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Steps to Prepare for a Family Intervention
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In the last section, we discussed preparing for a structured family intervention by determining if the skills of a professional interventionist are needed.
In this section, 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 Section 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. If the 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 process.
♦ 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.
An family 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 Consequences
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.
They provide 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 Section 2, on the threaten, punish, and relent cycle, and Section 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.
In this section, 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. In the next section, 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.
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