Johnson Model of Intervention

Interventions are coordinated efforts among family members, friends and treatment professionals to get an addicted loved one into rehabilitation for substance abuse problems.

Approximately 22.7 million people were addicted to an illicit substance in 2013, and only a mere 2.5 million of that number got any form of professional help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports.

What Is the Johnson Model of Intervention?

The Johnson Model may very likely be the most common mainstream form of intervention. A direct and confrontational form of intervention, this model focuses on heavy involvement by caregivers to nudge the addict into treatment. The role of the caregiver is variable. For one addict, it may be a parent; for another, it could be a grandmother or a spouse.

The caregiver gathers information on the addict’s social network in attempts to get some close friends and loved ones in on the intervention effort. Caregivers and loved ones meet with a professional interventionist for private meetings that the addict is not privy to. During these meetings, the intervention team will be taught the dangers of enabling and the hopeful outcome of intervention, as well as ways to manage problems in their individual relationships with the addict. All of this usually takes place over the course of two or three meetings, and then another meeting is held to actually carry out the intervention with the substance abuser.

Once a plan is in place that all parties are comfortable with, the actual intervention event where the addict is confronted takes place. This is generally performed in a location where the addict will be comfortable, such as the caregiver’s home. The Johnson intervention method is deeply rooted in the belief that it helps for addicts to hit rock bottom before they’ll accept help, and this intervention helps speed up that process rather than waiting for the addict to fall into it. Family members may sever ties with the addict if he doesn’t accept treatment, and it is made clear that this is done in order to protect them from further harm, not because they don’t love the addict. The addict is never shamed in this process, but he is confronted with the truth about how his substance abuse has affected those he loves, and that truth may be hard to hear.

Who Is It Best Suited For?

The most likely candidate for a Johnson Model intervention is the individual who doesn’t think they have a problem. SAMHSA reported in 2011 that only 1.2 percent of the 7.4 million alcoholics aged 21 to 64 suffering from untreated alcoholism thought treatment could help them. Thus, the vast majority do not think they need professional treatment services. Others are aware of their habits and how detrimental they are, but they just aren’t ready to quit. This is a primary reason many substance addicts don’t seek treatment on their own. A review of data spanning from 2008 through 2011 notes 39.2 percent of the population who needed treatment and did not get it reported they just weren’t ready to quit using, per the White House.

Individuals with mental health disorders are also prime candidates for this type of intervention, which can aid in getting someone into treatment when you are unable to fully rationalize with them. Helpguide notes around half of all people with severe mental illness are also drug or alcohol abusers. Often, mental illness is a precursor to enabling on the caregiver’s part. The caregiver makes excuses for the addict’s behavior and cites mental illness as the cause, thereby excusing the addict of his responsibility to stop. Addicts whose family members are frequently involved in their lives stand the best chance of responding positively to this type of intervention.

If the Johnson model does not sound like it applies to your situation, you may consider other methods, such as:

  • Crisis interventions
  • Tough love approach
  • Love First approach
  • ARISE interventions
  • Family interventions

What Are the Potential Outcomes of a Johnson Intervention?

There are two possible outcomes with a Johnson Model intervention — the addict will either accept help or she won’t. Families of those addicts who are not ready to accept help should not be deterred. There is help available to the family unit itself, and this could indirectly benefit the addict and further encourage her to seek help. The Johnson Model stresses the need for boundaries. Should an addict not be willing to accept help, those boundaries must be held firmly to prevent families from enabling their struggling loved one.

Remember that the hardest things to do are often the best for everyone involved. Continually allowing an addict to remain in your home, paying her bills, and excusing her behavior will not help you or her in the long run. The American Psychological Association reports 70 percent of families that attempt Johnson Model interventions do not follow through with them. You must have the courage to proceed with an intervention knowing that it may not work, and you may have to face consequences such as the addict cutting off communication with you in those instances. If the addict is receptive to her family’s efforts, she may treatment without much fuss. Even in these cases, it is best to have a bag packed, and the treatment facility picked out and expecting her for admission.

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Addicts aren’t always receptive, and they do often get defensive and even leave the premises. When this occurs, it is best to go against your instinct to chase after the person – something that often pushes her further away when she’s running off to be alone. Give her that time by herself to think about what has just happened. Sometimes the person just needs time to cool off and process what has been said. Yes, it’s possible that she may initially storm off and reach for the nearest drink, pill, or syringe, but the focus must remain on getting her to accept that she needs help, not on trying to stop her from doing what she wants to do. The major factor as to why interventions even work is because addicts feel in control, like they are making the choice for themselves.

On the upside, studies have shown that 75 percent of caregivers who complete Johnson Model interventions will get their loved one to accept and enter treatment, per a Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology review. They are not only transported to treatment and enrolled, but a professional interventionist will continue to check in on them and establish a lasting relationship with them. This is highly important, because interventionists know all too well how many patients relapse. These professionals want to build rapport and a solid level of trust with addicts so they will be willing to talk and re-enter treatment if necessary in the future.


Getting Help

While many patients certainly enroll themselves in treatment out of their own desire to get better, some need a push in getting there. An interventionist won’t just drive the addict to treatment and drop him at the door. A professional makes sure he gets settled and acclimated to his new environment, including seeing him through intake interviews and detox.

The worst thing you can do for your loved one is allow this to continue for one more day. Every time your loved one uses, he’s building a deeper relationship with a substance and pulling further away from those who love him. Not only will your relationship with him suffer, but he’ll also lose the things that matter to him most, possibly even his life. A Chemical Dependency Counseling publication notes that an alarming 95 percent of alcoholics who do not get help end up dying an average of 26 years early from their addiction.

But your loved one’s life story doesn’t need to end there. You can help spare the addict in your life of this fate and help him start a new, healthy life in recovery. Contact us to learn more about how to get started.

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