Intervention Guidelines

Intervention – A Starting Point For Change

An intervention is a well planned, structured, highly personalized process where family and/or friends come together with one goal in mind: To help the suffering loved one agree to enter a recommended treatment program so that he or she can begin the process of recovery. Thisprocess breaks through the denial of someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, and is delivered in an environment that maintains the self-respect of the suffering individual, while avoiding old patterns of resentment, shame, or blame.

As you may have noticed, the key word above is “process.” An Intervention is not a random “event” that depends on luck or happenstance for a successful outcome. When orchestrated by family members or concerned friends, who though well meaning, are themselves victims of the destructive nature of disordered eating, old patterns of behavior or familiar dialogue typically follow. The stage is set for yet another confrontational event. The suffering individual uses the confrontation to add another layer to the wall of denial behind which they take refuge. Individuals caught in the cycle of destructive behavior become masters at defiance and manipulation. Events such as these leave families divided, and the suffering individual angry, hurt – and paradoxically – in charge! An Intervention conducted with love, care and concern, and facilitated by a trained and experienced professional, presents a very different scenario.

First, Interventions must be designed to meet the unique needs of individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder. In addition, training of each participant, facilitated by a professional Interventionist, is crucial to avoiding the type of confrontational event described earlier. Two of the most important components in an Intervention are the preparation and the selection of the team that will participate.

Family Interventions

A Family Intervention deals with family members who are typically tired, angry, frustrated, unsure, confused and afraid. It is hard to admit that their loved one’s broken promises and abuse has taken a toll on the family, making them all victims of the harmful and vicious cycle of destructive behavior. One by one, they have been hurt and used in attempts to offer their loved one, “just one more chance.” The Family Intervention process involves unifying the family in a common strategy that focuses on healthy dynamics and setting boundaries for new patterns of behavior. This is accomplished through the carefully structured training and preparation phase. It is crucial that time for such preparation be set-aside in advance. While the focus of a Family Intervention will always remain on the suffering individual, the process will bring healing and restoration to families that have been devastated and divided.

Key to understanding the Intervention process is an awareness of what an Intervention is not. Intervention is not therapy. Once again, an Intervention has one goal: To help the suffering loved one agree to enter a recommended treatment program so that he or she can begin recovery. This means that the Intervention is not the appropriate time to list all the hurts each person has suffered. It is not the time to figure out the “why” of an eating disorder. It is also not the place to try to get the suffering individual to make long-term promises about behavior change. Most family members and friends have already tried these things and failed.

What should someone be looking for when seeking a professional Interventionist to assist in getting a loved one into treatment? An Interventionist should be specially trained and certified, and not only in the Intervention process. This individual should also be well versed in all forms of behavioral counseling disciplines so as to be able to recognize addictions, and other mental health disorders that occur in conjunction with the eating disorder (such as anxiety, depression, or personality disorders).

Guiding clients to treatment programs that are best suited to helping their suffering friend or loved one is a key responsibility of the Interventionist. The Interventionist should be able to provide concerned family members and friends a comprehensive list of such programs and assist their clients in making contact with the appropriate individual at each facility. Ask the Interventionist for references and about his or her credentials as well as participation in organizations such as the Association of Intervention Specialists. Talk with others who have used the services of the Interventionist you are interested in.

An Intervention is clearly successful when the individual enters treatment. It is also successful when friends and family become united in dealing with the issues that have been tearing them apart. Even when the individual does not choose treatment the day of the Intervention, the likelihood that he or she will make such a choice is greatly enhanced when the loved one can no longer drive a wedge between the team members. There is great strength in unity.


Jerry L. Law, D. Min., CDAAC, BRI-I
ISA Intervention and Recovery Specialists