Intervene asks the expert – Jeff Jay, Clinical Interventionist
1. How did you become a Clinical Interventionist?
I’m an intervention story myself. A family intervention got me into treatment back in 1981, so intervention literally saved my life. Then, in the early 90’s, when I was sober 11 years and working as a certified addictions counselor for 7 years, I started specializing in intervention. At that time, the technique was very under-utilized and under-developed. I did my first publication with Hazelden (“Take Charge!”, 1994), and started to make an impact on the field. So, I’m a big believer in intervention, both personally and professionally.
2. What is the difference between a Clinical Interventionist and an Interventionist?
The vast majority of people doing interventions have no clinical background. They may have their own personal recovery, but they’ve never been trained and certified as a chemical dependency counselor, and they’ve never worked under supervision in a treatment center. They may have some training, but they aren’t educated and experienced in the treatment process, so they have fewer tools to bring to the intervention.
A clinical interventionist is a seasoned professional, with the education, certification and experience to work with family systems at a deep level. When we do our clinical intervention training for professionals, we turn many people away, because we only accept people who meet high standards of experience and education. We’ve had M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s take our training, and they’ve all recommended it to their colleagues. We do make exceptions, for instance we may admit a clergy member who has deep addiction experience in a treatment setting.
3. When did you decide to launch Love First as an Intervention Firm? Was this before or after the book of the same name, came out?
We incorporated our private practice in 1993, seven years before the publication of the book. The name of the company changed to Love First, Inc., after the book became popular, and people started referring to us as “Love First.” We’ve been in business a long time now.
4. How have Interventions evolved over the last few decades?
Vern Johnson is the father of modern intervention, pioneering the basic concept in the early 1980’s. In 1994 I published the “Take Charge!” program, which guided families through the process in a step-by-step fashion. Then in 2000, my wife Debra and I published Love First (which was revised and expanded in 2008), which became the bible on intervention. Several others have contributed a great deal to the intervention field as well, including Wayne Raiter with the Systemic approach, and Dr. Judith Landau, with the Invitational approach. So, the evolution has been in making techniques more sophisticated.
5. What is the “success rate” of families who hire Interventionist to get Loved Ones into TX?
If an intervention is done properly, and that’s a big “if,” interventions are 85-90% successful in getting people into treatment on intervention day. There’s a great deal of preparation necessary to do an intervention properly, and that’s were many people—and even some professionals—will fall apart. Intervention is all about preparation. Complicating factors like serious mental health problems can impact those percentages, but overall it’s a very effective technique.
6. What is the benefit for Treatment Providers to work closely with an Interventionist?
A professional interventionist has worked closely with the family and friends of the addict, prior to admission, so we have a wealth of information and history to pass on to the treatment provider, which they may not be able to get otherwise. We can offer a complete picture, even before admission, and discover important issues that will impact the course of treatment.
7. How do you respond to people who say that a person must really want treatment in order for it to be effective?
At some point, a person must become ready to embrace recovery and to do the work necessary to recover, but they are rarely “ready” for treatment. Most addicts are ambivalent, at best, and even if they are ready to engage, they often resist the real work. So I talk about the “myth of ready” as one of the most dangerous myths in the treatment field. I hate to think about how many people may have died while family and friends were waiting for them to “get ready.”
8. What other myths are out there about people getting into treatment programs?
Probably the most damaging myth is that treatment is going to fix the problem. Treatment is a launching pad for the process of recovery, and although it’s important, treatment isn’t a cure-all. It’s like someone going into a hospital for open-heart surgery. The surgery may be necessary and it may save their life temporarily, but if they don’t change their diet and exercise and follow whatever other directions their doctor gives them, they’re likely to wind up in the hospital again—if they survive at all.
So the biggest myths stem from underestimating the disease of addiction. The problem is physical, which is why most people need detox and stabilization, but it’s also psychological and spiritual. People (and even professionals) have a tendency to over-simplify. They make the mistake of thinking that if they just address the physical problem, or just address the psychological problem (like trauma), or just address the spiritual problems, that the addiction will somehow go away. But until a truly holistic approach is taken, and all aspects are addressed, the person is likely to relapse. Amazingly, the founders of AA seemed to grasp this as early as 1935. It’s important not to lose sight of what they discovered.
9. Are there any trends you see, for better or for worse, in treating addictions?
One problem is focusing too much on techniques and not on the big picture. In the end, the patient goes home, and they don’t take their therapist with them. One of the giants in the addiction field, Dan Anderson, Ph.D., said decades ago that there are two goals in treatment: 1) break through the patient’s denial at depth, and 2) get the patient to commit to an ongoing program of recovery. Sounds simple, but those two goals are very difficult to accomplish.
Another problem is the reductionism that I referred to earlier. Some people want to over-medicalize the problem, or over psychoanalyze the problem, or over-theologize the problem. There are important medical, psychological and spiritual insights being developed all the time, but they’re not panaceas.
We also need to be careful about the term “evidence-based,” because it’s being used to sell things that aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Scientists think of evidence much differently than most of us. Evidence is part of an ongoing conversation among researchers. “Evidence-based” doesn’t mean proven. This terminology is being used far beyond the addiction treatment field to sell a wide variety of medications and techniques that are sometimes later shown to be ineffective. I worry about the corrupting influence of money and careerism when people say “evidence based.”
On the positive side, I see a lot of younger clinicians coming into the field who truly want to help people, and who are bringing the example of their own recovery with them. No matter what 12 Step program they follow, the power of personal example is hard to beat. Just think if you were struggling with Type 1 diabetes. If you went to an endocrinologist who also had Type 1 diabetes, wouldn’t you listen more closely and maybe ask more questions? It’s not a requirement for being an endocrinologist, of course, but it helps. The good thing about recovery is that almost any clinician can qualify for some 12 Step fellowships. So I’m very encouraged by the young clinicians who want to make their own lives better, and help others in their career.
10. What advice do you have for people who want to become a Clinical Interventionist?
Get as much training as you can. It’s nice to have good intentions, but one should have a solid clinical background, followed by rigorous training in the intervention process. There are a lot of wrong ways to do an intervention, and I’ve heard some real horror stories from families over the years. If you’re a professional, you must have the right training. The new credential in the intervention field, the CIP (certified intervention professional), is a good way to go. The requirements are solid, although they don’t specify where you get your training. We offer a very rigorous training for professionals who want to take the next step in their careers.