In October, Marple Cross resident therapist Mike Eustace is running a seminar on Recovery from Addiction, introducing counsellors and psychotherapists to the Twelve Step Program which, for many people around the world, has successfully enabled them to deal with their addictive behaviours.
In this series of Questions and Answers, Mike explodes some of the misunderstandings about the Program and explains its relevance to the work that counsellors, psychotherapists and other mental health professionals do with clients who are experiencing problems with addiction.
1. There seem to be a lot of myths and misconceptions around the 12-step programme. Why do you think that is?
Before answering this question, it is important for me to explain the difference between the 12-Step Program and 12-Step fellowships and groups. There is a panoply of 12-Step fellowships, which comprise regular meetings of groups of individuals who strive to recover from various forms of addiction using the 12-Step Program. There is only one 12-Step Program, which is implemented differently by each of the members of each of the groups of each of the fellowships.
To say that the 12-Step Program doesn’t work because an individual person from one fellowship didn’t get along too well with it is the equivalent of saying that the internal combustion engine doesn’t work because one’s car refuses to start!
To my mind, there are an abundance of myths and misconceptions about the 12-Step Program due to simple misunderstandings. These most often occur when someone (perhaps an addict or mental health worker) investigates the program firstly, with preconceived ideas about what works and what doesn’t work and secondly, a lack of self-awareness. They draw erroneous and unfounded conclusions from their observations which they then pass on to others. Thus, a myth or misconception is born and propagated.
The kind of prejudicial myth-making exemplified above is illustrated by the following quote:
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a person in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” — Herbert Spencer (English philosopher, 1820-1903)
With this in mind, I dispel three commonly believed myths below:
Myth 1: The 12-Step Program keeps people sick because it tells people they’re powerless
Fact 1: There are some things in the world over which everyone is powerless. The 12-Step Program promotes mental health because it urges people to take responsibility for their addiction. It teaches addicts firstly, that they powerless over their physical reaction to whatever it is they are addicted to and secondly, by admitting their powerlessness and taking responsibility for their lives, they can learn to live life differently.
Myth 2: The 12-Step Program is a religious program
Fact 2: The 12-Step Program is a secular program. The focus is on reaching out beyond self and accepting help from others. Some people in recovery find religion, others don’t. All the world’s religions are represented among those in recovery that hold religious beliefs.
The 12-Step Program promotes love and tolerance towards all people, no matter what their religious persuasion is. The 12-Step Program offers a viable spiritual solution to a problem that has hitherto been intractable by individual will-power alone.
The word “spiritual” can be considered in this context to be synonymous with the word “transpersonal”. I have heard it wryly stated that religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for people who have already been there.
Myth 3: The 12-Step Program is a cult that brainwashes people into thinking that there’s only one way to live life and recover
Fact 3: The 12-Step Program encourages individualism, independent thought, self awareness and autonomy. How does this work? Let me start with two Chinese proverbs:
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”
“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”
The 12-Step Program offers addicts one path to the top of the metaphorical mountain. There are others, but the 12-Step path is well trodden and there are lots of people to help along the way – people who have already walked the path.
The objective of the 12-Step Program is the same as for many other processes intended to promote psychological well-being – which is to enjoy a happy, healthy life in which the individual is empowered to make his or her own decisions, as informed by a healthy self-concept, good self-awareness and flexibility of thought and behaviour.
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