Intervention 101: What Is An Intervention?

By Hugh C. McBride

You’ve seen the scenes on TV shows or in films:

  • A collection of friends and family members gathers in someone’s living room.
  • An unsuspecting loved one enters the room, and is immediately confronted about his or her drug abuse.
  • Accusations are made, secrets are exposed, and – depending upon the tone of the show – what ensues is either gripping drama or high comedy.
These gatherings are described as “interventions,” but the way they are portrayed on screen may be giving viewers a skewed impression about what actually takes place during a real-life intervention.


Though friends and family members have surely been confronting each other over concerns large and small since shortly after the dawn of time, the concept of the intervention as we are discussing it here has a much shorter history.
The intervention concept as we know it today originated with Rev. Vernon Johnson, an Episcopal minister (and recovering alcoholic) in the early 1960s. In 1962, Rev. Johnson convened members of his Minnesota congregation to discuss ways to help other alcoholics get the help they needed to overcome their addiction.
Four years after the group’s initial meeting, Rev. Johnson formed the Johnson Institute to promote what had evolved into a process known as The Minnesota Model.


Consistent with the purposed that prompted Rev. Johnson to create the Minnesota Model in the first place, interventions are conducted with one predominant objective: to convince a person in crisis to get help.
Interventions are most commonly conducted for individuals who are struggling with an addiction to alcohol or another drug or a compulsive behavior disorder. However, issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, “workaholism” and other topics have also prompted interventions.
Regardless of the reason for the intervention, though, it is important to never lose sight of the goal: to get the afflicted individual into treatment.
The steps that are taken to accomplish this objective – most prominently, the process of having friends and family members talk candidly about the negative impact of the addictive behavior – can be profound and powerful. But an intervention is not an “airing of grievances.” All aspects of the process should be focused on the goal of getting the person with the problem into treatment.


Most experts advise the following when planning a formal intervention:

  • Participants – About four to six people (adults only) who are close to the addicted individual.
  • Guidance –Including a professional interventionist in the process will help keep the discussion focused and productive, as well as provide for an impartial mediator to help resolve any disputes.
  • Preparation – All participants should meet before the intervention to discuss the purpose of the gathering, to coordinate their activities, and to prepare for anticipated resistance from the person with whom they will be intervening.
  • Consequences – Those conducting an intervention must decide what consequences they will establish – and can enforce – if the addicted individual fails to agree to enter treatment. Consequences can include ending a personal relationship, filing legal papers, or dissolving a professional partnership.
  • Treatment – Remember: The goal of the intervention is to get the addicted individual into immediate treatment. Thus, participants must make arrangements with a treatment program, and know who will transport the subject of the intervention to the facility.


Dramatic conflicts can make for great television – but for real-world interventions, consensus is the optimal outcome.
However, because an intervention can be a highly emotional experience, there is a very real chance that even the best intentioned participants may allow their passions to overcome their desire to get their loved on into treatment.
For that reason (among many others), it is advisable to involve a professional interventionist in the process. Professional interventionists can provide informed guidance through all phases of the process, from planning and preparation through the intervention itself.
Regardless of how they are portrayed on television and in the movies, interventions are potentially life-changing events that, if executed appropriately, can rescue a loved one from the depths of addiction. Consulting with a professional interventionist puts friends and family members in the best possible position to help the person they care so much about.