The tenor of the conversation at this past weekend's national conference for SMART Recovery suggests that the self-empowering recovery support organization's mission has transitioned from gaining national acceptance to managing explosive growth and new opportunity.
“Our organizational challenges have shifted from trying to be recognized as a legitimate addiction recovery entity—trying to keep our heads above water while bobbing in a sea of 12-Step meetings—to trying to handle the volume and diversity of requests for our services and keeping our facilitators, hosts and employees from burning out,” SMART Recovery president Joe Gerstein, MD, FACP, told colleagues in his address to the conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Sept. 23.
Gerstein added with emphasis, “We can put to rest this notion that SMART is an 'alternative' to 12-Step programs. SMART is not an alternative! SMART Recovery is SMART Recovery with a clearly defined mission to 'empower people to achieve independence from addiction problems with our science-based 4-Point Program.' SMART stands alone in offering recovery support in this manner to the millions of people worldwide who need us.”
“We can't define ourselves in comparison to something else,” SMART Recovery national board member William Greer tells Addiction Professional. “We are what we are.”
SMART Recovery has experienced a significant growth curve over the past five years. Still just approaching the 1,000-meeting mark worldwide as recently as 2013, the organization now expects to reach 2,500 meeting sites by the end of this year. Its leaders state that SMART now holds an endorsement from every major medical and governmental authority in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Greer believes that the gravity of today's substance use crises and the growing appreciation of the multiple pathways to recovery are playing a major role in increasing the demand for SMART Recovery groups.
Gerstein pointed out at the conference that two-thirds of the 300 new registrants each month in SMART Recovery training programs are addiction treatment professionals, who increasingly are seeing the recovery support model's fit with evidence-based clinical treatment.
“As a result, people who undergo treatment today with cognitive and motivational therapies will find that SMART provides a continuum with recovery support using the very same treatment tools,” Gerstein said.
Justice system opportunities
SMART Recovery has focused greatly on improving its presence in the justice system, with nearly 200 meetings now housed in prisons and jails. These efforts are fueled in part by case law that is requiring courts to offer defendants non-religious recovery support options.
In one noteworthy example, a SMART Recovery pilot effort was launched at the Danbury Federal Prison for Women, a site that has become well-known via the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” That initiative has led to a program similar to SMART being introduced in all federal prisons, Gerstein said.
Each conference registrant received a copy of SMART Recovery's new five-year strategic plan, titled “Freedom from Addiction.” Many of its goals involve responding to growth and increasing demands for SMART Recovery meetings. For example, the organization is seeking a significant increase in the number of its volunteers, including those with special skills in areas such as fundraising and social media, as it tries to establish new meetings and mentor new facilitators.
“Clearly, every hospital, every drug court, every rehab facility, every prison or jail, every VA facility, and every village or hamlet should have a science-based, secular, self-empowerment recovery meeting available,” Gerstein said in his conference remarks. “We are a long, long way from that Utopia.”