So You Want to Be an Interventionist! – Part One of Two Parts

A few years ago a treatment magazine highlighted an expose on the intervention industry.  One of the quotes in the article stood out:  “It seems everyone wants to be an interventionist.”  Although my colleagues and I found the quote humorous—the point was well taken.

Many are attracted to the field of addiction and once they hear about the specialty of intervention they decide to enter the rank as an intervention specialist.   They do so with respect, determination and compassion.  Some hope to intern as an apprentice with an experienced interventionist and learn the intricacies and nuances of the craft.  Yet, today, this is difficult, because there is limited training for an interventionist.  Although some ask me for advice, the majority will try to figure out what it takes to create a business and be successful.

So let us begin!  If I were to sit down and advise a bright, shining, intern on what a “profile” of an interventionist is, I would keep the dialog simple and to the point.  I would then map out the following points one needs to consider before entering the field as an intervention specialist:


I believe, to intervene and be of service to families, you must be at peace with self. It is very difficult to offer hope to patients and families if you are a person who lives in disharmony.  If one is experiencing anger, rage, and a pending divorce or has a great deal of resentment, one must first deal with these issues in order to free oneself.   When intervening, you must at all times, be in the moment of your case.  You cannot be occupied with negative emotions.


To be an interventionist takes time and much of the time is spent away from home -  holidays, weekends, special family gatherings, weddings, etc…  You must have a mate that agrees to this lifestyle.  I am blessed with a supportive spouse who has always been there for me.  Without her support, I could not have spent so many years in my craft.  You will need your mate’s support, understanding, compassion and being there for the family’s needs when your head is going over, “Why didn’t that client go to treatment today?”  Support on both ends is so needed.   Intervening is not an 8 to 5 job.


I honestly believe that when families pay us compensation, they want a perfectionist.  If I need a surgeon, I hope he/she is a perfectionist.  I hope my dentist is a perfectionist along with my mechanic and my electrician (you get the picture).  Truly, we deal with life and death issues.  If you have a lackadaisical attitude or give only a certain percent of your energy, then intervening is not for you. There is a saying in the medical field:  there are no minor surgeries, only minor surgeons.  You must deliver the finest quality of workmanship and being a perfectionist is a foundation.


Intervening can bring out many different emotions from the family and patient.  I have had the patient say, “Thank you for this wonderful gift” to “How dare you, get out of my house!”  Families can also be perplexing.   Remember, blood is thicker than water.  You must always go over risk factors prior to an intervention—otherwise, families can turn on you!  Remember, this is stuff you bring home after the case.  Can you separate your work from your home life?


Over the years, I have said to many new interventionists, “Don’t quit your day job!”  An amazing statistic shows 9 out of 10 of those intervened upon will enter treatment after their intervention (rather standard).  Yet, only 1-10 inquiries will result in an intervention (reasons for not going forward are:  money, split camps in the family, maybe the problem will go away).  There is a lot of inquiry time spent on the phone that you chalk up to community service because most callers are just looking and are not yet convinced addiction is lethal.   Some callers are looking for a bargain; others work one interventionist against another.  When you have a business based upon how many times a day the phone rings (reactive business) you will always find ebb and flow.   When I want the phone calls to slow down during the holidays, it seems people are asking for interventions on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and wanting it NOW!  This is what we in the business classify as reactive business.


Recovery from addiction does not mean you are now a professional specialist.  Recovery means you are now sensitive to the addictive client and that is what attracts you to the field of addiction treatment.  You must be astute in the disease concept, other pathologies, treatment models, intervention methods and have a vocabulary that is clean and concise, yet not overbearing (hopefully, you are a likeable person). I include people’s recovering testimonials in my interventions for age and gender.  It can be very moving and hopeful.  On the other side, I have had recovering participants from families come across rigid, know it all, and inappropriate.  To be an interventionist, you must hold your profession for all to see and admire.  You represent a spoke in the wheel of your profession.


I cannot explain the energy it takes to completely involve yourself in a case– physically, psychologically and spiritually.  There is no easy intervention.  It is always emotionally tiring–especially when results seem bleak.  Prior to an intervention, I fast.   For whatever reason, I lose my appetite.  I also do not sleep well before the intervention.  It has always been like this for me since I started intervening.  If a case does not go well for me, I tend to brood or keep going over should, could and would have’s. We in the field, often say to intervene is to induce a crisis in the additive’s life.  I also realize to intervene creates crisis in all the participant’s lives.  It is hectic, courageous and exhausting.  The interventionist deserves every dollar they charge for being available to jump into the frying pan and tolerate the heat!    When you go home after a case, you have to change and be a husband, wife, partner, mom or dad.  Many need time to decompress.


I have believed for a long time that most addictive people are attracted to the double edge sword of living.  In other words, they are attracted to living on the edge.  This might work for you in a positive manner when you are a recovering addicted person and work in the field of addiction.  If you can be calm within a storm, then you have the making for being an interventionist.  The opposite can be problematic when one lives a chaotic life as an interventionist and passes his disharmony and instability on to his clients.  This is not only chaotic for you but also for your colleagues and those you serve.  You must be stable to attract participants to follow your lead.  One must show steadiness to attract calm.  I believe that intervening can be intoxicating (ask new interventionists and they will tell you they love the rush in pursuing the moment).  If you do not like chaos or getting involved in people’s problems, you may not want to pursue this specialty!


To intervene and offer a full range of service is to run a marathon.  It can be very time consuming when returning calls (loved ones, friends, colleagues, and shoppers) and answering inquiries.  Assessing a case can take another block of time, extra phone calls and meetings.  You must continually do research, prepare the family, intervene, make follow-up calls and perform other aspects of the case.  In each case you must exceed expectations and deliver due diligence.

On some cases you lose money due to the hours spent and on others your return is acceptable.  A great deal of time is spent on communicating and re-communicating when you treat families the same way you would want your loved ones treated.  Remember, a marathon is 26.2 miles not 18 or 20.  Once a family hires you to perform–you have promised you will run the 26.2 miles.

I hope you have enjoyed Part I of this 2 part series.  Part II will include more insights and successes.

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