Demystifying Interventions

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 21

Episode #21 | May 24, 2017

Featured Guest: Brian O'Shea

Today’s guest is Brian O’Shea, experienced interventionist and sober coach. Brian is the co-founder of the independent practice Caring Interventions, is trained in several different models of intervention and also has three decades of personal experience in recovery from addiction. He joined me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to demystify the role of interventions and interventionists and to share his heart for helping families find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hi, and welcome to this episode of recovery unscripted. I’m your host, David Condos, and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. Today I’m excited to bring you a conversation with interventionist Brian O’Shea who spoke with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego. He joins us to demystify the role of interventions and interventionists and to share his heart for helping families find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

Also, be sure to stick around to the end of the episode to find out how you could win free registration to next month’s Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare conference. But first, here’s Brian.


David: All right, I’m joined here by Mr. Brian O’Shea. Thank you for being with us today, Brian.

Brian O’Shea: I am happy to be here.

David: All right. So, let’s start off by having you introduce yourself and say a little bit about your personal story and how you got to what you’re doing now.

Brian: I am born into a multi-generational family that struggles with alcoholism, behavioral health challenges, mental health challenges, drug addiction. My grandfather actually was detoxed in Towns Hospital where Bill Wilson and Dr. Silkworth were doing their very first work at the very beginning. I went to Al-Anon as a child, which is actually a program for young children. And then later on, Alateen. One of my uncles got sober, he’s sober now 58 years. Most of the rest of my family on both sides died of alcoholism.

Now I’m so happy to say, my generation and the generation coming below me and below me, there’s a lot, a lot of recovery now. My life story is experiencing the idea that a family system can shift and grow.

David: Yes. Well, that’s a great story. And as you transitioned into your new life in recovery, what motivated you to become an interventionist and then, eventually, founded Caring Interventions?

Brian: I always did because I was raised in a crowd of guys in New York. We always worked in the hospitals and the detoxes. I started a meeting in a detox in Long Island so I was always doing on the 12-Step level. Work in treatment centers, in hospitals, and institutions. I never thought I had a professional calling. Many years later, I was living in Mississippi and two of the most powerful people in the treatment industry that lived part-time in Mississippi became my friends in my 12-Step life and they recruited me and brought me into the treatment industry.

I got my education as a certified alcohol and drug counsellor. And then those two people sponsored me and payed for me to go to my first conference.

David: And who was that?

Brian: Ruth Ann Rigby now with Capstone. And Scott Gilbert, one of the famous consultants of IOPs in the United States. And they introduced me to the good ethical people and they mentored me strongly. And then they had me take Dr. Judith Landau’s ARISE training. And the ARISE training really transformed, informed and inspired my life. Then later on, joined a network of independent interventionist.

The Oaks at La Paloma played a large role. Stephen Watts, the therapist there, had an intervention practice and I sat in with him. And he mentored me, let me sit second chair with him many times. And then of even more importance, he sat second chair with me many times. Coaching me, guiding me, and then we’d analyze it later on. And being placed in Mississippi was very helpful, they were very few interventions in Mississippi. Every year I tell some friends, “I’m in the top five interventionists in Mississippi.”

And my friends always very gracious, “Well, I’m sure Brian, absolutely, you’re good.” I said, “There are only three.”

So I made it, I’m in the top five. I can say it with confidence.

David: There you go, yes.

Brian: Caring Interventions we started I think it’s nine years ago. I was able to tour. I toured over 200 treatment centers in the first two years. Between that aspect and my unique geographic location and foundations, education and Stephen Watts’ mentoring, we became a success. The real power there, for me personally, is being a part of the process of removing fear from the family. That’s such a powerful thing, as someone who grew up with a lot of trauma and a lot of fear, to be able to remove fear from families is really quite something.

And part of my life is in the adult child work and trauma recovery work. Sometimes it feels that a lot of what I’m doing is healing myself by helping these people move out of fear, moving to healing.

David: A lot of people probably have misconceptions about interventions. Maybe that it’s confrontational, or that it’s unnecessary, it doesn’t work. But what would you tell those people to demystify what interventions truly are?

