Johnson Model of Intervention

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Interventions are commonly used to convince substance abusers and addicts that they need professional help.

Most often, they serve as a way to introduce the addict to treatment and get him to voluntarily admit himself to a facility. Sometimes, an intervention comes after a tragic event; this is frequently when crisis interventions are used. Other times, direct confrontation is best. The most frequently used method of intervention is the Johnson Model.

What Is the Johnson Model of Intervention?

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The Johnson Model is centered on the belief that the addict needs to be pushed toward treatment, even if it means making life outside of rehab extremely difficult. A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology study notes the Johnson Model as having a 30 percent rate of success in getting problem drinkers into treatment, as compared to just 13 percent of those following an Al-Anon plan.

The Johnson Model was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Vernon Johnson. The goal of the Johnson Model of intervention is not just to get the addict into treatment, but to do so in a manner that makes him more likely to stay in treatment and respond to it. This often involves removing comfortable support from the addict.

Many family members worry about turning their backs on the substance abuser they love so much. They fear the addict will turn to other addicts, or reach for drugs or alcohol to cope. While this may be an addict’s kneejerk reaction, it won’t last long for most, and oftentimes, addicts need that motivating and sometimes uncomfortable push to get the help they need.


The primary person involved in the Johnson Model is someone who is very close to the addict. It is often this person who hires the professional interventionist. The entire treatment team then consists of a few key people who are close to the addict.The intervention professional teaches the loved ones how to confront the addict in a manner that is clear and nonjudgmental. The ultimate goal of any intervention is to get the addict into treatment. Those who may be involved in the intervention include:

  • Parents of the addict
  • The addict’s partner
  • Another relative
  • A close family friend
  • A recovered substance abuser who is close to the addict
  • A clergy member or counselor who is familiar to the addict

How to Stage an Intervention

The interventionist will instruct the primary contact on how to prepare for the big event. The first task will be gathering others to assist. The primary contact will touch base with other relatives and friends in the addict’s social network.

The interventionist will also go over topics like enabling, which many people unknowingly do with the addict in their life. You might lend the addict some cash, let them crash on your sofa, or drive them places. All of these actions don’t actually help the addict to get clean. Most addicts have a codependent nature, and substance abuse doesn’t make it easy to hold down stable employment. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports that combined data from 2005 through 2011 shows 18 percent of the unemployed reported past-month illicit drug use, while only 10 percent of part-time workers and eight percent of full-time employees did.

During preparation meetings, the interventionist teaches loved ones effective ways to communicate their feelings, all with the end goal of encouraging the addict to seek professional help. Multiple planning meetings are often needed to fully prepare for the intervention.

It is best to hold the intervention in a place where the addict is comfortable. Additionally, it can be hard to get the addict to show up to foreign locations, as they may suspect something is amiss.

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The Johnson Model often brings addicts to their lowest point. It may push the addict to his emotional breaking point in hopes that he will accept help. It is very confrontational but also highly successful. It is noted in the Alcoholism: Services Research in the Era of Managed Care that of all who participate in Johnson interventions, the success rate may be as high as 90 percent, but there are variables, including, of course, staying in treatment.

During the intervention, family members may express how they have felt since the addict started using and how her substance abuse has affected the family as a whole. The intent here is not to make the addict feel guilty — although that may happen as a consequence and isn’t unnatural — but to try and get the addict to see herself from others’ points of view and understand that she isn’t just harming herself. Many addicts will seek help for the sake of others they are hurting before they will for their own well-being. Self-esteem and self-worth are often so dismal in addiction that an addict may care more about her relatives than she cares about herself.

During a Johnson intervention, family members may also inform the addict of newly formed consequences for her behavior. For example, an addict’s mother may inform her that if she doesn’t get help, she cannot stay at the family home anymore. Relatives may cut the addict off financially and refuse to give her rides anywhere but to treatment. This act of forcing the addict’s hand can be highly effective in getting her to cave and accept treatment. It may not happen immediately, but when loved ones remain resolute, addicts often find they have no other choice but to cooperate.

Who Can Benefit from an Intervention?

The Johnson Model is one of the most common methods of intervention. For that reason, it is applicable to a variety of people. Many families think about staging an intervention, and even start the planning process, but don’t follow through with the process. The American Psychological Association reports 70 percent of participants failed to implement the Johnson intervention they planned in one analysis.

Many resist treatment due to fears of withdrawal or simply not wanting to give up abusing drugs and alcohol. Data ranging from 2010 through 2013 touts that 24.5 percent of people who didn’t seek help for their addiction cited the reason being that they weren’t ready to quit yet, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes. These people could perhaps be prodded with encouragement into a supportive treatment program.

Sealing the Deal

finding helpThe interventionist will instruct the primary contact to have a transportation plan in place should the addict agree to enter treatment. The treatment facility is chosen ahead of time and knows to expect the individual. His bags are already packed for him. All he has to do is agree, and he is taken to rehab that day. The less time he has to change his mind, the better. It is usually best to arrange for the interventionist to be the person who transports him to care.

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