Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
LMFT, NMP, CGP
Navigating 12-Step Referrals
I specialize in trauma and addictions and often recommend 12-Step meetings to my clients. These meetings offer free support for people trying to recover from alcoholism and many other process addictions. There are also programs like Al-Anon, Coda, and SLAA that help clients examine their self-destructive patterns in relationships. I keep a variety of 12-Step literature on hand for clients who may not be ready for meetings but are open to learning about them. Often, I plant the seed of a suggestion that they may be ready to receive in the future.
Many of my clients are hesitant to attend 12-Step meetings. Below are some helpful facts in case you are faced with similar resistance.
I explain that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which was the first 12-Step Program, was highly influenced by The Oxford group in the 1930s, a Christian movement popular in the United States and Europe in the early 20th century. Members of the Oxford Group practiced a formula of self-improvement by performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others.
AA is not a religious program and there is no requirement that members believe in God. AA encourages members to search for a god (higher power) of their own understanding and suggests using the AA group itself as a higher power if that feels more comfortable.
AA’s third tradition states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. I suggest that my clients attend meetings with an open mind and try not to drink right before the meeting. This is just a suggestion because people are welcome at meetings whether they are drinking or not.
3. I heard that you must have a sponsor to be in AA. I explain that sponsors are suggested but not required. Most of my clients find it hard to trust other people, based on their childhood. I explain that a sponsor is not required in the beginning and I’ll offer to support them in their recovery until they find the right person; this often provides fruitful clinical material for us and eventually they do find someone. If someone is already attending meetings, I’ll encourage them to find a temporary sponsor and give themselves time to get to know the person before committing to sponsorship.
If your client is not interested in going to the meetings, join with their resistance. I’m not referring to resistance in a punitive way. In Dr. Larry Heller’s NARM model, we view working with a client’s resistance to foster agency. We are not telling the client what to do, we are helping them explore the way their own choices may reflect their childhood survival styles. I’m interested in helping my clients explore the psychobiological implications of holding onto to these early fixed thoughts and behaviors.
As a therapist specializing in addiction, I know that 12-Step is not the only way. Many of my clients prefer group therapy, but this is often not enough for clients who are in early recovery. There’s also SMART Recovery which has been around since 1994, this offers a more cognitive based approach and there is no spiritual component.
Maria Gray, LMFT, NMP, CGP, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Century City, she is a Brainspotting Specialist and specializes in trauma and addictions. Maria is a Certified Group Therapist and currently offers three online groups in her practice. She enjoys working with adults who grew up around mentally ill or addictive family members. To learn more, go to www.mariagray.net.
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California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter