Addiction affects an estimated one in three American families. So, how do these families get help? Some struggle along on their own. Other families seek help directly treatment providers: detox clinics, psychotherapists, addiction treatment centers, or addiction counselors. Still other families are just lost.
Still, there is one group of professionals that bridge the gap between families and treatment…
In the next decades, behavioral healthcare professionals will need to increasingly both identify and refer families coping with substance use disorders to treatment. And interventionists practicing solid principles taken from social work and family systems theory may hold the key to our collective progress.
Dr. Stanger has developed and refined her invitational method of interventions over decades of working with families. She has performed thousands of family interventions throughout the United States and abroad. And we’re pleased to have her here for a digital interview!
ADDICTION BLOG: What was your inspiration for writing this book?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: After growing up in a family with substance abuse and writing about many of these stories in my memoir and in the public sphere, I started to think about what message I’d like to leave for future generations of social workers in this space.
I maintain that it is very important for the future generations of social workers, psychologists, marriage and family counselors, alcohol and other the drug counselors, doctors, nurses, etc. to not just read one book about one person’s methodology, but to be able to learn a variety of different strategies. Questions like where strategies come from, what is the evidence behind intervention strategies, how have these strategies developed and changed, etc. to inform the reader and open their eyes to the broader scope of intervention and its modalities. As such, I like to think of these strategies as “invitations to change.” The idea is to provide a textbook at your disposal to learn and teach from.
The truth is that 155 people die from opioids every day – it’s a global crisis, and we need new ways to train professionals across many levels in schools and in practice to help people and their families.
ADDICTION BLOG: What do you think is the most important message that clinicians can “take home” after a reading?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: The most important message is that change is possible.
The key to this, which is talked about in the book, is CIS or Collective Intervention Strategies. This means that in order for an intervention to be successful, a collective team of family members, friends, colleagues, associates, business partners, managers and co-workers must be assembled to bring change in a person’s life, which is the intervention part of it. And finally, strategies, in that nothing is set in stone, we adapt to the unique needs of each individual.
As a whole, Collective Intervention Strategies is a powerful model for inviting change that readers can take home.
ADDICTION BLOG: How do most people or families get help for addiction?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: How do they get help? That’s a great question.
Talking with and connecting with professionals that are trained in process addictions, substance abuse, chronic pain, etc. You can also get help. Addiction is always bigger than the families, so it’s always best to seek out professional help from a mental health clinic, substance abuse clinic, or clinicians. Help is available. Families don’t have to do it alone. Not alone. For example, they can do 12-step. But when their hearts are breaking, they call.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you find that people misunderstand the field of mental health treatment and/or the work that you do? Do you find professionals even have a bit of trouble when it comes to certain areas of your work?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: I think people by far don’t understand how substance abuse and mental health interface and work hand in hand. They don’t understand the duality or triality of what happens. The two are not mutually exclusive, and as such, must both be assessed (along with any other influencers) to get the best possible picture of the person and begin to build a comprehensive treatment plan.
For instance, I appreciate the ASAM definition of addiction – it’s a disease of the brain and causes changes in brain chemistry. As such, people are afraid to address the complexity of humans and all the aspects. Therefore, when helping a family or a loved one, it’s very important to understand and learn about that particular individual, you must do a retrospective – bio, psycho, and social – to understand how to help and what kinds of treatment will fit their life.
As for the professional sphere, there are many people who claim they are pros but have not been properly trained. I don’t think a 5 day training makes one an interventionist. Sometimes it feels like the Wild, Wild West out there. I think there needs to be more education and schooling, professional classes and programs that illustrate intervention as a real treatment option. We need it in our undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs, across fields of work including counseling, nursing, pre-med, etc. to build it out as a field of study.
ADDICTION BLOG: How do you hope this book will impact the field of substance use disorder treatment? Where do you hope to see treatment advance within the coming years?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: My hope is that this book is adopted by both training centers, colleges and universities and hospitals, behavioral health care treatment centers, the legal system centers, senior living centers, doctors, Nurses, Funeral Directors, etc.
This book takes a deep dive and discusses clinical and reverse interventions, which can be performed in a variety of milieus, shedding light on aspects of intervention that aren’t always talked about in trainings and certification programs. I hope professionals will hire and cultivate staff trained in the strategies talked about in the book, so that knowledge, standards and practices are a part of their tool box.
