Working at Promises is like "coming home" for Betsy Spier. She first stepped foot on…
An Interview with Ilana Zivkovich, LCSW, LCDC, Executive Director
Ilana Zivkovich has an inner beauty that radiates through and is visible to everyone around her. Some might say this is because she sees the inner beauty in others.
“All people have an inner truth that is beautiful,” says Ilana. “So often we feel we’d be good enough ‘if only’ we could make certain changes. At Promises Austin we challenge those thoughts by taking a strengths-based approach that normalizes our clients’ struggles and helps them see that they are inherently worthy. From there, we figure out how to help them act in ways that align with their inner truth.”
Recovery: A Gift for Life
Described as genuine, accepting and a natural-born leader, Ilana has a great deal of empathy for people struggling with addiction.
“We’re all on a journey, and every day we make choices,” Ilana says. “Sometimes those choices are not fully informed because, although we think we’re responding to current challenges, there are deep-seated issues, such as grief, shame, family of origin issues or mental health conditions, which influence what we do. These issues often lead us to make mistakes or put ourselves in unhealthy situations.”
Ilana’s deep understanding of addiction stems, in part, from her own experiences. Ilana has been sober since age 16. Her recovery, she says, is the foundation of all of the good things in her life.
“Recovery has given me the luxury of really looking at who I am and the type of life I want to live,” Ilana says. “I see treatment as a rare opportunity to quiet down the noise that is life, whether it comes from work, family, school, friends, etc., and really look at yourself and take mindful steps toward creating the life you want.”
Asking for help takes courage, but as Ilana can attest, the pay-off is well worth it.
“Many people go through life without asking the tough questions,” she says. “If you’re willing to ask for help, you get a window into intentional living that is a lifetime gift.”
Certain components of entering and staying in recovery stand out for Ilana as particularly important. One is continuing care – staying in treatment long enough to heal the mind, body and spirit from the damage caused by addiction. Another is family involvement. Loved ones do a huge service to the addict’s recovery, she says, when they are willing to look at how the disease has manifested for each person in the family system and how those issues come together to impact the development of the disease.
“My family recognized that recovery was a ‘we job,’ not an ‘I job,’” Ilana says. “They stood behind me. I attribute my ability to maintain long-term recovery, in part, to my family’s support and involvement.”
Respect for Diversity
Valuing the uniqueness of each individual is one of the strengths Ilana brings to her clinical work at Promises Austin. Raised in Berkeley, Calif., Ilana learned from a young age to value diversity and to appreciate all different ways of thinking and living. Since then, she has traveled all over the world, experiencing new cultures and visiting most of the seven continents.
Ilana lived in Europe for a while during college and then completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at the University of Texas at Austin. She also became a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Given her personal experience with addiction and recovery, she knew early on that she wanted to work in this field.
“For me, this work feels like a calling, not just a career,” she explains. “I delight in the fact that I get to talk about and bear witness to the immense change that is recovery on a daily basis.”
Ilana felt at home in Austin, where she has found people to be down-to-earth and culturally diverse, and started working in substance abuse and mental health treatment, first as a Program Coordinator in a grief counseling center and later as Director of Clinical Development at an addiction treatment center in Austin.
Leading with Their Hearts
In 2012, Ilana joined Promises Austin (part of Elements Behavioral Health’s family of treatment centers), a recovery retreat she describes as “an ideal place to re-experience joy.”
“Elements provides truly cutting-edge, top-quality care across the country and across a breadth of different presenting issues, including sex addiction, trauma, substance abuse and other issues,” says Ilana. “It’s such a pleasure to grow with a company that does it all and does it all so well.”
At the core of Ilana’s philosophy on treatment is the necessity of treating addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders simultaneously.
“You can’t just treat the branches, you need to treat the root,” Ilana explains. “One of our goals is to provide tools for people to create safety and health in their lives. To do so, we have to look at all of the factors that impact people as whole individuals, including trauma, mental health and family of origin issues.”
Ilana’s favorite part of her job is the change she sees in clients as they heal from addiction.
“From day 1 to day 10, day 30 to day 60, we see so much change happen,” says Ilana. “I’m so grateful that I get to experience the beauty of clients and families changing their lives in such a healthy and dramatic way.”
Ilana also feels fortunate to work with a dedicated, passionate team of professionals.
“These are people who lead with their hearts,” Ilana says. “We take our jobs seriously, but we have a lot of fun doing it. We’re all on a mission to help bring about positive change, and the clients and families we work with can feel that.”