Module 9: working with young people on AOD issues: learner's workbook

6.3 How to carry out brief interventions

Page last updated: 2004

Brief interventions require good communication skills. It is therefore important that you:

  • Assess the situation first. Is the environment safe or hostile?
  • Assess the young person's level of intoxication or level of attention
  • Listen to what a young person has to say
  • Notice what they haven't said or what they do not wish to talk about
  • Observe how they react
  • Empathise with them and their situation
  • Consider what you may already know about them
  • Talk in a non-threatening manner
  • Avoid lecturing.
At the very least, brief interventions will ensure that the young person will go away with some information, advice and point of contact or referral for ongoing support and/or information.

Do not assume that the young person has a lot of information. It is important to always check to see how they know. By engaging in brief interventions with young people you may be able to provide enough information to allow them to make better choices, raise their awareness, and motivate and support young people to make decisions that are best for them.

Role play

This role play provides you with an opportunity to consider your skills in brief intervention. Remember that this is a constructive learning opportunity and its success will depend on the way you provide and take on feedback.

Working in groups of three, each participant takes a turn in the following roles:
  • school counsellor
  • the young person
  • the observer
Read the following:
  • Role play scenario
  • Debriefing sheet
  • Observer worksheet
  • Reflection sheet
Allow approximately 15-20 minutes for each role play including the debriefing. Allow time for role changeover. The observer will manage time and the debriefing process.

Top of page(A good point for student to contact facilitator.)

If you are undertaking this task as a distance learner take on the role of the worker and complete the role play with a co-worker or friend. Make sure that you complete the Debriefing Sheet and the Reflection Sheet. You can complete the Observer Worksheet as a self-evaluation task if you were unable to find an observer for your role play.

Role play scenario

Matt is a 16-year-old male in Year 11 at school. His parents have recently called the school counsellor, concerned because he is drinking large amounts of alcohol on weekends with his friends. More recently he has begun arriving home early on Sunday morning (after a Saturday night out) extremely intoxicated, to the point where he vomits and has difficulty speaking or even walking.

A few weeks ago, Matt arrived home later than usual (minus his eyebrows because they were shaved off by his mates after he had 'passed out' after drinking too much), and talked about using marijuana. Although Matt's parents accept 'heavy drinking' as a relatively normal part of growing up, they are concerned that Matt's drinking is becoming more frequent and he is now using an illicit drug. They also suspect that he may be using other substances as well. Whenever they have tried to discuss their concerns with Matt, or impose limits on his going out, he becomes extremely agitated and tells his parents that they don't understand and that they are being over-protective. Matt believes that he is just doing what his mates do, and that there is nothing wrong with his behaviour.

The school has noticed no recent decline in his grades. Although Matt has never been a top student, he has consistently obtained B/C grades and has always planned on going to university to study business. Indeed, as long as his current grades are maintained, he may achieve this goal (although in order to do so it is important that his grades do not fall).

The school counsellor undertakes a brief intervention with Matt.

Role play debriefing sheet

Those taking the observer role are responsible for facilitating the debriefing.
  1. Ask the person who role-played 'the worker' to state what they felt they did well and what could be done differently next time.

  2. Ask the young person (role player) to give constructive feedback [to the worker stating what was helpful, and not so helpful, including verbal and nonverbal aspects of worker's approach.

  3. Give the worker an opportunity to comment or seek any further feedback (e.g. 'How was it for you when I ....... ?')

  4. Ask the young person and worker role players to stand physically move away from the role's seating position and shake off the role. State their real name and two qualities about them which are different from the role they played.

  5. Observers then give constructive feedback to the worker. Finish by restating what strengths the worker demonstrated.
All group members then identify the key learning points of the role play.
Top of page

Role play observer worksheet (brief intervention)

Task - writing exercise/group activity

Provide feedback on the school counsellor's initial response to the young person, by providing comments on the following:
  • Maintained communication with the young person in an appropriate way, (non-threatening and non-judgemental manner, used openended questioning)
  • Checked to see if it is an appropriate time to conduct a brief intervention, bearing in mind confidentiality issues and ethical conduct?
  • Identified the young person's stage of change and responded appropriately
  • Provided relevant information to young person regarding drug use and/or harm reduction strategies and information for referrals to appropriate agencies and/or treatment services
  • Provided the young person with relevant information regarding health risks of drug use
  • Communicated clearly and calmly at all times
  • Explained to the young person what their options are, and discussed their choices, needs, safety
  • Explored possible risk and protective factors outlined in the youth-focused systems model
  • Provided the young person with relevant information regarding health risks of drug use

Reflection sheet


Reflect on what you have just learnt and write down your thoughts to the following questions:

Question - What went well in the role play?

Question - What didn't go so well?

Question - What would you do differently next time?

Question - What constraints might you come across in this type of situation at work?

Question - What steps might you take in your workplace to apply what you have learnt in this topic?