In coming years, we are going to see more telephone and internet-based treatment options, the use of AI and other technological advances. Though nothing will replace relationships, we will have higher standards based on improved educational qualifications and higher standards of accreditation for treatment centers – all good things for behavioral health care. The ongoing opioid epidemic will spur change by demanding robust and low cost treatment options to address this issue.
We will also address ethical issues. For example, the hiring of professionals for treatment centers will need to address marijuana legalization. Questions will arise: do treatment centers have progressive abstinence? Or a firm baseline? Can hired professionals use one substance over another? The ethics of these questions will come to fruition as the issues play out over the next couple of years.
ADDICTION BLOG: Would you offer a bit of insight for our readers as to how they can best handle trauma and addiction in their family? What are some of the best steps they can take themselves if facing a drug or alcohol problem within the home?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: The first step is to define trauma as an overwhelming experience that cannot be integrated and one that elicits multiple defenses and dysregulates the person. Or, it can be described as a stress that causes physical or emotional harm that you cannot remove yourself from.
Then, we may unpack the etiology of the trauma, which may be objective or subjective. Objective trauma is what took place i.e. I fell off a ladder, I was told I was no good, I would never amount to anything, my father was emotionally abusive, I was in a car accident, etc. Subjective trauma is how the person perceives what took place and the emotional aftershocks. This can come from adverse childhood experiences, and the effects of trauma is cumulative over time.
Once this is understood, seeking out and talking with trained professionals who can put you on the path to recovery is integral to the process.
Professionals must ask: how can we help clients who experience trauma and then substance abuse/addiction rise to their best possible selves? Also, it is important to give treatment recommendations to other family members so they too can be the best they are. This is a holistic approach to treating a wounded person, and it always comes back around to CIS or Collective Intervention Strategies as the best approach.
Folks may also consider visiting a 12-Step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-anon, Narcotics anonymous, etc. And of course there is me in my own independent practice. I always tell my clients that help is just a phone call away.
ADDICTION BLOG: Through the process of writing, did you learn any important lessons or come across information that you weren’t expecting?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: I didn’t have any big surprises. I found it humbling that with all the research and time working on this book, I circled back to the one truth that has been consistent in my work – it is imperative to meet the client where they are at. It’s about understanding who they are, where they come from, their family dynamics, traumas, and their place in the world.
The best theory in the world won’t take into account this human element. With unique people, a multitude of cultures, gender expressions and the changes in our genetic diversity, we must embrace difference as a teacher. That way, you can help plan a strategy that meets their unique needs.
ADDICTION BLOG: Are there any future projects you’re currently working on and/or have in mind? What kind of impact are you hoping to leave on the mental health world with the addition of this book?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: I continue to write public blogs – openly discussing the major topics in the behavioral health field. One thing I will wrestle with through public discourse, presentations, trainings and daily practice is ethics in the digital age. Specifically with marijuana legalization, how will this affect the workforce? There will be a multitude of implications and I’m excited to dive in and explore with my practice, clients and continued commitment to service of the behavioral health industry.
Finally, my hope is that this book is adopted my many universities and schools across the globe. I’m excited about the e-platform, which will make it a living source of knowledge for professionals to keep up to date and relevant for future generations. Also, I hope that whatever my next writing venture is – whether it’s a book, a collection of blogs, or more thought pieces – that it will seep into the mainstream and become a larger public discourse than we’ve seen related to these topics. A wider audience would help ease the stigma of substance abuse and mental health in the public sphere.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you have some inspiration you can leave for our readers who are currently handling addiction for themselves or a loved one?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: Keep doing what you’re doing. As I put in my memoir, keep falling up, which means that stumbles, detours and falls are part of the human experience, so long as you’re out there living and moving forward.
I strive to look for strengths and goodness in people so everyone may rise to their best possible selves. I hope that readers and those out there struggling with these kinds of issues will do the same. Help is just a phone call away and hope is possible. Dig deeper, think harder, look further, rise stronger.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
DR. LOUISE STANGER: Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your blog. I appreciated working with you as an editor. Your contributions are immeasurable.