An intervention is a staged approach for encouraging someone experiencing mental health problems and/or addiction to seek treatment. Although it is often used with people who have substance abuse problems, it may be used with anyone who is avoiding treatment or engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Intervention Methods

Interventions can be either direct or indirect:

  • Indirect interventions target a person who is harmed by another’s mental health problems–often a codependent family member or friend.
  • Direct interventions target the person deemed in need of treatment.

People staging interventions often utilize the assistance of a therapist, addiction specialist, or intervention coach, and methods vary slightly. However, the general procedure requires the presence of several loved ones in order to maximize the impact on the person in need of treatment. Each person explains the way the substance abuse or mental health problem has affected him or her; oftentimes, the person who the group believes will be most effective–frequently a child or spouse–speaks last. The group then encourages the person to seek treatment and outlines the consequences for not seeking treatment–often an end to the relationship. Oftentimes, the group has lined up treatment already so that all the person has to do is say yes and then go immediately to treatment.

Effectiveness of Interventions

Interventions can be highly effective tools for helping people seek treatment. However, they can also backfire. People participating in interventions may need to be prepared to end their relationship with the person. When a person refuses treatment, this can be extremely painful for a desperate family. There is also some concern that interventions might pressure people into treatment even if they are not fully ready for it and thus the relapse rate may be higher among people who experience interventions.

Interventions In Popular Culture

A&E’s television show “Intervention” has increased general public awareness of interventions in recent years. The show has covered hundreds of cases ranging from substance abuse to anorexia, and follows families as they prepare for interventions and in the immediate aftermath of the intervention.


  1. Loneck, B., Garrett, J., & Banks, S. (1996). The Johnson Intervention and relapse during outpatient treatment. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 22(3), 363-375. doi: 10.3109/00952999609001665
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2011, August 23). Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-10-2015

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  • MISS HD B.

    May 6th, 2016 at 11:28 PM

    You know I think there is a point to all this. Stress in my life has caused by partner to call me psycho many times because he blames me for my daughter’s mental health problems which eats away at me. On the other hand I have described my partner as OCD because it irritates me when he tidies papers and stacks up crockery rather than washing up which I think halps him destress. Women are often accused with words like these when they are irrational or upset. It dies not hurt to press the pause button and reflect in our vocabulary use, after there are so many fabulous words in the dictionary and we also need to reflect in how we make others feel. I wish people picked out and told me my good points so maybe if I start doing it, it will happen to me eventually.

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