I receive many calls and emails from families and concerned loved ones asking how to choose an interventionist. There are many who call themselves certified interventionists and damage is being caused to families by individuals who practice outside their experience and training. Although many are well meaning, damage is done, and it can take years to heal the splinters caused by a poorly executed intervention process.
Do not mistake a ‘certified’ interventionist as a qualified interventionist.
Do not be afraid to ask about their training and length of practice. As you would with any health care professional, ask for references. Explore their experience and history in the field.
You are entrusting your family member to a professional, in hopes they provide the most effective care. Do not succumb to the pressure of needing to take immediate action out of fear your loved one will suffer terrible consequence. Families struggle greatly from the effects of the disease, in most cases for years, therefore, it behooves you to take a little time, weather it is a few days or weeks, to research and feel comfortable with who you decide to trust with your family. Intervention can change the course of your life so take your time. Slow down. Approach intervention by educating yourself and trust your intuition during the initial conversation. If you feel pressured or bullied, excuse yourself from the conversation, hang up and move on.
Intervention is not a science, rather an art.
Every family has its own heartbeat and the skill of a great interventionist is to be able to feel the unique rhythm in the family. Families do not fit within the structure of a training manual, but rather, bleed outside the lines of a text book, with fear, anger, shame and secrets. A family’s trust should never be used as a weapon to force change through shame, but a gift used to inspire health and healing.
I was 23 years old years when I began my career, long before there were ‘trainings’, certifications and professional territories. I started by working in a residential treatment facility. I wanted to learn every aspect of treatment, from intake to after care planning, and the complete therapeutic process. I learned to work with addicts who were suffering in detox and follow them through their intensive therapeutic challenges. I learned how to run process groups and family programs. I learned how to be a part of a clinical team, working side by side with some of the most respected addiction therapists in the country. I learned all medical, psychologically and spiritually accepts of residential care. I attended and completed the Drug and Alcohol Studies program at UCB Extension, which took two years and hundreds of hours of practical training. The years dedicated to my work as a counselor and student cemented a firm foundation upon which, I launched into my intervention career.
However, my true training was the 5 years I followed my mentor around the country. I learned, not in a classroom, but in family rooms, sitting next to a pioneer in the intervention field. Jo Ann Towle, who helped define the profession and forge the way for all professionals to come, was my instructor. I listened and watched everything she did and said. I traveled with her to places near and far. We went on great adventures across the country and I absorbed every ounce of her experience. I sat in her office and listened to her talk to families, walking them through their paralyzing fear, creating the safety that is necessary for healing to begin. My experiential training came from facilitating countless of interventions with her. I sat at her side and watched her skillfully intervene on the disease that was affecting the whole family system. She never bullied or shamed a family or an addict, rather she inspired, encouraged and educated families, illuminating the path to health and healing. Her ability to deliver hard truths, with a sensitivity that allowed it to be received, is a skill I have since practiced for 25 years.
What trainings don’t teach you is the art of connection.
The skill of turning and shifting as the disease penetrates the room.
Training do not teach you how to sit with a family as they visit the grave site of the child they lost to an overdose or how to pick up a mother, who has collapsed on the floor of her kitchen with grief, after her addicted child disappears, into the darkest of nights. And they do not teach how to wipe the tears of a spouse, when their partner chooses alcohol, over a 35-year marriage.
I have laughed with families and I have cried.
I have stood by a father while he, walked into San Quentin for his first visit with his son who was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter. I have walked the street with prostitutes, who were too ashamed to face their families, creating a connection of shameless support and encouragement, which in turns, motivates even the most hopeless of addicts, to take the risk to accept help. I have sat in board rooms of multi-billion-dollar companies, staring into the eyes of executives, who are equally lost and broken, as the prostitutes, I met with only days prior.
The success of intervention, if defined by the addict admitting into treatment, is directly connected to the family’s ability to let go. The work of a skilled interventionist is not only ‘getting someone to admit to treatment’ but shifting the direction of the whole family system. No matter the model of intervention that is practiced, working with the family is the truest definition of intervention. Intervention is a radical act of family love and loyalty and I consider it a Devine privilege to be a part of the change that will affect generations to follow.
I approach intervention in a highly professional manner, respecting every family member.
The truth is, addicts will not remember much of what is said during the intervention, but they will never forget how the intervention made them feel. My hope is to create a feeling of love and support, not shame. Intervention can become very unpredictable and I have seen many wild, unexpected and even aggressive responses to intervention. However, even when the addicted person refuses treatment, I maintain respect for the process and every person in the room, even in the face of terrible resistance and sometimes even fear. By providing respectful intervention, I know that, when the end comes, and the pain of addiction proves to be too heavy to bare, a well facilitated intervention will keep the doors of treatment and help wide open.
Intervention touches and changes lives and will dictate the immediate future of the ones you love most, so breathe. Slow down. And proceed with caution and curiosity. There are many dedicated and skilled professionals in the world of intervention and treatment. Chances are high, if you take a little time, you will land in the perfect hands for your family.
On a personal note, I believe my purpose as a woman in long term recovery, is to leave a seed of hope planted deep within every addict and family, I meet in my office. Whether they seek treatment or not, I want to be the whisper of change that stays with them long after our work is done.
Sober and Shameless.