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"I Just Don't Like AA"...The World View Issue

Michele Happe, MA, LADC Updated: Mar 10th 2011

I hear this all the time in my practice. There are many reasons for this. Some say that AA is too religious. A very common complaint is the platitudes are hokey and they get embarrassed when they hear such things as "Keep coming back it works if you work it" along with the hand holding and the bouncy hands at the end of the phrase. Some say they are paralyzed in groups and are terrified of speaking up due to social anxiety.

group of stick figures holding handsThere are many inpatient programs that are also non 12 step programs. They tout their success without using the 12 steps. Passages in Malibu California is one of the most famous...they charge $67,000 per month.

I am often asked if I support the 12 steps. My answer is YES, in fact I love the 12 steps and live my life by them. But I do not require that my clients go to AA. This is not my business and I don't sing AA's praises if they are resistant. What I usually say to them is, "I am happy to be your meeting".

It is not appropriate for a therapist to push their world view on clients. This creates a hierarchical dynamic which can cause the client to be resistant to the therapy itself. I share many of the gifts of the 12 steps with my clients. I often have them do an inventory and we work through resentments in order to find out character flaws that get to be worked on in therapy.

My clients know that I am a Buddhist and I always ask permission to share some of the principles that are helpful to recovery from Buddhism. I let them know that I have no investment in turning them Buddhist and I honor and respect their religious views and try to speak their own spiritual language.

Some of my clients are steadfast in their opinions about AA. Others eventually become willing to try it out. It is good to have support when recovering addiction. The more support the better. This can be a church group, a friend or spouse who is supportive, individual therapy, group therapy. The point is the more support we have for recovery, the better chance we have of lasting recovery. Find your support and use it with respect and humility. Your chances of recovery will be much higher.

I welcome your feedback.

Be well.


Michele Happe, MA, LADCI am a licensed addictions therapist that specializes in addiction and codependency. I use Buddhist principles to aid in recovery and to help promote happiness. I also write and teach about these issues. I have a private practice in Minden, NV and Reno, NV and work nationally on the phone(775)230-1507 and through skype (mhappenow). My webpage is Join me on Facebook for lots of mini teachings.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

12 step and Buddhism - DavidW - Mar 27th 2012

First of all with regard to 12 step - I think it depends very much on how this methodology is applied and worked with by the therapist. AA and other 12-step group programmes can come across as rather rigid and drective and I have worked with people who find them irritatingly cliched and embarrasing. Onthe other hand, used as a tool by a sensitive and flexible therapist, the twelve step concept can work as a powerful structure of recovery and acceptance. As a philosophically-based therapist with strong leanings toward Buddhist psychology and mindfulness I also find the reliance on a higher power bit rather worrying - it seems to indicate a refusal that choice has a primary role to play. I do have some anxieties, however, about disclosing the fact that I am a Buddhist. Not because I am not boundaried enough to keep dogma or ritual out of the consulting room but because many clients, once they know I am a Buddhist, are not some actually start asking for specific mantras or practices to perform. I\\\'m in a bit of a rush right now as I have someone waiting but would love to have a more detailed debate on this. Any thoughts?

alternatives to AA work and may offer higher success rates, but... - easton - Mar 12th 2011

Alternatives to AA work and do offer higher success rates, but AA-involved counselors are never talking about them.  These are programs like SMART Recovery, and even (get this) A BOOK (no meetings) called Rational Recovery.  I have an appreciation for AA, too, because it has made a friend's life worth his time living.  But even he admits that more people quit without any help at all than they do with AA.  AA's own statistics concerning the program's success rates are alarming; as a dominant recovery paradigm, the 12 steps need to be scrapped.  It should only be one choice among many.  I would also like to point out that, as a buddhist, there is no kind of dharma-12 step meld.

Dr. Dombeck's Note: If you are interested in SMART Recovery, please look for the interview we will publish with Michael Edelstein, Ph.D. in a few days.  Dr. Edelstein, who helps coordinate SMART Recovery in the San Franscisco bay area, discusses Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

AA is not the only way. - Moonleo - Mar 11th 2011

I found this very interesting as it echos my own feelings about AA. I am in no doubt that for some people AA works, however, according to AA's own statistics the success rate at the one year point is no more than 5%. What we do not know is what percentage of the 95% managed to find some other way to stay sober. I believe that as the factors contributing to addiction are unique in every case, it is not unreasonable to accept the idea that 'recovery' can be, and very often is, an individual thing. Lets face it, even within AA, one person's programme can be considerably different from another's. As for the guilt associated with not attending enough meetings - isn't that exactly what you are expected to feel! The reason why people relapse is not because they don't go to enough meetings, and it's quite ridiculous that this is the reason so often given in such instances. This is an example of the negative religeous aspect of AA that so many people find distasteful. It smacks of control via fear and intimidation - not a healthy envirenment - and one of the reasons so many people decide to look for alternatives, even after years of membership.

AA and medication - Michele Happe - Mar 10th 2011

There is a very good very old AA pamphlet called Medication and other Drugs...It gets it right that some mood disorders if not treated will lead to relapse.  "We have no opinion on outside issues" should be adhered to!

I'm glad to hear a professional open to recovery without AA - Tom Rees - Mar 10th 2011

I am always glad when I see or hear of a professional who treats addicts open to the notion that recovery does not necessarily have to involve AA. I generally keep very quiet about this issue because I manage what has become the largest website in the US for sober living homes and halfway houses to list their recovery housing and describe their different programs and protocols. Most of them live and die by AA and some might not even admit a client who said they were not a 12 stepper. In fact the program was very helpful in my first several years of sobriety, but there were one or two meetings I attended where the issue of using medication for mood disorders came up, and the old timers were adamant that for one to be truly sober, taking a pill was just another form of using -- even if it was prescribed. I am bipolar, Adhd and anxiety ridden, and it took me and my doctors years to devise the right "cocktail" of medications (no pun intended). When AA says "there is no pill" I'm sorry, but they are wrong and need to get with it and leave the 1940's and 1950's behind. There IS a pill and I know this because I went from self-medicating with all the wrong drugs to doing it under careful supervision, and life is better for me now than it ever was before.

On another not, I also work with a  an LCSW who has done wonders for many problems I have had related to adoption and some other things, and we always end the session and he says "start going to meetings again" which leads to a feeling of guilt like I am doing something wrong. The notion that stopping going to meetings inevitably leads to relapse is not one I buy, and he knows this but he says the words robotically each session and pushes back really hard when I tell him my meetings consist of an hour of research a day understanding the physiological mechanics of mental imbalance and neurochemicals etc. I will still go to meetings every now and then with friends, so I am not against them --I just don't nfeel I need them to remain strong, suported, and healthy. I have a support group of many other people who I consider having discussions about sobriety with as "my meetings", and I also talk with about 10 addicts or their parents a day where I share my story and even advocate AA for someone getting sober. I believe in the 12 steps and live by them in my own way. Long ago, i came to believe that a true AA phlosophy could be "make a program your own - just live by some support disciplines". Does this make sense to you and what would you say to me about feelings of guilt I have once in a while about NOT attending AA meetings several times a week, because that is one of the negatives that arises alot talking with strict 12 steppers? Thanks for speaking up about this. (I should mention also there are a number of houses which specifically market themselves as non-AA driven).

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