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Intervention (counseling)

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This article is about orchestrated group interventions. See also the approach used in cognitive psychology|cognitive interventions.


An intervention is an orchestrated attempt by one, or often many, people (usually family and friends) to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction or some kind of traumatic event or crisis. It can also refer to the act of using a technique within a therapy session.

Interventions have been used to address serious personal problems, including, but not limited to, compulsive gambling, compulsive eating and other eating disorders, self-mutilation, "workaholism", tobacco smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, and various types of poor personal health care. Interventions have also been conducted due to personal habits not as frequently considered seriously harmful, such as video game addiction, excessive television viewing, and excessive computer use.

Interventions are either direct, typically involving a confrontative meeting with the alcohol or other drug dependent person (the most typical type of intervention) or indirect, involving work with a co-dependent family to encourage them to be more effective in helping the addicted individual. In the same sense, direct interventions tend to be a form of short-term therapy aimed at getting the addicted person into inpatient rehabilitation, whereas indirect interventions are more of a long-term therapy, directed at changing the family system, and therefore promoting healing of addiction.

Plans for a direct intervention are typically made by a concerned group of family, friends, and counselor(s), rather than the addict. Often the addict will not agree that they needs the type of help that is proposed during the intervention, usually thought by those performing the intervention to be a result of denial. One of the primary arguments against interventions is the amount of deception required on the part of the family and counselors. Typically, the addict is surprised by the intervention by friends and family members.

Prior to the intervention itself, the family meets with a counselor (or interventionist). Families prepare speeches in which they share their negative experiences associated with the target's particular addiction-based lifestyle, to convey to the target the amount of pain his or her addiction has caused others. Also during the intervention rehearsal meeting, each group member is strongly urged to create a list of activities (by the addict) that they will no longer tolerate, finance, or participate in if the addict doesn't agree to check into a rehabilitation center for treatment. These usually involve very serious losses to the addict if s/he refuses. These items may be as simple as no longer loaning money to the addict, but can be far more alarming. It is common for groups to threaten the addict with permanent rejection (banishment) from the family. Wives often threaten to leave their husbands during this phase of the intervention, and vice versa. If the addict happens to have any outstanding arrest warrants or other unresolved criminal issues, the threat is usually made that he or she will be turned in to the authorities. Every possible loss that the family can think of is presented to the addict, who then must decide whether to check into the prescribed rehabilitation center, or deal with the promised losses by family and friends. Addicts generally choose to go to the treatment center rather than accept the consequences.

Interventions are not universally accepted in the psychological field.

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