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What is an Intervention?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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An intervention is a process where friends, family and/or co-workers confront an individual about destructive behavior, with the ultimate goal being the person immediately entering a treatment center. While many interventions are staged because of significant addiction, some interventions may be undertaken to help a person with serious mental illness.

Usually an intervention works best when it is thoroughly planned and guided by a therapist or counselor from a treatment center. In this way, if the outcome of the intervention is favorable, the person can immediately leave for treatment. Interventions by well-meaning friends of the self-destructive person may not work when no plan exists for the person immediately pursuing treatment. As well, the presence of a therapist skilled in intervention techniques can help train people prior to the intervention to remain calm, even if the person confronted gets very upset.

The goal for a member of the intervention team is to calmly tell the person how his or her destructive behavior has personally affected the member. The team member may also point to specific incidents that suggest the need for treatment. In some cases, each team member may issue an ultimatum requiring the person’s consent to be treated or withholding future contact.

A team member like a boss might make future employment conditional on the individual seeking treatment. Parents or friends may make future contact conditional on treatment. These ultimatums are delivered in the kindest way possible, since an intervention can be a very emotional experience for the confronted person. Sometimes, the counselor delivers an ultimatum that explains the members’ ultimatums, instead of having each person deliver their own ultimatum.

The concept of having an intervention is a more recent one. Especially where addiction is concerned, many believed that a person had to “hit rock bottom” prior to seeking help. As well, many felt that a person would not benefit from treatment until it was of his or her own seeking. However, successful interventions have shown that an individual confronted in such a way may finally be willing to seek treatment. The next step after an intervention with a non-compliant person is rock bottom and loss of contact.

Interventions may be very intense, and may cause violent or extremely upset reactions from the confronted person. It is considered highly inadvisable to make young children part of an intervention, unless their contribution or presence might help convince the self-destructive person. Teenagers may be present, but parents should think carefully about this before allowing a child of any age to participate in an intervention.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon55746 — On Dec 09, 2009

Thanks. This really helped me. good info. Don't let anyone tell you this isn't good. It's really good.

By millerRonald — On Apr 14, 2009


A very smart and diplomatic answer. It’s really appreciable and generous.


Drug Intervention Mississippi

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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