Working with Affluent Clients: Q&A with Dr. Louise Stanger

We sat down with TPN provider, Dr. Louise Stanger, to discuss the intricacies of working with affluent clients. She is a renowned, independent interventionist, lecturer, professor, clinician, trainer, and author. Dr. Stanger has performed thousands of family interventions throughout the United States and abroad. Without further ado, here is Dr. Stanger’s take on working with this unique population.

Why is it such a challenge to work with affluent clients? I enjoy working with persons of all backgrounds. High wealth clients pose a particular challenge because they are surrounded by a team of paid people whose unspoken job is to cover up unwanted behaviors. As we have seen recently in the media, high wealth often affords people to do things that otherwise would not be tolerated all the while there are yes men agreeing or abetting behaviors that in one’s addiction are unhealthy. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, it can be difficult to break through.

What should professionals know before treating or engaging with an affluent client? Professionals must know how to work with people who may experience narcissism and have large egos as they have been very successful and are used to having others act immediately on their behalf; they are not used to being told “no.” Likewise, children who grow up in wealthy families have been said to experience affluenza – a sense of entitlement, which makes one believe they can do or say anything without recourse. The wealth the individual has amassed creates a bubble that makes them believe they are indestructible and above others. Additionally, because of their status and connections, they may believe they are above the law. Allowing someone to experience the consequences of their behavior and teaching basic life skills is often the first step towards recovery.

What are some of the key differences in doing an intervention on an affluent client vs. a middle-class client? There are particular considerations for working with high wealth clients including privacy, legal matters, consultation with wealth managers, accountants, and other business associates who handle the wealth/estate, along with a bevy of personal assistants. When dealing with sports figures and/or other celebrities (music and media) agents and managers are also key to either helping or sabotaging efforts to get one help.

You’ve mentioned in past articles that affluent clients, in particular CEOs, have two families – biological and business. How much do you involve the business family in the treatment and recovery process? The business family – including all employees, executive assistants, wealth managers, personal assistants, stylists housekeepers, etc. and business – are just as important as the biological family. The team around wealthy clients has the same impact if not more on the individual and must be prepped for the intervention and treatment process to create holistic and lasting change for all involved.

What are some of the challenges of working with a client’s business family? Legal matters come to mind. Another great challenge is the vested interest business associates have in the business enterprise as a whole and their interests may be monetary and/or personal, which may precede the health and wellbeing of the client in need of help. For example, it is challenging to cancel tour dates or stop film production because the star is better off in treatment. Or perhaps a major acquisition is taking place and the head of the company must make an appearance. In essence, the business family may want to protect the business over the client, and that may entail enabling the client to continue their misconduct. Likewise, with family members, it may not serve the CEO well to share that his son or daughter needs help or for that matter, his/her spouse is unable to attend political functions for fear she will nod off.

Setting boundaries is very important with this population, what are some boundaries you set right from the start? After a careful interview of both sets of families, I determine who are the best candidates to help the identified patient treatment and how that will be delivered (i.e. inpatient, at home, private setting etc.). I look to develop a strategy which works for the common good and look at ways in which folks have inadvertently been facilitating harmful behaviors. As co-collaborators, we set a plan in motion which facilitates health and wellness. At times, I use executive protection outfits such as Black Box Security, a team of highly trained individuals who ensure the safety for everyone and are used to working with high profile, high wealth individuals. Finally, we develop boundaries for the family – both business and biological – with expectations and communication open to all.

What is executive protection and how does this element assist in the treatment process? Executive protection consists of highly trained people who are used to escorting high profile personnel and their families. These teams are trained in safety and security and may also be used for investigation. Bound by confidentiality, these individuals are often a valuable team member in the intervention process and represent another way of ensuring client safety and confidentiality.

And finally, how does aftercare differ for this population? Good aftercare is important for all persons regardless of status or wealth. With a high wealth population where and how it is delivered may be the difference. And to some extent may be based on the needs of business and biological families. For example, a musician may have to return to his group, a sports figure to his team, an actor to his role, a CEO to his business. As previously discussed, legal and wealth management matters are taken into consideration, as well as the client’s role in returning to their leadership positions. Random drug testing, 12-Step affiliation, sober coaching, and/or companionship, recovery coaching, and counseling are often used with the population. I may also develop a team of licensed professionals to work on site with the individual and his family or business associates.

Thank you so much, Dr. Stanger, for taking time to talk to us about this specific topic. To learn more about All About Interventions and Dr. Stanger, please click here. You may also click here for a free copy of Dr. Stanger’s book “Learn to Thrive: An Intervention Guidebook for Loved Ones and Their Families”.

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