Brief Interventions: An Introduction

A brief intervention is a short interaction with a patient that targets small cognitive and/or behavioral changes.

Brief interventions can be done in a single session or there may be several across multiple sessions. BIs are patient-centered and target motivating a patient toward behavioral change through non-judgmental, open-ended questioning.

Common Elements of Brief Interventions

There are several components that are common to most brief interventions:

  • Focus on substance use and related problems, specifically patients with problematic or at-risk use.
  • Can be done in a minimal amount of time (ranging from 5–15 minutes in length).
  • Are NOT intended to treat those who may have a substance use disorder diagnosis
  • Do not take the place of specialized addiction treatment but can be used to encourage those with more serious substance use problems to accept specialized assessment or treatment..

Specifically brief interventions focus on motivating patients to adopt healthier behaviors by

  • Helping the patient to perceive his/her use as putting him/her at risk for negative health and social consequences by presenting factual information in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Exploring variables in the patient’s life which reinforce the unhealthy behavior and identify variables which may promote positive change.
  • Eliciting specific beneficial behavior changes acceptable to the patient. By asking the patient for suggestions for what they would be willing to try and what steps they might take to reduce their use or to otherwise address the identified problem, they will be more likely to adopt those changes.
  • Agreeing upon a follow-up plan. Getting a patient to “say yes” and agree to next steps is a key component of getting them to actually take those steps.

patient consultationIn the end, brief interventions are as much about how you interact with your patients as they are about what you interact about. The overarching approach is to provide information, encouragement, and support in a non-judgmental, clear, and supportive manner.

Asking questions, understanding the patients’ perspective (in large part so they come to understand it better themselves as well!), and acting as a guide is more conducive to a BI approach than directive and authoritarian approaches (“Do this and  you will be much better off” simply is not effective with behavioral change).

With BI, we acknowledge patient autonomy/responsibility in making positive changes and we build a partnership in working toward healthier behaviors.