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Choices in recovery support groups continue to emerge

May 20, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Signs can be found everywhere in many places to demonstrate that support groups taking an alternative approach to the 12-Step philosophy have arrived as a critical component of the recovery community. Looking alone at arguably the most prominent of these groups nationally, SMART Recovery, these developments serve among the telling examples of the growth of 12-
Step alternatives:

·        While most prominent in a few pockets of the U.S. (particularly San Diego, New York City and across Massachusetts) and overseas mainly in the United Kingdom and Australia, regularly meeting SMART Recovery groups likely will number 1,000 worldwide at some point this year.

·        SMART Recovery president A. Thomas Horvath, PhD, talks of some recovering individuals who chose to attend both Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery groups; some 12-Step focused treatment facility staffers who go out of their way to make sure that clients know of the recovery support alternative; and even some individuals who these days might refer to 12-Step attendance as an alternative to SMART Recovery, rather than the other way around.

·        In another sign of 12-Step alternatives’ growing legitimacy in the field at large, Horvath learned last week that he has been named to the national board of the prominent recovery advocacy organization Faces & Voices of Recovery.

In short, “There is less hostility than there used to be,” says Horvath, who also is founder and president of the San Diego-based Practical Recovery treatment organization that features two rehabilitation facilities, one outpatient treatment center and one sober living community.

SMART Recovery, part of a fraternity of about half a dozen 12-Step alternative organizations that also includes LifeRing Secular Recovery and Women for Sobriety, is described by Horvath as featuring an approach offering “comprehensive tools for re-creating a life as you see fit.” Horvath has said that SMART Recovery and like groups, as well as his treatment facilities, appeal to some individuals for reasons that include their eschewing of disease language and their lack of emphasis on a Higher Power that is directive in the individual’s life.

Changes in the field at large, including the retirement of some longtime professionals disinclined to support anything that wasn’t AA or NA, have contributed to SMART Recovery’s momentum, Horvath believes. In addition, “The evidence-based push has made people more aware of [cognitive-behavioral therapy and Motivational Interviewing],” he says. “This makes SMART seem more reasonable.”

Still, there remain those who don’t see a role for non 12-Step based recovery groups and who will tend to use the arguments that there is no evidence that they work and that AA and NA are the only recovery support groups that do, Horvath says.

Along with SMART Recovery’s growth has come increased prominence for a cadre of about 1,000 volunteers who have helped carry the message in communities. “Fifteen years ago this group was almost entirely run by professionals,” Horvath says. “The organization has now taken on a life of its own.”