, but that is to be expected in such a personal conversation. Even if you remain caring and nonjudgmental, their substance use may be a point of shame for them, and this can lead them to take this conversation as an attack.

Offer Solid Support

Once you bring your concerns to your loved one’s attention, it is important to back them up with concrete support. You can offer to help them find the appropriate resources and services, assist them in finding available providers, and accompany them or transport them to initial appointments.

Remain Patient

Throughout this whole process, it is imperative that you remain patient. Change is not going to happen instantly, no matter how convincing your intervention is. Even if there appears to be a period of stagnation, this may be a critical time for your loved one as they consider the concerns you have presented and determine how to proceed. You can support your loved one through this transition period by remaining consistent in your offer to help and continually checking in on them without appearing pushy or dissatisfied with their progress.

Additional Support

Working with a licensed clinician who provides intervention services can guide you in the process and remove some of the guesswork. Once someone accepts treatment, there is still more you can do to support them. Being an effective partner in their care requires educating yourself about their condition so that you are armed with the proper knowledge. Supporting them in their treatment goals without pushing them toward unrealistic expectations can help them make progress at a sustainable rate.

Seeking support for yourself is also key to maintaining your well-being and preserving your relationship with your loved one. This might look like taking time for self-care and working with a therapist or counselor.

You know your loved one has a problem and you want to help. Where do you go from there? It’s understandable that you might feel apprehensive about the task before you. What if your loved one refuses to recognize their problem? What if you can’t find the right words? A licensed clinician is essential to help you reach your family member and get them started on the path to recovery while offering you support every step of the way. At Family-Centered Services, we understand that staging an intervention is easier said than done. We will guide you on how to help effectively and teach you about the differences between helping versus enabling. Once your loved one is committed to treatment, we will utilize individual and family therapy, comprehensive case management, and sober accountability to help your whole family heal. You can get started by calling (509) 991-5822.

Adam is very resourceful in understanding the entire process for the family and the loved one facing addiction.

Craig B. Spokane, WA

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