Brian: Intervention is a big, big word. I always recommend interventions that have lots of certifications, that are very interested in helping the entire family system. It is not shouting and threatening and getting into a power struggle. A lot of it is getting the family all on board, coming up with an appropriate plan that enough of the family agrees upon. The person struggling with behavioral health, they are filled with fear, they are filled with anger. They can confront, and negotiate, and battle, and share anger all day.

The great power of an intervention is we create an environment of safety and that person in a full-blown addiction has no defense against love. It has to be an informed, wise process. It is structured, it’s much more of a structured dance. It’s not what they may think it is. Of course, it has an edge to it. But it can be done very lovingly and very powerfully and the numbers, if you read the numbers, it’s somewhere between 87% successful or 92% successful, depending on which study you read during the first meeting. If we hang in there for a couple of days, those numbers, in my practice, we’ve seen go up to around 97% successful.

The key to a great intervention is truly learning that family story, that’s the way to do it great. Who is this family? What is their culture? The blessing for me being from the Bronx. I grew up immediately, with a lot of Italian friends, and Jewish friends, and Irish friends. My father came out when I was 12, so suddenly, a large part of my life was being a part of a gay family system. That is enormously informative. Sometimes you look back on your life and you say, “Everything that happened, comes into play and helps me heal people and have authentic identification and communication with people.”

David: Happen for a reason that you may not know at the time, but then years later–

Brian: Very much.

David: Another question I have is, “Not everyone who enters treatment, or starts their recovery journey goes through an intervention.” But as you said, it can be very successful. Why might an intervention be beneficial, based on the individual situation, and when is the right time?

Brian: The family has to be ready. Sometimes I talk to a family and they go away and come back six months later. Part of it is it’s when they’re ready. On another level, you should always have it immediately as to how we feel. It’s easy for us to say that, though. We’ve seen so much success. A lot of the families can’t even believe there’s going to be success. A big reason to have an intervention is that it improves long-term outcomes.

I tell families, “You could probably intimidate or get this person to go someplace.” The power of having a full family intervention, where the family’s on board, they’re starting to do their work, they’re starting to go to Al-Anon, they’re starting to do maybe some family therapy. Having an entire family system go into recovery, improves outcomes markedly.” That’s one of the great reasons. The other reason is the family has been traumatized, the family has been depleted.

They feel hopeless, they feel incredibly angry. It’s quite baffling for the family to see these behaviors. “Why is my loved one lying to me?” “Why would my loved one behave like this?” When they don’t have addiction education, the family has justifiable anger, they get exhausted. They either abandon the situation, move away, or become an enabling system. It’s insane they don’t know how to help. Those are the reasons it improves the outcomes for the identified patient and it begins and improves the healing for the entire family system.

David: You also mentioned you’re trained in a number of different types of interventions, not every type of intervention is the same as well. And so, could you tell us some things that make each model unique.

Brian: Happy to. The intervention system that informs me the most is ARISE. The invitational model invented by Judith Landau, it was a big game changer. The original intervention, thank God, created by Ron Johnson was confrontational. So, the invitational idea comes in. That helps me so much with my family work, genograms, timelines. A very strong accent on that. Another form of intervention that I am trained in, the Keith Fierman version of the Johnson method which is a phenomenally informed and effective intervention method.

The difference between those two is Keith Fierman will do a non-invitational intervention and teaches you how to do that. That’s a big difference there. I’m also certified as a certified Systemic Interventionist which is an interesting model used a lot in corporate settings. And with large wealthy family systems, it takes three days, often done on a bit of a retreat.

And then the CRAFT model is the second most researched model with ARISE being first. And the craft model is a motivational interviewing model that maintains therapeutic rapport and can often take six months to 90 days to gently carefully move the person towards accepting it, using a lot of motivational interviewing and DBT techniques. Those are the differences, a lot of it is time.

David: How do you decide which of those paths to go down with a particular family that you’re working with?

Brian: Of course, if the family can invite the person, this is the ultimate. Many families are afraid to, or unable to. It’s really beyond their ability. There’ve been families where I’d say to them after I develop some rapport, we’re going to invite them to come to this family meeting. And sometimes, that possibility is so far-fetched they don’t even respond to that question, they act like I didn’t talk. Because it’s just beyond. So, you’re not going to do ARISE on that one. And then, it depends on the situation.

