Do You Want to Become an Interventionist? Here are the Qualifications You Need.

April 23, 2018

It would be ideal if people struggling with addiction or mental illness could admit that there is an issue and then ask for the help they’ll need in order to get better.

Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of people who have an addiction don’t get the help they need to recover. These people may believe that they have their addictions under control, or they may believe that their addictions are private matters that don’t impact anyone else.1 Similarly, people with depressive disorders often have low insight scores, meaning that they don’t recognize that they have a disorder, even when they’re dealing with symptoms of the disease. Without insight, it’s unlikely that these people will ask for assistance.2

An intervention can help. In an intervention, friends, loved ones, and family members outline the problem in loving terms, and the family encourages the person to get help for that problem, before it causes even more distress for everyone involved. Holding a conversation like this can be risky, as making a misstep in the talk could lead a person to move deeper into denial or even anger.

That’s why some families choose to hire an interventionist to help plan for this conversation and deliver this important message. The educational requirements for interventionists can vary dramatically, and not all interventionists are certified.

When people hire an interventionist, they’re hiring more than a coach with an ability to listen empathetically. Ideally, they are hiring someone with years of education, and possibly, a license to perform the work.

“During my time working closely in the recovery business field and for the grassroots movement Heroes in Recovery, my curiosity to learn more about addiction grew, and I went to countless trainings, classes, online courses and workshops,” writes Susanne at Heroes in Recovery. “Today, I am a certified Interventionist and love to help the entire family system, instead of just the person with substance use disorders. The successful outcome of treatment is so much higher if the complete family engages in the recovery process and it is the greatest reward in my job to see clients succeed and to make this the regular basis.”

Understanding the Role of an Interventionist

A professional interventionist is an expert on addiction and/or other mental health issues. This person doesn’t provide addiction counseling services, per se, but an interventionist is capable of providing family members with a significant amount of information on the nature of addiction, and the course that addiction usually takes in the life of an addict.

An interventionist may also have training in mental illness treatment and can provide information on the nature of these disorders and how they are typically treated.

An interventionist should be hired several days or even weeks before the intervention is scheduled to take place, and the interventionist holds many meetings with the family, in order to help them prepare for the challenging conversation that is yet to come. This preparation can have some unexpected results. For example, up to 70 percent of people who go through the planning stages for an intervention don’t end up holding the intervention. It’s unclear why they choose to change course, but it’s entirely possible that circumstances changed or they decided that an intervention wasn’t safe to hold at the moment.

Having the help of a licensed interventionist could make that decision easier to make.3

During the intervention itself, the interventionist works as a:

  • Coach, encouraging people to speak their minds
  • Referee, stepping in when people begin to speak out of turn or use hurtful language
  • Medical expert, answering questions from the addicted person and the family on the addiction process
  • Host, calling the meeting to order, keeping it on task, and adjourning it when the process is finished

Some interventionists also provide assistance after the intervention is over, remaining in touch with the person in treatment, and ensuring that the concerns brought to light in the intervention are being addressed through the person’s therapy program. The interventionist might also help the family to pull together additional intervention meetings if the person in treatment begins to slide off course and engage in unhealthy habits once more.

Basic Requirements of an Interventionist

1. Education

To prepare for this important role, interventionists who are also mental health counselors spend years in school, studying both addiction and psychology. Others may have personal experience in recovery, or a smaller degree in psychology.

If you are hiring an interventionist, it is important to ask your interventionist about his or her educational background.

While the educational requirements may vary from state to state, many interventionists obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology or social work. This is a four-year program, and it is considered a common requirement for most entry-level positions.

Some organizations require their interventionists to hold a higher education, such as a master’s degree in social work or mental health counseling. In order to obtain this degree, students obtain their bachelor’s degree and then enroll in further education to build upon the education they already have. These advanced degrees may be beneficial for interventionists, as they are much more specific than bachelor’s degree programs. While someone with a bachelor’s degree may know quite a bit about human psychology, someone with a master’s degree has spent two or more years specifically studying addiction issues. Master’s programs require students to specialize in this way.

In addition, in order to complete a master’s degree program, most students are required to complete an internship or work with patients in the field under the supervision of another professional.

At the end of this education, students will likely need to take some sort of exam in order to gain their license as a social worker or mental health counselor in their state. These professionals must prove that they have obtained the proper degree and that they’ve completed the proper amount of internship hours. These requirements can vary dramatically from state to state, and some states even allow people to work without a license if they’re working for a government agency.4

2. Certifications

While some interventionists are social workers with bachelor’s degrees and others have master’s degrees in social work and a license to work in the state, other interventionists go the route of pursuing a certification in intervention services. Association of Intervention Specialists provides two levels of certification for interested professionals, as noted on the organization’s website.

In order to qualify as an interventionist, applicants must have:

  • Malpractice insurance
  • Specialized training and experience on holding an intervention
  • References documenting experience in conducting interventions
  • Three evaluations from peers
  • A passing grade on a certification exam

Other qualification requirements may include:

  • Specialty training in addictions to gambling, food, sex, or other addictions that aren’t related to drugs or alcohol
  • Up to three additional years of work experience in interventions
  • A passing grade on a specialty certification exam

Not all intervention specialists have these certifications, but those who do are allowed to put “BRI I” or “BRI II” after their names on their business cards and professional correspondence, making them easy to differentiate from people who do not have this level of certification.

Choosing an Intervention Expert

Understanding the educational backgrounds of interventionists may be a helpful way to differentiate between one type of interventionist and another, but it may not be the only method families will use in order to find the right person to work with on an intervention. After all, an advanced degree may not translate into an advanced ability to understand the individual needs and pressures that family members are going through as they deal with an addiction issue.

In the end, it might come down to whom the family members feel comfortable with. The interventionist is likely to spend a significant amount of time working with the family and learning a substantial amount of details that some families would prefer they kept private.

It’s best that the family chooses someone they feel comfortable being completely open and honest with, on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, asking about qualifications is a perfectly reasonable way for families to protect themselves against people who would do a poor job or provide advice that’s not based on scientific principles.

By ensuring that the person they choose has the proper education and certifications, families can ensure that they can trust the information and advice the interventionist provides during the planning stages, as well as the intervention itself. Many interventionists will display their educations on their websites and printed business cards, but others will need prompting to share this information with interested families. Those who won’t respond to requests for information about their education and licensing might best be avoided.

If you’d like help finding a professional interventionist who has the qualifications you’re looking for, contact us today at 615-490-9376. We can match you up with an interventionist who works in your area and answer any questions you have.


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