Intervention History

Family intervention, where family and friends band together and encourage a drinker to accept help for his drinking, has been used successfully for over thirty years, ever since Vernon Johnson first began experimenting with the technique in the early 1960's.

This intervention technique was and continues to be the standard against which all further developments are compared and measured. And rightfully so. Johnson's classic volume I'll Quit Tomorrow, published in 1973, includes the basic rationale and approach to interventions still used today. This approach was published later as a separate book, Intervention, in 1986. Both books remain excellent primers on the subject for the professional and layperson alike.

However, there have been many developments over the last few decades. And even though these developments are but variations on Johnson's basic themes, some of them are significant. First of all, people recognized that the intervention technique was applicable to a broader range of environments and issues than just alcoholism in the family as most people originally thought. For example, intervention is now used not only in domestic situations with family and friends, but also in many other environments, among them businesses and corporate boardrooms (often called "Executive" interventions), the military, professional sports, and various professional associations including impaired professional groups in the mental health field. And in addition to addressing alcohol abuse and addiction, interventions are also done for people with other compulsive behaviors such as drug abuse, drug addiction, gambling, sex addiction, eating disorders, computer addiction, internet addiction and other self-destructive behaviors. Recently they are even being performed for violent rages.

Thus intervention activity has increased both by serving a wider and more varied population and by addressing a broader range of issues. And concomitant with this increase has been an increase in several other areas including the numbers of people conducting interventions and in refinements and variations on the intervention technique itself.

As the applications of interventions has grown, and as more people with a broader range of backgrounds have become involved in conducting interventions, many refinements on Johnson's original techniques emerged. Some of these refinements are due to the population served. For example, the approach to interventions can vary considerably from one conducted in a safe corporate board room to one conducted in a potentially violent poor inner city apartment. Also the mechanics of the intervention often vary depending on the style, training and history of the interventionist: some interventionists are assertive, some relaxed and laid back; some interventions are done by one practitioner, others have more than one: some interventions are done in the drinker's home, others in the interventionist's office; some interventions focus on getting help for the drinker, others on promoting recovery for the whole family.

In short, the acceptance by the general public, the refinements in intervention approaches and techniques, and the range of self-destructive behaviors for which interventions are now appropriate, have all increased substantially since Vernon Johnson first expressed his ideas on the subject over twenty years ago.