12 Step groups and psychotherapy

amida-mandala-prayer-flags-and-viewThe first 12 Step group, Alcoholics Anonymous, was founded in 1935 in by two American men who found a way of tackling their alcoholism. Since these early days AA has become a global phenomenon and has helped countless people get into recovery and stay sober. It has also spawned numerous other groups which came into existence to help people with other addictions – Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous are just a few of these.

There are several good reasons to try a 12 Step group:

  1. 12 Step programmes are run by people who have experienced the same difficulties as you and who have found a solution. When you attend meetings you will meet people who have been sober or abstained from their addictive behaviour for many years – they know what they’re talking about!
  2. For the same reason, attending a 12 Step group can help you feel less alone. It’s difficult to understand what it’s like to live with an alcoholic or be addicted to food, but if you attend Al-Anon or Overeaters Anonymous you’ll meet many people who do know what it’s like, and who’ve faced the same issues as you.
  3. There are many different resources available through 12 Step programmes which all work together – attending meetings, reading literature, keeping in touch with fellow group members, slogans, working the steps with a sponsor etc.
  4. 12 Step meetings are run by donation and so have a low cost attached – if there are no face to face meetings nearby then you can attend an online or Skype group.

12 Step programmes don’t work for everyone, and if you’re struggling with an addiction it’s important that you research what’s available locally and try a few things to see what works. If you do decide to attend a 12 Step group, however, my experience is that it can sit very comfortably alongside psychotherapy. It helps if you have a therapist who has experience of the 12 Steps themselves, or is at least supportive of what you’re doing. The things you learn about yourself in the 12 Step group can be explored in more depth in your therapy, and the support you get from the group will help you to stay sober whilst you’re exploring difficult emotions in the therapy.

The most difficult thing about therapy can be booking and turning up to a first session, and the same is true for 12 Step programmes. Going along to your first one can feel like a huge hurdle. Once you’re there, you’ll  find that the group is full of ordinary people like you who have made a positive choice to make changes in their lives. You’ll also find a lot of laughter! Good luck with finding the right support for you, whatever it is you’re looking for.