The careful authentic assessment of the situation is what drives which choice. And a lot of times, and all interventionists tell you this, they end up creating their own model where they steal a little bit from all their training.

David: As you mentioned, you also have some training as a sober coach?

Brian: Yes, and that is incredibly gratifying.

David: Yes, could you explain what that entails and how you use that to help people?

Brian: Absolutely. There are three forms. One is very short-term where you have rapport with the patient while they’re inpatient and you drive them or fly them home and you help them empty their home of drugs and alcohol, and in some cases, it’s their home, their office, and their boat, and their stables. And then you go with them to their first 12-step meeting, you bring them to their first aftercare appointment, you make sure they join the IOP, you find them a good gym to work out in. And you’re there for about 96 hours or so.

David: And so that’s helping them in transition into post-treatment life, right?

Brian: Exactly. And I always take the family to an Al-Anon meeting and to a family therapy session. Then there’s the classic sober coach which is, you live with them for 30 days, or 90 days, or six months. Then there’s a newer one which is more scalable and that allows us to help more people. And I’ve just had great training in this from Judith Landau.

And that’s all done remote. That’s much more affordable.

Now you enter into their lives during inpatient treatment, through conference calls, with their therapists and their family system while they’re in treatment. You speak to them on a daily basis perhaps the first 30 days and then you go to four times a week and then two times a week. And you do that for a year. And it’s so amazingly gratifying. Often, I was working with people who had a lot of resources but who had been to three of the $70,000 a-month places and then when they go home, they relapse. And to be part of creating the final miracle is quite amazing.

And I have found it, and this is not an empirical study, but in my personal experience, I have found two things are usually blocking people that have tried and cannot get recovery. It’s usually either trauma or they are having inability to allow forgiveness and grace, whatever form that takes. I’m highly trained in SMART Recovery, which is a non-12-step form. I personally do a lot of Zen Buddhist work under the model of Thích Nhất Hạnh. Being able to meet people where they are and who they are culturally is key to being a sober coach.

David: You mentioned it briefly, about your own personal journey through addiction into recovery. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about that and how that shaped your perspective now?

Brian: Oh, happy to. The first time I joined AA I was 19. I stayed for 90 days, I felt I had special emotions and special thoughts, I wasn’t like a lot of these people. Also, I said to myself, “Alcoholics Anonymous is stupid, ‘I’m an alcoholic. Don’t drink alcohol.’ Thank you, I’ll write that down. I don’t see any reason to review this every 24 hours. Good luck with your little club, I’m leaving.”

I went to California when we started five years of dry time. No alcohol, no drugs but definitely no AA.

I tried everything other than AA. I tried severe macrobiotics, I did a lot of yoga, I was always studying some metaphysical stuff. And that dry period went on. I then went to Mississippi where my family has always been. Did a little college. Then I had accidental huge business success, for the first time in my life I had money. Once I had money, I decided I had been misdiagnosed. I actually wasn’t an alcoholic, so I began to drink [laughs]. And within a year, I was thrown out of Mississippi, went to Manhattan, my sister had become a huge success working for Andy Warhol, I was in that crowd.

About a year after that, I was living on the 125th Street subway platform dying. Snuck back to my mother’s house out in Long Island. My last job was picking up garbage up Jones Beach. I got fired from that job, that’s a hard job to get fired from, it involves a bag and a stick. And my mother drove me to work every day, had a perfect attendance record but they fired me. And grace really happened, there were a lot of family friends praying for me.

My sister suddenly had 90 days sobriety, she put some AA literature under the pillow where I was dying. People were praying for me and I joined AA, November 10th 1985. I’ve been sober ever since that day by grace, by love, by therapies, additional therapies. In the seventh year of sobriety I bumped into a family friend who was very big in the Al-Anon, ACoA movement, and AA movement. And he changed my whole life. I started going to a lot less AA, I started going to Al-Anon and ACoA and to therapy and I had a lot of EMDR. And this total expansion of my recovery, I am convinced, is why I am still sober.

I needed a lot more work, I had deeply a co-occurring stuff. Depression, anxiety, trauma. My blessings in my life go on and on and on and on. I continue to pray in the morning, I recently just did another month of EMDR. Hadn’t done EMDR many years, it was time to do a little more internal work. I go on retreats, I have a sponsor, I have a couple of sponsees. The work goes on. It’s one day at a time, there’s no seniority in recovery.

