What Is 12 Step Therapy?
In the years immediately following the end of American Prohibition in 1933, the US experienced a tremendous spike in alcohol abuse and alcoholism. They also experienced a corresponding growth in the number of treatment programmes available to alcohol abusers. Two of those abusers, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, established Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 after determining that the treatments of the day were not providing the kind of help and support alcoholics needed. The development of their 12-step programme for alcohol recovery began shortly after AA was established.
Wilson and Smith’s original 12-step model was rooted in their belief that alcoholism was more than just a physical issue. They felt that a more holistic approach was needed, utilising a form of treatment that also addressed the mind and spirit in ways that physical treatment could not manage. Addressing the mind and spirit is what 12-step therapy is all about.
We utilise 12-step therapy whenever appropriate for our clients. We believe this therapy is very helpful to long-term success because it promotes good character traits including honesty, compassion, altruism and open-mindedness. We have personally experienced the joy of helping countless numbers of recovering addicts get their lives on track through the 12-step model.
How 12-Step Therapy Works
As a therapy, the 12-step model is based more on interaction within a group support structure than individual counselling or medical intervention. While counselling and medical intervention are also part of addiction recovery, it is the 12 steps participants go through that provide a bridge between past behaviours and an addiction-free future.
Wilson and Smith developed the 12-steps based on a number of things they did to overcome alcohol. As such, a reading of the 12 steps reveals Wilson and Smith saying things like we ‘admitted’, we ‘came to a place’, we ‘made a decision’ and we ‘are entirely ready to do’ such and such. According to the American Psychological Association, 12-step therapy rests on the following six fundamentals:
Admitting one’s inability to control addictive or compulsive behaviour
Recognition of a ‘higher power’ that can provide the strength to overcome
Examining the past to recognise errors and mistakes
Making amends for past errors and mistakes
Learning and accepting a new code of behaviour that will govern life
Helping others also undergoing recovery from addictive or compulsive behaviour.
From these six fundamentals, it is easy to see that the strength of 12-step therapy is its ability to encourage participants to take responsibility for the past, present and future. This is an important part of the holistic approach to recovery utilised. Holistic recovery must address the whole person rather than just the physical. Otherwise, unintended thoughts and emotions are likely to lead to relapse.
In simple terms, 12-step participants acknowledge that they alone are responsible for past decisions resulting in addictive behaviour. They made the choice to drink; they made the choice to take drugs; they made the choice to do whatever it was that led to addiction.
Furthermore, participants acknowledge that they alone hold the key to preventing future relapse. They take the steps necessary to minimise future risks and to make up for past mistakes. All of this leads to a new way of thinking based on individual responsibility to one’s self, family, community and God.
12-Step Just One Aspect of Recovery
Many treatment approaches utilise 12-step therapy to treat many different kinds of addiction and compulsions. However, 12-step therapy is just one aspect of recovery based on a holistic model.
The holistic model recognises that human beings are three-part persons comprised of body, mind and spirit. The one thing 12-step work does not do is address the physical aspects of addiction. Therefore, before the alcoholic can enter a 12-step programme, he or she must first undergo medically supervised detox. This is also something treatment should provide.
Detox from alcohol takes anywhere from 7 to 10 days; it can be shorter or longer for other drugs, depending on their use. At the conclusion of detox, we seek to get clients started on a 12-step programme as quickly as we can in order to take maximum advantage of the mutual accountability and support afforded by the group counselling atmosphere. We then enhance 12-step therapy with other therapies as deemed appropriate.
Participants in 12-step programmes may also participate in:
A significant advantage of 12-step therapy is that it does not have to be exclusive. It can be combined with additional therapies according to the needs of each client. Furthermore, 12-step work can continue long after a client leaves a residential rehab facility. We suggest that be the case more often than not.
Participation After Residential Rehab
We strongly recommend continuing 12-step therapy by way of aftercare services provided at the conclusion of residential rehab. We firmly believe that maintaining membership in a local 12-step support group is one of the most important things a recovering addict can do to prevent relapse. How long an individual group member continues with the therapy is up to him or her. However, it is not unusual to see recovering addicts stick with their 12-step groups for years as a means of helping others overcome.
Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most well-known support groups using the 12-step model of recovery. There are others as well, some using the same programme developed by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith in 1930s. Others utilise a modified model based on an entirely different set of steps that accompany the 12 traditional ones.
Whether a treatment centre sticks with the original 12 steps and traditions or not, the treatment model itself has proved to be effective.