There seems to be a great deal of resistance toward the effectiveness of 12 step programs from those favoring a non-12 step way of recovery, and, as obvious as that sounds, the notion of integrity is painfully absent in their marketing presence. Much of the touted language revolves around the idea that there ought to be a holistic approach to recovery. The notion, at least so it seems, implies that the 12-steps are a one-way road that cannot possibly apply to all individuals. In this article, I will articulate why I think this reasoning is flawed.
Once upon a time, I was reading an article that was trying to separate the value of a 12 step programs from a mindfulness approach type program. Immediately I wondered: Why can't the 12 step approach be used in tandem with the mindfulness approach? Then I went on to read the comment section and discovered that folks were either for or against one of these approaches. Now, we live in an empirical society, no doubt, that, insists on black and white answers-it either works or it doesn't. However, my belief is that when we live in a world of absolutism i.e. propping up one program over another, we sell ourselves short. Instead, we should prop all programs underneath the causes of addiction as to support the person in need, however we can.
The goal of any treatment program should be to get people better, period. Denying the work of other programs not only lacks integrity, but, also, assumes too much. For example, mindfulness programs alone cannot guarantee future recovery. If these programs cannot guarantee this outcome, then, it seems like a complete lack of integrity to insist their way is better, and the same goes for 12 step programs that might insist on the infallibility of their program. Due to the fact that no one can guarantee 100% success rates, it is like saying, "we fail less than the other guys," but this cannot be a good marketing strategy. And what good does failing less, in hindsight, do for the person in need today? Instead of focusing on what it is that we are not doing as a treatment providers, let us focus on what it is, that, we actually do.
To be clear, I think it is absolutely important that businesses strive to be the best and that the better businesses should prevail. However, the focus here is integrity. In my experience, whether recognized out-loud or not in the headlines of 12 step programs, many of them utilize, for example, mindfulness practices, cognitive therapy, and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). To suggest otherwise is misleading given the extraordinary amount of psychologists and clinicians working within 12-step programs. Absolutely speaking, there is no way that the mindfulness approach works every time when compared alone to the cognitive approach or that REBT therapy alone works every time when compared to cognitive therapy. No one has a 100% success rate and can guarantee sobriety. Therefore, the above therapies are tools to be utilized within the construct of any program.
The 12 steps are most certainly malleable and should not be viewed as set in stone. The original construction of the 12 steps revolved, mainly, around spirituality alone, but it has since been understood as a program that may be altered for a particular audience. The largest difference, identified by non 12 step programs is that the 12 step programs sees the dependence on drugs or alcohol as the primary problem. This means, according to traditional models, the problem stems forth from addiction. Therefore if you address the issue of addiction you can start recovering.
I like to think of the 12 step approach in layers. Addiction is the top layer and, once removed, you can begin to address the actual issues underlying the addiction. Below these issues are the real you, that, your son(s), daughter(s), father, mother, and friends are dying to know again. From this view, the drugs are not the primary problem, but are a surface level problem.
Therefore, I wonder, how can the 12 step approach be inflexible compared to non-12 step approaches? Maybe the insistence of non-12 step approaches has to do, not only with a misunderstanding of current, residential and extended care models that adhere to 12 step practices, but, also, when looking at the success rates comparably to non 12 step programs, they have failed to reach the more reasonable conclusion: there are simply bad programs out there. Programs that insist on the 12 step model and are bad programs to begin with will never yield great results. Is this the fault of the 12 steps or the fault of the business? Where is our integrity and, also, wisdom to know the difference?
Triple Peaks Recovery began its program to not only help young adult men stay clean from drugs and alcohol, but, above all, to help cultivate the unique talents of every individual coming into its program. Why? Once you take away the drugs, most young adults still lack the ability to exploit their talents that guarantee true social immersion after any recovery program has ended. Although drugs play a major role in the problems leading up to treatment, once sober, true recovery begins to take shape. And this is a crucial point, often overlooked within some traditional 12 step programs and, also, misunderstood by non-traditional programs.
Lastly, what if all that came about from the 12 steps (in tandem with the benefits derived from REBT, cognitive, and mindfulness group/ individual therapies) was the acceptance that we do not have control over everything, particularly the moderating of our alcohol and drug use? What if all that came about from the 12 steps was a fellowship that not only supported the client on their journey and, at the same time, used this group to replace drugs with friendship? What if all that came about from the 12 steps was a deep understanding of the wrongs we've committed and the amends needed to reduce shame (something every person deals with)? What if all that came about was a sober person who believed it their responsibility to help others through their struggles, to give back that which was given to them so freely?
At the base of the 12 steps are the essential human desire for support and connectedness. To say that cognitive therapy, for example, is the only way not only undermines cognitive therapist's inability to solve all problems, but, also, undermines the fact that cognitive therapy is used within 12 step models. At Triple Peaks Recovery we think the only thing that matters for any honest program is getting people well, period.
To learn more, read the first part of my series on the 12 Steps - 12 Step Recovery | Step 1.