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A look back at my comments concerning the Johnson Model of Intervention

July 21, 2014
by David Brown
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Johnson Intervention revisited
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We received an e-mail that questioned one point in my first blog posting. The e-mailer suggested that while he believes that some Johnson-trained interventionists have used a surprise approach, the actual Johnson model was not designed to be a surprise and is more caring than confrontational. That may be true but we are now looking at a market place where there are so many inadequately trained interventionists that they take an easier softer way and take the easiest approach possible. In so doing they actually forget the wonderful aims that Vern Johnson set down in 1973 and are more interested in getting the intervention done, the client into treatment and onto their next case.

The American Psychological Association did some research and found that the intervention team was not always educated well enough to the confrontation aspects of the intervention and so some families can become a bit discouraged and despondent during the planning sessions, and they may choose to cancel the intervention before it moves forward. In a study published in 1989 in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 70 percent of groups cancelled the intervention during the planning stages. Families must be prepared to hear difficult statistics and plan for confrontation before they agree to a Johnson intervention. Individuals who undergo a Johnson Intervention are most likely to enter treatment, but the power of the Johnson Intervention to retain clients deteriorates over the course of treatment, as indicated by their diminished likelihood of completing.

As a result of Dr. Johnson’s model and his non-systemic approach, the Johnson model had a high rate of success in getting addicts and alcoholics into treatment.  However, it had an extremely poor rate of long term success for sobriety.  The Johnson model was very confrontational, focusing only on the behaviors of the addict and alcoholic. Not focusing on the family system and only on the addict is why the Johnson Model and non-professional intervention counselors should be very carefully considered before use. The surprise concept of this model was said to be aggressive in nature. Having said that all intervention models have some element of surprise.  Other intervention models do not invite a loved one to an “intervention,” they are invited to some type of family gathering or meeting.  This makes the intervention far less controversial in nature. For me it’s about bringing about meaningful change to the family system so that when the family member returns from treatment each family member has done their own work and the addict returns to a changed family system.

I have heard stories of interventions in which the interventionist created a negative, shaming environment. I have heard of interventionists coercing the identified patient into treatment. Recently I heard from a well informed source about an interventionist and his client arriving at a major treatment center with his client restrained! Unfortunately, this negative approach places addiction into the good-guy, bad-guy category versus supporting the medical model or the disease concept. This coercion approach gives the intervention process a negative image, an image sometimes exaggerated by cavalier interventionists calling themselves bounty hunters or headhunters. This barbaric approach both sabotages and minimizes the legitimate therapeutic component found in the intervention process. It leaves both the patient and intervention team participants with emotional scars.




Loriann Witte CAC, RAS, CNDAI with 20 + years owning & operating Rehabs and Intervention referrals.
My in depth study of what works and what doesn't work in addiction recovery gives me continuously evolving opinions.
My current belief is that an interventionist best serves the client and their family by studying and practicing the various intervention models about which so much has been written. One size does not fit all. People and family systems are can be very different in obvious and subtle ways. Picking up on the nuances does take education & experience. The interventionist better have more than one approach method.
What I mean by Field Model is for the clinician to be ready to adjust to the individual needs of the situation and personalities at hand.

Wits End Interventions Click Here
The most important part of the intervention is the letter that you will be writing, and reading OUT LOUD to your loved one. Everyone participating in the intervention must write a letter. This letter is to be written prior to the intervention written in the first person (Dear John), and must be read out loud, during the intervention, by the person who wrote it (unless they cannot be there). An intervention letter is composed of 6 parts. Please write your letter using the following guidelines:

Part 1 – Identification
Introduce the power of the relationship. For example: “I have loved you unconditionally since the before you were born”.
Please name your relationship. For example: “We have been friends for over 20 years”.
Remove all objections before they arise. For example: “I realize that I have contributed to your disease by drinking with you on many occasions and I am sorry”.
Part 2 – Love
Why do you love this person? Please list all their positive attributes.
Please talk about your fondest memories and experiences with your loved one.
Please talk about times you have been proud and grateful to have them in your life.
Part 3 – Changes
What has addiction changed about your loved one’s personality?
What has changed about your relationship with your loved one?
Part 4 – The Facts
- Please list as many specific incidents that have been a direct result of your
loved one’s substance abuse. For example: “On Thanksgiving last year, you
got so drunk that we pleaded with you not to drive home. You wouldn’t
listen and on the way home, you were pulled over and arrested for a DUI”.
Please be brief, specific, and only discuss incidents that you witnessed firsthand. Let us not talk about unknown things that will make them want to argue the facts.
Please refrain from using any judgmental language.

Part 4 - Apology
- Your loved one may be willing to die while waiting for an apology. At the base of the broken heart of
Addiction is true or perceived trauma. As you have noticed the addict holds a lot of blame for others. If this desire for an apology is keeping this person sick and robbing them of their will to live; now is the time to give the apology to them. We could of course have done better. No human interaction is perfect. In the clear light of hindsight see what YOU have said or done to harm this sick & dying person. Go to any length to save their life now. Give the gift of apology.
We are not here in intervention to present "we are right & you are wrong". State a desire to change. We all need to learn more and change in recovery. Addiction is a family disease.
Part 5 – Understanding
- This is the part of your letter where you let your loved one know that you
understand that they are sick and that this addiction is not their fault.
Please let them know that you understand that this is not a matter of willpower or “weak character”.
However, this is also where you let them know that while it is not their fault that they have a disease, it is their fault if they choose to do nothing about…and Today is the Day!!!
Part 6- The Ask
Please end your by letter saying whatever you feel you haven’t gotten a chance to say to you loved one.
Briefly explain the research you have done and how you believe this to be the best and most comfortable treatment center for them. Let them know that you have done your due diligence in research and would not send them to a place where you would not go yourself, if you needed to.
Most importantly, please end your letter by asking your loved one to accept help. Be direct and specific. For example: “Please accept the help that we are offering and go into treatment with Loriann today.

Cell phone # 949-292-2000
949-413-4109 cell for text


David Brown


David Brown


David Brown is Director of Avenues to Recovery in Olathe, Kansas and is a certified...

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