An Interview with Betsy Spier, Executive Director at Promises West L.A.
In the past 20 years, she has worked in a variety of treatment settings, including nonprofits, residential and outpatient facilities, and private practice, in different capacities ranging from clinician to administrator. She also taught at UCLA in the Drug and Alcohol Studies program. She has been referring clients to Promises for over a decade from her private practice. One day, a student who worked at the facility submitted her resume to the leadership team. She interviewed and was offered a position as family therapist.
"From the time I can remember, I wanted to work at Promises," Betsy says. "During the interview process, I discovered that I had already met most of the team through my private practice so it was a smooth, natural transition. It was like putting on a coat and having it fit perfectly."
About nine months later, Betsy was appointed as Director of the Intensive Outpatient Program and less than six months later she was offered the position of Executive Director. Anxious for the challenge, Betsy accepted without a second thought.
"Promises as an organization has so much integrity. The staff feels a calling to be here and it shows in the way we treat our clients," Betsy says. "People come to us angry and scared and within just one week their eyes are sparkling, they say ‘hi’ and smile, and we’re all laughing together. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of."
Half a Lifetime in Recovery
Her career at Promises is one of Betsy’s proudest accomplishments, along with her own recovery from addiction that began 27 years ago.
"This year, I’m proud to say I’ve been sober for half of my life," Betsy beams.
Growing up in Long Island, New York, Betsy was ready for a change when her family moved to California. She found her "people" - the drug-using crowd - the day she started high school, which was ironically right down the street from what is now Promises intensive outpatient facility.
"I knew five years before I got sober that I needed help," she recalls. "I maintained a job and an apartment in Venice, but I couldn’t imagine not smoking weed every day - even though I knew what I was doing was not healthy or normal."
Betsy got sober in a hospital program in the mid-80s, four years before Promises came into being. The program took her away from her daily routine, introduced her to the 12 Steps and gave her "a chance to breathe again."
When one of her counselors told her she’d make a great drug counselor, like many addicts in the earliest stages of recovery, she didn’t listen. Instead, she spent a few more years in the restaurant business as a server and manager before embracing her talents, attending Antioch University, and getting her license as a marriage and family therapist.
Although she has worked with diverse populations, including patients with HIV/AIDS and chronic mental illness, Betsy keeps coming back to the addiction field.
"What I’ve learned working with so many different clients is that one theoretical model doesn’t work for everyone," Betsy explains. "At Promises, we provide structure, compassion and a listening ear, but we believe in letting clients find their own individual path to recovery with guidance from us."
New Challenges Ahead
The challenges Betsy has faced in her recovery and her career have laid the foundation for a new adventure in the second half of her life. At age 50, she adopted two daughters, then ages 8 and 9. Motherhood has called upon many of the same skills she learned in recovery, including patience, tolerance, and taking responsibility for her own emotions and reactions.
"Being a mother has presented some of the greatest challenges to my old ideals and ways," Betsy says. "Parenting requires love and selflessness - and a lot of deep breaths - but it is deeply rewarding to watch my daughters learn the value of honesty and respect and really enjoy life."
Now, Betsy shares her infectious laugh and boundless energy with her daughters as well as the clients and staff at Promises, eager to spread a message of hope.
"We’re all in search of our purpose," she says. "Sometimes it takes a long time to get where you belong, but if you follow your heart, stay patient and just keep walking, you’ll get there."