Intervention – Facts vs. Myths

Contributor: Jerry L. Law, D.Min., MDAAC, CIP, of ISA Intervention and Recovery Specialists

GrouptherapyOver the past ten years, Americans have become much more familiar with the concept of staging an Intervention to encourage a loved one struggling with an eating disorder, drug and alcohol dependency and other compulsive behaviors to accept an offer for help.

This increased awareness is in no small part due to the popularizing of Interventions via television and social media. As a Certified Intervention Professional, I am both grateful and frustrated by these programs and the hype that often surrounds them.

The Inaccurate Portrayal of the Interventionist

While I certainly welcome the increased awareness that Intervention is available and provides a powerful tool in helping an individual and their family fraught by these diseases, the often inaccurate portrayal of the role the Interventionist plays has led to a great deal of misinformation regarding what an Intervention actually is.

In this article, we will examine some of the common myths about Intervention and present the facts regarding the efficacy and success rate of this dynamic approach to bringing hope and help to individuals and families.

The History of Interventions

group-therapy-youngFirst a brief history of Intervention: This method of presenting an offer for help to an afflicted individual is nothing new. The Bible and other ancient manuscripts outline the importance of helping one another and as needed, confronting behavior that is dangerous to the individual, their family and society. A codified set of tactics for this type of interaction is, on the other hand, a relatively recent phenomenon.

Dr. Vernon Johnson, an Episcopal Priest and recovering alcoholic, was one of the early developers of Intervention as practice today. His seminal book, “Intervention, how to help someone who doesn’t want help: a step-by-step guide for families and friends of chemically dependent persons” may have set the standard for the modern day approach.

Many professionals in the field still follow this basic approach, though most add their own twists to the process based on personalities and the wealth of knowledge on these diseases we have gained since the book’s original publication.

Interventions in the Present

In more recent days, approaches such as ARISE – A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement and Family Systems Intervention protocols have been developed. The latter two are considered “invitational models” as the suffering individual is invited to be part of the process from the outset.

The Johnson model, on the other hand, embraces a surprise technique in which the loved one is not aware of the plans the family have made until they actually sit down with the individual to ask them to accept help. There are many sound arguments for each model, and the reader can find much more about each method online.

Myths About Interventions

Regardless of the model, many myths abound regarding Intervention, so let’s briefly examine a few of them:

MYTH: The addicted loved one in your life (this includes eating disorders, compulsive gambling, etc.) could quit any time if they really wanted to.

Group Of Friends Having Outdoor Barbeque At HomeFACT: While it is true that in the early stages of substance use and/or participation in disordered eating behaviors, a person may choose to change and do so. They may or may not need professional assistance at this stage.

It is equally true that once a person passes into genuine psychological and physical dependency a “simple” decision to quit seldom produces any real long-term results. The bio/psycho/social/spiritual complexities of these diseases generally require some type of intervention in order to help the suffering individual accept change. Our hope would be that the type of intervention necessary would not be organ damage, an automobile accident, bankruptcy or prison.

MYTH: You must continue your full time job managing your loved one’s life, because he or she is incapable of being a responsible human being.

FACT: Contrary to what you may be seeing in the life of your loved one, he or she is capable of taking responsibility for their actions. At its most fundamental level, life is about choices and consequences. Once you allow your loved one to experience the consequences of their behavior, true change can begin.

MYTH: People must “hit rock bottom” before they will accept help.

FACT: There may be great value in ‘hitting bottom.” Many do reach out for help once this happens, as it is a form of intervention. The problem with hitting bottom is when a dirty four letter word is introduced to the equation – WAIT. If your loved one has truly reached the point of addiction, why wait?

Imagine the terrible things that can and do happen while we wait for our loved one to hit bottom. Financial ruin, car crashes, self-injury, harm to others, even death loom while we wait.

MYTH: Your loved one can’t have an eating disorder since they eat regularly and don’t appear to have a weight problem.

Happy young coupleFACT: Eating Disorders are not only diseases on denial, they are disease of deception.

E.D. is a diabolic malady that lulls its victims and their families into complacency and a false sense that everything will be O.K. After all, how could my loved one function so well if he or she were truly sick?

MYTH: Interventions don’t really work and all they do is create divisions within families.

FACT: Over the combined fifty years that our team has been facilitating Interventions, data shows that over eighty percent of the individuals we meet with go to treatment and the vast majority go the day of the Intervention. Don’t underestimate the power of a united front that sends the message, “We love you and the only thing we will support going forward is recovery.”

MYTH: Your loved one’s bizarre and extreme behavior is just a phase they are going through.

FACT: Most teens and young adults to experiment with mood altering chemicals, disordered eating behaviors and other activities that may not always be in their best interest. When such behaviors develop into consistent patterns that are negatively impacting the individual’s ability to function and succeed, it is time to take a hard look at the facts and no longer pass it off as just a part of growing up.

The list of myths about Intervention is long indeed. Evidence, however, points to a very different reality. Intervention truly is the starting point to recovery.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 7th, 2015
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