Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention

Heron's six categories of intervention definition - toolshero

This article explains Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention in a practical way. After reading, you will understand the basis of this powerful psychology and motivation tool.

What are Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention?

Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention serve as a framework for organisations to solve problems with the execution of certain tasks in a workplace. This is done by means of interventions. An intervention, in this context, is when a person or procedure intervenes in order to change or prevent something. That is, an act aimed at resolving a problem. Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention offers the user a helping hand in analysing the problem and selecting the right style from which to approach the problem.

John Heron ‘s model consists of two basic intervention styles. These are authoritative and facilitative. If an intervention is authoritative, that means the person who is helping provides the other with information, challenges them, or makes a suggestion. If an intervention is facilitative, the person who is helping looks for solutions and ideas, and tries to help the other make decisions.

Since 1975, when Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention was published, the analytical tool has shown its value on multiple occasions, for example in psychiatry and mental health care. It has allowed for a framework to be developed in nursing from interactions and interventions with clients.

Intervention Styles

Different forms of interventions are effective in different situations. As said, there are two basic styles, authoritative and facilitative. These two basic styles are subdivided into six styles. Each of Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention is explained in a practical way below.

Heron's Six Categories of Intervention - toolshero

Authoritative-prescriptive

Out of the six intervention styles, the authoritative-prescriptive one is the simplest and probably the most common form of help. This form of intervention involves approaching a person in a straightforward manner and telling them what to do. They get to the point quickly and don’t look for alternatives; it’s simply a matter of delivering a message containing instruction. Input or ideas are not really sought. It’s important that the instruction or the advice be concrete. The person who is being helped should take action by themselves immediately after the intervention.

This style is often used when, due to time constraints, someone cannot wait until another person is ready to carry out tasks. An example from the real world of this style being used is in the case of a new employee who has no experience yet. If it happens with an employee with plenty of experience, that is usually indicative of a lack of trust between manager and employee.

Authoritative-informative

The second of Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention is authoritative-informative. This style involves passing on important pieces of information to a person, of which the giver knows the receiver will need them for their tasks. This information comes from years of experience, and sharing this knowledge is crucial in order to ensure the right knowledge ends up at the right people. Without the right information, teams can’t work effectively, so a trustworthy source of information is a gold mine.

This style is often used with less experienced employees who are known to not yet know everything, or not yet have developed the right skills. Regardless of the exact reason, they are not yet skilled and developed enough to work fully independently within the organisation.

Authoritative-confronting

The third of Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention is the most aggressive in the model. An authoritative-confronting form of intervention involves asking a person to change their vision and perspective and approach a certain project or task from a different angle. Even though the helper still acts in a positive manner, such a remark or confrontation will not leave the other unaffected. After all, it comes down to the fact that an employee’s working method is not effective and needs to change.

This form of intervention may be used when an employee needs to be stimulated to think independently. A manager will still supervise the employee at all times.

Facilitative-cathartic

The fourth intervention style from Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention is facilitative-cathartic. This is the first of the facilitative forms of interventions. A cathartic approach may be needed when team members are hitting a wall when it comes to productivity. It offers support to the employees by giving them the chance of expressing their emotions and sharing their frustrations. With these feelings having been made public, a constructive solution may then be sought collectively.

This approach is often considered when a skilled team member starts to slow down without any explanation.

Facilitative-catalytic

Facilitative-catalytic is the fifth form of interventions from Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention. This form is used to let an employee learn from themselves. By offering them a way to reflect on themselves and their performance, they may discover weaknesses and learn from them.

The goal of this approach is to help employees think about their own performance and potential.

Facilitative-supportive

The last of Heron’s Six Categories Intervention is, in effect, a confidence-building session. Instead of taking on a confrontational style like in the authoritative forms, this form causes others to develop a good feeling about themselves. Characteristic for this style is that the helper reminds the one helped of their qualities, performances, or qualifications they have obtained. At the end of the conversation, the employee should feel like they can take on the world again.

This intervention style is mainly intended to strengthen employees’ trust and self-confidence.

Application

The six forms of intervention, divided across two basic styles, can be used for many business problems employees and managers may have. A manager, for example, can take on an informative approach with an employee who was recently given more responsibilities. The manager knows what is awaiting that employee and is therefore able to effectively inform and prepare them. In another situation, it would be better to use a confrontational intervention style, for example when an employee’s productivity is lagging behind. The supportive or cathartic interventions allows for frustrations to be expressed and for the employee to become more productive once again.

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognise the explanation about Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention? What do you think are some advantages of applying this model in daily life? Do you use various kinds of interventions? Do you have any tips or additional comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Burnard, P., & Morrison, P. (1988). Nurses’ perceptions of their interpersonal skills: a descriptive study using six category intervention analysis. Nurse Education Today, 8(5), 266-272.
  2. Heron, J. (1976). A six-category intervention analysis. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 4(2), 143-155.
  3. Heron, J. (2001). Helping the client: A creative practical guide. Sage.
  4. Sloan, G., & Watson, H. (2001). John Heron’s six‐category intervention analysis: towards understanding interpersonal relations and progressing the delivery of clinical supervision for mental health nursing in the United Kingdom. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 36(2), 206-214.

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Ben Janse
About the Author

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.

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