Types of Interventions

Johnsonian Intervention

The traditional intervention approach was pioneered by Vernon Johnson in the 1960’s. Johnson was an Episcopal priest, Rutgers University professor, and a recovering alcoholic. He developed the classic intervention principles and technique now referred to by mental health and substance abuse professionals as a “Johnsonian Intervention.” Johnsonian interventions are aptly represented by reality TV programs such as Intervention or Celebrity Rehab. Families typically meet a few times with the interventionist, create a plan, and invite the individual to a confrontation where they are presented with an ultimatum to enter treatment or risk losing valuable emotional, financial, and other support provided by the family and social group present. This approach may be appropriate in high risk or life-threatening circumstances.

Basic Elements of a Traditional Johnsonian Intervention are:

  • Family members and supportive parties meet as a group with a trained interventionist.
  • All group members write a letter stating the impact the behavior is having on their life.
  • All group members state what addiction enabling behaviors they intend to remove.
  • The intervention is typically accomplished in a 2-4 day total time period.
  • Family members quickly move from disorganized to organized.

Beneficial Features of Johnsonian Interventions:

  • May save a life if the addict is in a high risk condition.
  • Forces change to happen quickly or raises a person’s “rock bottom.”
  • May result in the family member of concern entering a treatment center immediately.
  • Overt enabling behaviors from family members are stopped immediately when the individual enters treatment.

Open Intervention

Open interventions differ from Johnsonian interventions in that the intervention process is “open” to the person being intervened upon. The family does not have to “trick” the individual into showing up for a surprise confrontation. Instead, the family works with the specialist to form a plan to engage the person, followed by a gradual but effective process of confrontation. Open interventions are often a very realistic way to approach a family member because he or she does not want to lose various forms of support provided by the family. Open interventions, by design, offer long term planning and long term support to the family as the individual moves past their initial recovery into a stable future.

Basic elements of an Open Intervention are:

  • Family members meet together with a trained and licensed therapist to assess reasonable options for the family.
  • Initial meeting with all parties present can be accomplished within 1-2 weeks minimum; however, preparation can be as long as the family/group chooses.
  • Meetings with the individual of concern can be flexible. Use of pre-written letters, large group meetings, one-on-one meetings with a therapist present, etc. are all optional parts of an overall plan that takes into consideration the personality and specific needs of the individual and the family.
  • The family member of concern, once sitting down with therapist and concerned family members, is provided with a combination of love and support as well as important ultimatums to motivate change.

Beneficial Features of an Open Intervention:

  • Does not have to be completed in a 2-4 day period, making it logistically feasible for families.
  • Maximizes motivation for changed behavior, though not as quickly as a traditional intervention.
  • The family member cannot avoid the intervention because the intervention is constructed to be much more than a one-time confrontation meeting.
  • May motivate the family member of concern to engage in therapy, making inpatient or residential treatment unnecessary.
  • Typically less expensive than a Johnsonian intervention, yet equally effective in many cases.
  • Local support is available and easily accessible since the interventionist and therapist(s) are in the same location as the original intervention.
  • No secrecy is necessary to get the family member to attend a meeting.