Our family has decided to stage an intervention on my brother, who’s 28 and a cocaine user. We feel good about the decision but I’m worried that things will get out of hand. My dad will be there and he has a heart condition. I’ve seen it on TV and it looked pretty heavy.”

I’ve heard that fear expressed by others. TV’s done a great job of popularizing intervention (that’s a good thing) but you have to understand that television producers love drama. The more dramatic, the better the ratings. They’ll edit the tape to magnify the emotional impact. But in practice, an intervention, done properly, looks and feels quite different.

Don’t get me wrong, intervention is an emotional experience for all involved, but that’s largely because it’s your family and your loved one who has the problem. Still, interventionists know that too much anger or anxiety or tearfulness can actually undermine the desired outcome.

Look at it this way: the family is asking the alcoholic/addict to make a decision s/he emphatically does not want to make. The idea is to simplify the choices and reduce options until the alcoholic need only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Distractions must be kept at a minimum.

Unbridled expressions of feeling from a team member can unwittingly draw the intervention off task, bringing up old conflicts and resentments.

That’s what all the preparation is about. The carefully worded statements, the emphasis on support rather than criticism, the research into treatment, the use of leverage, the rehearsals — all contribute to an experience that is designed to be focused and purposeful, and carefully managed from start to finish.

The technique works. But it doesn’t make for very entertaining TV, which is why they usually leave that part on the cutting room floor.

As far as your father’s heart condition, make sure the intervention trainer knows about it and can help you handle the anxiety.

And good luck to you as you take this important step.


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