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How to Use the Johnson Model for an Intervention

DH_IOP_IsOutpatientForYou (1)An intervention is a planned and structured meeting between an individual who is struggling with problematic drug or alcohol abuse and those who care about that person.

The goal of an intervention is to help the person see how addiction may be affecting those around them and to entice them into voluntarily seeking out professional help and entering a treatment program.

In the 1970s, Dr. Vernon Johnson introduced family-focused interventions, known as the Johnson Model, that were centered around models of caring and used as a catalyst to motivate people to want to get help. An intervention using the Johnson Model is planned without the knowledge of the individual battling addiction, often with the help of a trained professional along with a person’s loved ones.

There is a longstanding, and false, notion that people first need to hit “rock bottom” before they are able to recognize that drinking and/or drugs may be a problem. This is simply not true. The Johnson Model can be used at any time to help individuals get the care they need in a timely fashion. The goal is to show the person that their family and friends care about them and how addiction can hurt the ones they love. In the intervention, loved ones offer a solution, providing hope for a healthier and happier life for all involved.

There are seven main components of a Johnson Model intervention:

  • Team: An intervention team is assembled to plan and carry out the intervention.
  • Planning: A successful intervention is well planned.
  • Care-focused: Love is the center of the event, not blame and anger.
  • Tied to addiction only: Past transgressions are only highlighted if they are connected to the disease of addiction directly.
  • Evidence: Details and specific incidents are cited.
  • Goal of treatment, not punishment: The ultimate goal is to get the individual into treatment.
  • Treatment options: Three treatment options should be researched beforehand and then offered to the individual.

An intervention can provide a structured opportunity to help a loved one recognize that addiction is negatively impacting not only themselves but those around them. Individuals often don’t realize the disruption the disease may have on their family and loved ones, and an intervention, when planned and executed properly, can help them to see this.

Addiction is a disease that nearly 22 million Americans suffered from in 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) publishes. An intervention can be the first step toward recovery. Below are the steps involved in hosting an intervention using the Johnson Model.

Step 1: Hire an interventionist


While families and loved ones can execute an intervention on their own, the help of a professional is highly beneficial. In some cases, the help of a professional interventionalist, medical or mental health professional, or a substance abuse provider is imperative. These instances include the following:

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that the burden on caregivers can be at least partially lifted, or at least shared, by engaging the aid of a trained professional during an intervention. A professional can offer support, insight, and encouragement, and help families to plan an intervention during multiple sessions together before the individual struggling with addiction is included. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) publishes that an intervention carried out with the help of an experienced and highly trained professional is successful in getting individuals into treatment over 90 percent of the time. Primary care providers, mental healthcare offices, addiction treatment centers, and the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) can help families to find a trained professional in their area to help with all stages of the intervention.

Step 2: Put together an intervention team.


An interventionist works with families to compile an intervention team. Members of this team may include family members, friends, loved ones, neighbors, coworkers, teammates, and anyone else who has been impacted by the person’s addiction. People who are in a conflict with the individual or who may cause undue tension should not be included in the intervention meeting. The interventionist, or other professional, is generally the head of an intervention team and can help families decide who should be present for the final meeting.

Step 3: Compile evidence for the intervention.


Members of the intervention team will generally write letters, citing specific incidents and events when the individual’s struggle with addiction negatively impacted them. Statements should be assertive, not aggressive, and use “I” statements to keep the tone positive and focused on healing. Only evidence directly pertaining to the addiction should be mentioned and a professional interventionist can help to keep things on track and the discussion healthy. The evidence and letters are discussed prior to the final intervention to ensure that they are helpful, based in love, and will be effective in the overall goal of helping to motivate the loved one to seek treatment.

Step 4: Research treatment options.

Families, with the help of a trained professional, should look into treatment options that will be suitable for their loved one to enter directly following the intervention. The Johnson Model asks that loved ones come up with three different options to share with the individual in order to offer choices for treatment. If necessary, travel arrangements should be made ahead of time.

Step 5: Prepare set consequences for noncompliance.

It is important that families and loved ones are prepared to follow through with set consequences if their loved one refuses to enter treatment at the end of the intervention. These consequences should be outlined beforehand and concrete. Examples of consequences may be no longer helping the person financially, the removal of family interactions, or asking the person to move out of the home. These consequences may be difficult, but loved ones need to stick to them to avoid enabling the addiction.

Step 6: Plan the intervention meeting.

The intervention team may have several planning sessions before the actual intervention meeting in order to make sure that it is well structured. Careful planning is key.

Families and loved ones may need to work through some issues before hosting the actual intervention.

Step 7: Host the actual intervention.

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The intervention itself should be planned for a time when the individual is at their best, meaning they are rested and not intoxicated. The meeting is led by the interventionist and attended by the entire intervention team. Members of the team share their letters and evidence on how addiction has disrupted their lives personally. They then offer treatment options for their loved one while being clear about the consequences if they do not get help. The idea is to avoid “ganging up” on the individual or making them feel defensive, and instead to be caring. The goal is that the individual struggling with addiction agrees to enter into one of the three chosen treatment programs immediately following the intervention.