Mental health disorders and addictions transcend age, gender, and socioeconomic status, affecting at least 20% of adults and 7% of children in the U.S. Many individuals have these conditions and compulsive behaviors but do not receive any treatment. In some cases, interventions can persuade people to seek professional help. Television shows tend to depict interventions as dramatic, last-ditch efforts to rescue loved ones. As much as they are often employed as a comedic device, growing evidence demonstrates that people respond positively when their family, friends, and caring professionals approach them with honesty and hope.

What Is an Intervention?

An intervention is a carefully orchestrated process planned by concerned people close to the subject, to approach a person about their mental health issue or addiction. Ideally, the group collaborates with an interventionist. This specialist could be a doctor, addiction counselor, social worker, or spiritual leader. Together, the group lovingly confronts the individual and urges them to get treatment.

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Do Interventions Really Work?

According to Psychology Today, people who undergo an intervention are more likely to get treatment. Though generally considered negative, the peer pressure aspect of an intervention is a strong motivator. Of course, the lasting impact depends on many factors, especially the commitment of the person to get better. However, people with a strong social support system and access to high-quality treatment are more likely to improve.

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Hope for College Students

The American Psychiatric Association reported that over 30% of college students were receiving treatments for mental health conditions in 2017, compared to under 20% of students in 2007. Some universities are going online to reach out to students who may not seek traditional therapy. A 2019 Clinical Edge study found that an internet-based, therapist-guided intervention correlates with a 36% decrease in depression symptoms and a 41% drop in anxiety symptoms among students.

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Honesty Is the Best Policy for Addictions

Approaching a loved one about a mental health issue or addiction is challenging because the person may not be able or willing to see their condition as a problem. Addictions that may require intervention include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Illicit drug use
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Overeating
  • Sexual addiction

Many people who are recovering from addictions report that they sought help because a relative or friend was honest with them about their substance abuse.

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The Importance of Professional Help

Research suggests that trained interventionists contribute significantly to effective interventions. Mental health specialists and addiction counselors understand how and when to hold an intervention, as well as how to provide solutions. The advice and presence of these experts highlight the severity of the condition to the subject of the intervention and keeps the interaction on course towards an agreement for treatment or realization of consequences.

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Types of Intervention

Several types of interventions are employed in various situations. It is important to understand the differences and choose the method that will work best for the people involved. These are a few common intervention types:

  • Direct: The interventionist presents options that have already been determined.
  • Johnson Model: An interventionist trains a caregiver to coax the person to seek treatment for him or herself.
  • Tough Love: Enablers address their loved one regarding their condition and outline consequences for refusing treatment.
  • Crisis: An interventionist has a person admitted involuntarily to a healthcare facility, where concerned ones gather to express concern and give an ultimatum for treatment.
  • Love-First Approach: Relatives and friends read letters conveying their fond memories and their feelings about the person and their condition.
  • ARISE: The person and immediate family meet to discuss how the entire family unit can face the illness or addiction together.

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Preparing for an Intervention

Emotions can easily rise during an intervention, so preparation is key. Experts advise rehearsing the event with an interventionist who can portray the loved one and help with planning responses. Some counselors recommend sending a written note to the individual ahead of time, clearly expressing love and concern. The attitudes of relatives and friends greatly influence how a person responds to intervention and treatment. Treat the individual respectfully and reiterate your support. Gather and share information and recovery resources to help remove stigmas and perceived obstacles to getting help.

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When to Seek Help for a Loved One

As soon as an individual becomes concerned about the mental health or addictive actions of a loved one, he or she can seek outside help. Waiting allows psychological damage to escalate. If a person’s condition is already advanced to the point of significant functional impairment, more immediate methods than an intervention may be required. However, consulting a professional can shed light on options for pursuing treatment.

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Tips for a Productive Intervention

Interventions don’t always work out, but there are ways to increase the chances of success. A strategy with plans and preset arrangements for treatment will show concern and commitment to help a loved one. Interventionists advise taking these steps:

  • Take time to plan, but don’t make it too complicated.
  • Choose a time and location when and where the loved one is least likely to be distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Avoid confrontational speech, such as name-calling or accusatory statements.
  • Each relative or friend should respectfully yet firmly outline how the loved one’s addiction or mental health issue has brought harm.
  • Stay with the plan during the intervention, anticipating objections.
  • Ask and be prepared for an immediate decision to start treatment.
  • Plan and explain specific consequences of refusal and be ready to follow through.

intervention group planning HRAUN / Getty Images


If They Won’t Listen

Some individuals will not accept a treatment plan. They may resent being confronted or feel that they are beyond hope. Prepare for a negative response, but remain hopeful and ready to encourage the changes you suggest. If necessary, remove yourself and any vulnerable people such as children from potentially dangerous environments.


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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.