David: Yeah. And just to wrap up with this last question, you’ve devoted a lot of your life, and continue to, over the past three decades in recovery and the field of mental health and addiction, and helping people find recovery. Why is that important to you?

Brian: Well, AA teaches us to give away what we’ve been so freely given. I am uniquely qualified because of my education. And families feel they’re supposed to know how to heal their family members. And some of them are very, very powerfully educated and very spiritual and very healthy. But they forgot to get a master’s in addiction. And that’s what I tell them, I tell them, “If I had to do your job tomorrow, I’d starve to death.” I have an enormous matter of education in a very narrow field and personal experience. Family’s needs to forgive themselves and learn how to ask for help.

David: All right. Well, thank you for being with us, Brian.

Brian: Thank you so much. This is an honor.


David: Thanks again to Brian for sharing his story with us. Now I’m happy to welcome Jordan Young and Chip Hensley from the Foundations Events team, which puts on four great conferences for the behavioral health care industry each year. As you may recall, Jordan joined us a couple of months ago to preview their spring conference, Innovations in Recovery, which is where I recorded the conversation you just heard with Brian O’Shea among others. Well, their next conference is quickly approaching and Jordan and Chip have been kind enough to come on the show and tell us all about it. Welcome Jordan and Chip.

Jordan: Thank you for having us, David.

Chip: Thanks, David.

David: All right, how are you guys doing today?

Jordan: We’re having a great day.

Chip: Really phenomenal day here at the office, happy to be in studio with you.

David: All right, thank you for being here. Now, your summer conference is coming up in just a few weeks? What can you tell us about it?

Jordan: Well, this is going to be the 49th national conference for Foundations. Its Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare. We’re really excited about this because it is in our home town at Nashville, Tennessee. There is a focus on addiction, on mental health but we’re also trying to get the hospitals involved because as you may know there’s a huge population of hospitals and medical professionals in Nashville.

David: Cool. I know Brian O’Shea mentioned a couple of times in the conversation about the importance of the education he gained specifically at foundations events. Could you tell us a little bit more about the types of education and different credits that will be offered there?

Jordan: Well, one of the things that we started doing in Nashville three years ago is we started a professional certificate behavioral health care. We have aligned ourselves with Belmont University, The Massey School of Business there, and it is a professional certificate where behavioral healthcare individuals will receive education on topics on marketing, ethics, negotiation. Things that aren’t specifically geared towards clinical topics.

Chip: Also, all of our speaker sessions are submitted for CEs and CME credits whether you’re a nurse, a psychologist, a social worker. There are a lot of different opportunities for you to earn continuing educational hours at our conference.

David: Yes, and I know you’re talking about some of the speakers earlier. Sounds like a great line up.

Jordan: Yes, have a phenomenal line up this year. Our main key note is Miss Glennon Doyle Melton, bestselling author in New York Times for her work Carry On, Warrior. We also have some excellent speakers from our network as well as other treatment center networks, including your guest today, Brian O’Shea and ARISE founder Judith Landau.

David: Then I also hear you guys have something else exciting that you’re offering up for this conference specifically. You want tell us about that Chip?

Chip: Absolutely, because it’s always our goal with our conferences to develop the community in behavioral health care and Recovery Unscripted has been a phenomenal source to bring people together in that community and so we wanted to partner with the listeners out there today and offer a free registration to our Innovations and Behavioral Healthcare conference. All you have to do is write a review of Recovery Unscripted and send an email to [email protected]. That’s “Frank, Roger, Nancy, mail dot com.”

But yes, if you will review the Recovery Unscripted podcast on your favorite podcast app and shoot us an email that you did so; you can use the subject line “podcast.” We will be giving away a free registration to the conference.

David: Alright. Thanks so much for doing that guys and thanks for being with us today.

Chip: Thanks for having us.

Jordan: Thank you David.

David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Brian O’Shea, interventionist and sober coach. To learn more about his work visit And thank you for listening today. Don’t forget to review Recovery Unscripted on your favorite podcast app for your chance to win free registration to the Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare conference. See you next time.

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