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A Brief History of Interventions

There is an outdated assumption that every addict or alcoholic must hit bottom. Unfortunately, this belief is not only wrong, but it is dangerous. For most individuals, the true “bottom” is a jail cell or gravesite.  We would not wait for someone with diabetes to become comatose to address medical intervention. So … what?!? An intervention can interrupt the system and dysfunction in an addict/alcoholic’s life. A major problem facing addicts and their potential support networks is the  belief that “interventions don’t work.”

This is completely false. In fact, it is statistically proven that interventions conducted by a certified professional hold incredibly high success rates. If we were to treat addiction like any other medical disease we would do so by implementing three-four tiers of treatment, i.e., delivery (ambulance), acute care (emergency room), continued care (second floor), and outpatient management. Given this model of treatment, we have a very successful outcome similar to other diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension. So then where does the intervention come into play??

An intervention is a designed “interruption” to promote a reframing of the current situation. An intervention is a structured process that breaks the cycle of dysfunction associated to the disease of addiction.  There are several different styles of intervention commonly used. The first model of intervention is referred to as the “Johnson Model” of intervention.


In 1973 Dr. Vernon Johnson, an Episcopal priest, published “I’ll Quit Tomorrow” which outlined his surprise model of intervention. This model has been widely used since the 1960’s by introducing consequences in the individual’s life through boundaries. Historically, this model was harsh and has received criticism for being quasi-effective for long-term treatment involvement. There has, however, been an increasing shift with the Johnson/Surprise model where love and compassion are the pillars of the process. This intervention, accompanied by case management, has been found to be statistically more effective than what was conducted in the 20th century. (The “Love First” intervention has recently become increasingly popular again, due to the hit show on A & E Intervention.)


In the 1980’s the intervention, model shifted to a more therapeutic process referred to as the Systemic Intervention model. Using a Minuchin Family Systems process, this model is completely transparent to the individual, and the addict/alcoholic is invited to every meeting of professionals and the immediate support network. The model is an open dialogue model of intervention and is typically conducted in an office setting. This model lasts for months as opposed to the stereotypical one-time event. All members of the system enter into treatment, opposed to just one individual.


Another version of the invitational model is the ARISE Model of intervention. This model of intervention was created by James Garrett and Dr. Judith Landau using a transparent and open form of intervention. It is an evidence-based best practice approach that has been empirically supported.  With a three-level system, the ARISE model works to mobilize the support system (board of directors) to begin the process of getting all of those that are afflicted into treatment. (James Ott, clinician and interventionist wrote this blog about explaining the intervention process and the 6 key differences with ARISE vs. Johnson Model).


The Field Model of Intervention developed by Jane Eiger Mintz combines several different modalities for intervention. The point in title suggests that in some instances several different methods are effective on intervening in a system. Additionally, the Field Model of Intervention is well regarded for working with mental illness co-occurring with  substance use disorders.


** There are several ways to intervene on someone. The most important thing is that the process is conducted by a licensed or credentialed professional. This post is a very brief interview and it would be beneficial to contact a professional who can assist you in finding the most appropriate intervention model for the person(s) you are concerned with.  

For more background, please “10 Questions For a Teen Transport Company.”

Adam McLean holds a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing.  He is working towards his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from California Southern University. Additionally, he is a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP) with the Pennsylvania Control Board.   Adam has a wide variety of experience, from community mental health to long-term extended care, to an outdoor adventure therapy program with traditional treatment modalities for treatment of substance abuse.  Additionally, Adam works with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) to establish alternative sentencing for chronic drug offenders.