Heather R. Hayes, a leading intervention expert, shares what to expect before, during, and after an intervention, and offers tips on how to find an interventionist.
Q: What is an intervention?
A: An intervention is an attempt by loved ones to get help for someone who is resistant to seeking treatment for an addiction and/or mental health issues or who may be engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Loved ones connect with a qualified professional who leads a formal, structured meeting to facilitate healing and change. The older method of intervention focused solely on getting help for the person with the addiction or mental health issues. Today, it focuses on providing support for the entire family and support system, since addiction and mental health issues affect everyone.
Q: Are interventions always an ambush or are there different kinds?
A: There are two styles of interventions: surprise and invitational. Any intervention may become an ambush, depending on the interventionist. But this needn’t be true and certainly isn’t necessary for success. These days, the invitational model is favored. Most interventionists keep the process warm, loving, and respectful, and they focus on the person’s and loved ones’ strengths and resiliency in order to promote and maintain long-term change. There are times when a surprise intervention is necessary, particularly when safety is an issue, such as with domestic violence, a teen running away or when the person who is suffering from addiciton or mental health issues is hurting herself or someone else.
Q: How do I know if my loved one needs an intervention?
A: It is time to call an interventionist if your loved one struggles with a mental health issue, alcoholism or drug addiction, or an eating disorder that negatively impacts his or her life and the lives of those who care—and he or she isn’t willing to talk about it and refuses help. Do not take these steps into your own hands; do your research and find the appropriate professional.
Q: How do I select an interventionist?
A: Intervention is an unregulated field, so it can be tricky to figure out who is truly qualified.
Start with the Network of Independent Interventionists, whose members must adhere to clearly stated ethical guidelines. Remember that the contract should always be between the family/loved ones and the interventionist; never hire an interventionist through a treatment center.
Q: What questions should I ask when hiring an interventionist?
A: Because there are no state or national organizations to regulate interventionists, asking the right questions is crucial.
- What is your education level? (Preferably a master’s degree or higher in a relevant field.)
- What are your professional credentials/accreditations/association memberships?
- Are you educated, trained, or licensed to work with mental health issues and dual diagnoses (a mental health disorder combined with substance abuse)?
- Are you an independent interventionist?
- Do you have a financial connection with any treatment center (in the form of kickbacks or “consulting fees,” which should be avoided to prevent undue bias)?
- May I speak with other families you’ve worked with? May I speak with clients you have intervened on?
- Who holds you ethically accountable?
Ethics play a significant role in the intervention discussion.
Without comprehensive regulation, interventionists are free to prey on the needs of desperate families, which is why asking the right questions is so important. If interventionists benefit financially from the facility they refer to, that is a conflict of interest, and the family must be informed of it beforehand.
Q: Our loved one is in treatment—what now?
A: An interventionist assists with the treatment center selection and will have guided your family to the right location for your loved one. It is important for an interventionist to work with a family for a year after the intervention so that he or she can provide family members with the education and support needed to ensure regular communication with the clinical staff at the treatment center, evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment center, and facilitate a move to a more appropriate location if necessary.
Your interventionist facilitates the family’s care by helping design treatment plans for each family member and guiding the patient and family to reputable local counselors or services. Your interventionist will facilitate aftercare once your loved one has completed initial treatment. This may include a transition to sober living or an extended-care facility in your area, as well as providing resources for local therapists. Your interventionist will assist the family with transitions and reintegration issues when your loved one returns home. If there is a relapse, your interventionist may help your family through the process again. If your interventionist isn’t providing these resources, find a new one.
Q: What if our loved one refuses treatment?
A: While most people go to treatment the day of the intervention, occasionally a loved one will initially refuse treatment. If the family has worked with the interventionist to set new boundaries that they are comfortable with and can maintain, even the most resistant will generally decide to enter treatment in the following days or weeks.
A good interventionist is there to guide the patient and family through this scenario and provide support the entire way.
He or she will teach the family how to set appropriate boundaries and maintain them before, during and especially after the intervention. Intervention is a process, not an event. A good interventionist will stand by the patient and his or her family’s side throughout the entire process.
* There are countless intervention professionals out there; however, treatment decisions motivated by financial gain are potentially life-threatening, unethical, and even illegal under some circumstances.
Asking the right questions is imperative.
Helpful resources on addiction:
Watch: Dr. Oz’s Guide to Fighting Addiction
Addiction: The Medical and Mental Health Perspective
Opioid Addiction Fact Sheet
Article written by Heather R. Hayes, M.Ed., LPC, CIP. Heather Hayes, M.Ed, LPC, CIP, has over 30 years of experience working with addictions and other disorders.