What Is a Brief Intervention, and How Can It Help Your Patients?


Brief interventions are a widely acclaimed method of helping people in crisis or those with a substance use disorder. Understanding how they work and how to implement them can help social workers and loved ones provide individuals with the care and support they need.


What Is a Brief Intervention?

A brief intervention is a short counseling session that uses motivational interviewing techniques to help a patient or loved one realize they have a substance abuse problem and need help.

The motivational interviewing process used in a brief intervention requires a calm discussion without confrontation that emphasizes the patient’s control over their choices without trying to bear down your authority on their choices or ideas.

A brief intervention often follows a loose set of steps involving:

  • Bringing up the subject of their substance abuse in a non-judgmental manner
  • Inquiring about the possible connections between physical or mental health problems the patient is experiencing as a result of their substance abuse
  • Encouraging the patient to explore and identify reasons they would like to change and how they could achieve change
  • Offering an open-ended list of ways to seek treatment or assistance

In most cases, a brief intervention should take no more than 10-15 minutes and can take place in a home, a hospital, or any semi-private, comfortable setting. The point of a brief interview is to provide the patient with a sense of self-awareness and access to treatment without becoming authoritative or demanding.


How Do Motivational Interviewing Techniques Work in Brief Interventions?

As a brief intervention is essentially non-confrontational, there are a few techniques that can ensure you maintain the principles of the brief intervention approach and still provide your patient with the guidance and encouragement they need to seek treatment.

These principles include:

  • Expressing empathy for their situation without making it seem like you pity them. Listen and ask open-ended questions that allow the patient to expand on their answers and thought processes.
  • Help them realize their discrepancies and how their behavior comes between them and their lifelong goals or personal values.
  • If you are met with resistance, don’t double down or become defensive; instead, change your approach and avoid arguing.
  • Support their free will and their ability to seek and obtain treatment of their own accord. Micro-management may alienate them from the idea of getting help.


What Is SBIRT and How Does It Work?

Brief interventions form an essential part of the SBIRT intervention approach. SBIRT stands for screening, brief intervention, and referrals to treatment.

The screening process typically attempts to assess how severe the crisis or health issue is, while a brief intervention can provide additional insight and motivate your patient to identify and address their condition. Finally, a referral to treatment provides a solution or access to care once the patient agrees they need help.

There are many events which could lead to a crisis and in turn trigger a SBIRT intervention. An overdose, for example, is a clear sign of substance abuse issues. Other incidents which may lead to a SBIRT intervention include injuries, accidents, liver failure, violence, medical emergencies, risky sexual behavior, memory problems, depression, anxiety, social problems, alcohol use, unemployment, and more.


Benefits for Patients with Addictions

For patients struggling with addiction or a substance use disorder, screening and brief intervention can be the first steps they take toward getting help and starting recovery. Brief intervention and the SBIRT method are excellent ways to help a person abusing drugs or alcohol develop the self-awareness necessary for them to ask for help of their own accord.

One of the main issues encountered by social workers recommending treatment to their patients addicted to drugs or alcohol is resistance to the idea of being told they need help or have to go to rehab. Brief interventions promote a discussion and situation where patients feel they are coming to the conclusion that they need help by themselves and aren’t being forced into anything.


Use RecoverWell as a Brief Interventions Tool

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Once your patient expresses a willingness to seek treatment, RecoverWell can help you access the right rehab or recovery center quickly and easily, significantly reducing the chance of them changing their minds, especially considering the short window of time available for treatment referral during a brief intervention.

RecoverWell is a matchmaking tool that links patients to the best rehab for them based on their treatment needs, personal preferences, co-occurring disorders, budget, and insurance coverage, and it allows you to get in touch with matched rehab centers within minutes.

This can help ensure your patient gets the quality treatment they require, tailored to all their requirements and interests.

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