In our overly saturated media-centered culture, interventions sometimes appear as not so much somber and life-saving efforts of friends and family for their addicted loved one, but primetime gold. For better or for worse, it has brought the business of intervention to the forefront of our collective consciousness, and with it, many questions: Does it work? Does it do more harm than good? Should an addictions or mental health professional be present?
Like any multi-faceted and complex issue, confusion often follows inquiry. There are no simple answers, but conventional wisdom would dictate that you seek out the most qualified and seasoned person to begin to understand the process. Dr. Louise Stanger undeniably fits the bill.
A licensed clinical social worker, with a doctorate degree in education, Stanger’s professional career spans more than three decades. From pioneering university substance abuse classes (hers was the first at San Diego State University), to conducting countless interventions, to working with 9/11 widows (she did her dissertation on women widowed at a young age; she herself a third-generation widow, though now remarried), there is little she hasn’t done in the field – and, more importantly, hasn’t shared with scores of students and fellow professionals, who themselves have gone on to blaze treatment-field trails of their own.
Whether collaborating with a family for their loved one’s life or a fellow clinician to achieve the best possible care for a family, Stanger maintains a core value of teamwork.
“What I do is a process, not a model,” she states. “I invite people to change – and the entire family must change, which is a process. Family work has always been near and dear to my heart because of my family of origin, which was beset with addiction and mental disorders,” Stanger explains. “So I see it as a systemic issue. I am trying to invite the whole system to change – I’m very passionate about that.”
Stanger employs the concept of an accountability team; she recruits families, business managers, personal assistants – anyone with consistent interaction with the loved one – and teaches them to work individually and together in healthier ways. She also engages the accountability team for a minimum of three months, in a case management capacity, to guide them along the path to long-term change.
“I do a lot of family coaching because families don’t like to hear that they are getting ‘counseling’,” Stanger shares. “They’ve often spent their life’s savings on their loved one and they still aren’t doing better, so families can come into this discouraged. I respect that and work with them in a psychoeducational manner through a coaching relationship to give them new tools to help them feel personally more successful”.
Stanger has found this is the key to real change within the family, and also with the person with the addiction. “Nine times out of 10, their loved one tends to get better because the family is changing,” Stanger states. “That makes this exciting work.”
And also consuming work. For this reason, Dr. Stanger only works with one family at a time, affording them intensely personal help on their journey. “When you call, you talk to me,” Stanger states. “There is no call center” – in and of itself, a rare gift in this age.
She also customizes her program for every family. “It’s not out of a can,” she states. “Because I’m an old professor, you have to be original”.
One approach she favors is “portraiture”, what Stanger calls “an aerial view of the family’s ‘portrait’”. “With each family, I work with the same situation, gathering different perspectives and thereby creating a different portrait,” she states. Taking the time to hear each person’s view of the same picture provides her a more robust picture and tends to break down the denial that families often cling to. “There is a vast amount of work to get over the obstacles all these people have created, to get over their own fears, and to learn how to love correctly,” says Stanger.
Her teamwork mentality also crosses over into how she conducts her work. “I do complicated interventions – ones where there are dual diagnoses (mental health disorders combined with substance abuse) and court issues. There is a tremendous amount of back-work in preparing for these cases,” she says. “It is very important to me that I don’t do it alone. I always work with another highly trained professional.”
Everything from personality to gender to intervention styles can greatly vary, and Stanger finds that more than one professional in the mix increases the likelihood of success for the intervention (one family member will probably connect with at least one of them).
“In the end, you’ve got to be you during intervention work,” she continues. “I provide a safety net and make sure that person or family actually believes I can help and have good treatment plan in place”.
Part of Stanger’s philosophy is not maintaining an affiliation with any treatment center. On the contrary, she does multiple site visits throughout the United States to get to know staffs and treatment programs personally, so as to confidently and competently refer her clients for long-term care. “Not all treatment centers are alike,” she shares. “The world of intervention is like the wild, wild West – there is no real standard”.
So she does her best to contribute to the education of other addictions professionals, providing regular trainings across the country, presenting on topics such as, “External Motivators, Internal Change” and “Giving the Gift of Recovery” (see her full schedule here:http://www.allaboutinterventions.com/calendar-of-events/).
Far from the “glamorous” world of intervention portrayed on television, Stanger is in the trenches, armed with experience, understanding, and genuine passion – and surrounding herself with the best professionals in the business.
This is the poem Stanger often shares with families at the beginning of their work:
Often families come to me when their imagination, their hope is gone. I ask them to:
Imagine what would it be like for you to not worry at night about your loved one
Imagine not having to call the police
Imagine not having to wonder where someone is
Imagine not having credit card bills from unknown places
Imagine not worrying about who your spouse/daughter/son slept with or where they are
Imagine not being raged at
Imagine not thinking, “It is all my fault”
Imagine not throwing away bottles, not stumbling over drug paraphernalia
Imagine not wondering what these little white plastic bags of sugar are hidden under the bed and in sock drawers
Imagine not wondering what that smell is – whose bongs are these
Imagine not getting a call from the hospital, from the dean of students, saying your student overdosed
Imagine not having to wonder where all your money went
Imagine the kids not cowering when mommy’s drunk or when dad comes screaming home
Imagine brothers and sisters not having to drive with their sister who is loaded and behind the wheel
Imagine not being afraid to leave your 3 year old with grandma, with grandpa
Imagine not being lied to
- not being cheated on
- no more secrets
Imagine not having to imagine!
To learn more about Dr. Stanger or to inquire about her services, visit her website:www.allaboutinterventions.com.