Six Category Intervention Analysis defined

© 2001 John Heron

the source

The following are extracts from the first few pages of the third edition, published by the HPRP, University of Surrey with kind permission of John Heron, joint copyright holder. The book has gone through many editions, currently as “Helping the Client: A Creative Practical Guide” which is in its fifth Edition, Sage Publications Ltd (2001)


The six category analysis was originally inspired by R. Blake and J. Mouton, “The Diagnosis and Development Matrix”, Scientific Methods, 1972. Their D/D Matrix offered five kinds of interventions that “characterise what applied behavioural scientists do as they work with people in organisations”. Their five kinds are: cathartic, catalytic, confrontation, prescriptive, principles/theories/models.

I have altered this scheme to make it more comprehensive by adding two further types of intervention - informative and supportive; also to make it more internally coherent by regarding their principles/theories/models as a sub-species of the catalytic type of intervention.

What is now offered, therefore, are six basic intervention categories, which I have developed in ways that are quite independent of Blake and Mouton's monograph. Their focus is primarily on interventions in organisational life by organisational development consultants. Mine is primarily on one-to-one interventions from practitioner to client.

“the six categories”

In the main body of the text, each of the categories is dealt with at some length, with a longer definition, a general preface, then a list of interventions that belong to that category. A few paragraphs below, I give an initial short definition of each category.

classes of intention

The six category system deals with six basic kinds of intention the practitioner can have in serving his client. Each category is one major class of intention that subsumes a whole range of sub-intentions and specific behaviours that manifest them. So with six kinds of genus and many species within each genus, the system has great flexibility and power to cover a very wide range of client needs and practitioner roles, and to cover them with “practical intent”.

accessible and flexible

It is also accessible for professional use and professional training: people are quick to get the hang of it and get it into action. This is because it focusses on the intention, the purpose, of interventions; because the six major types of intention picked out are close to the grain of the interests and needs of human beings; and because the genus-species hierarchy enables a large number of interventions to be organised under a very few simple and basic concepts. And at the same time, as we have seen, it gives scope for practitioners to explore variations in their use of language in order to make each intervention more effective in, and more suited to, its context.


1. “Prescriptive” A prescriptive intervention seeks to direct the behaviour of the client, usually behaviour that is outside the practitioner-client relationship.

2. “Informative” An informative intervention seeks to impart, knowledge, information, meaning to the client.

3. “Confronting” A confronting intervention seeks to raise the consciousness of the client about some limiting attitude or behaviour of which he is relatively unaware.


4. “Cathartic”. A cathartic intervention seeks to enable the client to discharge, to abreact painful emotion, primarily grief, fear and anger.

5. “Catalytic”. A catalytic intervention seeks to elicit self-discovery, self- directed learning, living and problem-solving in the client.

6. “Supportive”. A supportive intervention seeks to affirm the worth and value of the client's person, qualities, attitudes or actions.

authoritative vs facilitative

The first three I call authoritative because they are rather more hierarchical: the practitioner is taking responsibility for and on behalf of the client - guiding his behaviour, giving him instruction, raising his consciousness. The second set of three I call facilitative because they are rather less hierarchical: the practitioner is seeking to enable the client to become more autonomous and take more responsibility for himself - by helping him release the emotional pain that blocks his personal power, by eliciting his self-directed learning, by affirming his worth as a unique being.

utility and value

The authoritative interventions are neither more nor less useful and valuable than the facilitative ones. It all depends on the nature of the practitioner's role, the particular needs of the client, and what the content or focus of the intervention is - I discuss this again in the preface to the prescriptive section. It is the specific, concrete context that makes one intervention more or less valuable than another - nothing else.

© 2001 John Heron

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