Recovery International and 12-Step Programs
Recovery International self-help groups and 12-step programs each have their own set formats for addressing problems. Recovery International meetings utilize the training in the Recovery International Method, whereas 12-step programs rely on higher powers, spiritual awakenings, making amends for wrongdoings of the past, etc.
Many people take part in both Recovery International and 12-step program meetings, as they can complement one another. If you are in such 12-step programs as Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, etc., we invite you to take part in Recovery International in support of your full recovery.
The following is one person’s account of how 12-step programs and Recovery International work together.
Are Recovery International and 12-Step Programs Compatible?
A View From a Dual Participant
There are many paths available for a person trying to overcome emotional problems and/or mental illness. These range from the myriad forms of individual therapy to group therapy where, in our present environment, there is a huge variety to choose. For example there are literally thousands of self-help support groups available! I could add to this the many psychological and/or spiritual movements or organizations along with the vast array of self-help books found in bookstores these days. They all offer to help us find peace, serenity and contentment, which too often seem to be missing from so many lives.
I will examine two support groups which I have had the opportunity to participate in: Recovery International and the 12-step program (I have participated in Emotions Anonymous and Emotional Health Anonymous; there are many other ones of course such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc.) The main points which I hope to illustrate from my experience with these paths and the observed experience of others are:
- One's mental health can be enhanced from participating in both Recovery International and the 12-step program.
- Recovery International and 12-step programs can work well together.
- While each may emphasize different things, they are not inherently in conflict with one another.
Recovery International and 12-step programs have much in common from a structural point of view. Both are international in scope and essentially free. A basket is passed during meetings, where one is invited to make a donation, but no fee is required to attend. Meetings generally last from one and one-half to two hours. In addition, both programs utilize reading from program texts and encourage the use of helpful sayings and slogans in one's daily life. Also, both stress, perhaps in different ways, the importance of changing one's thinking and attitude and recognize the value of self-awareness and self-examination.
Another important commonality is that both offer the participant encouragement, support and acceptance as they struggle to overcome their difficulties. Finally, Recovery International and the 12-step program urge the attendee to read and study various books and literature between meetings and point out the necessity of practicing program principles in one's daily life if one wants to get well.
There are some differences, however, between these two programs with regards to the amount of structure in the meetings themselves. While there are various types of 12-step meetings (for example step study, open sharing, guest speaker, topic discussion, etc.) with varying degrees of structure, overall, I believe it is fair to say that Recovery International meetings are more businesslike and tightly organized.
While most 12-step meetings have open sharing, there is no open sharing during the Recovery International meeting itself. The Recovery International meeting begins with reading from one of the program texts. This is followed by brief introductions which are then followed by an example period where members, utilizing a disciplined four-step process, can bring up trivial events of daily life that got them upset or gave them nervous symptoms. Feedback is given to the example-givers by other members, but in a specific format. Only at the end of the meeting is the structure loosened somewhat during "comment" and "mutual aid" periods, where questions can be asked and members can share informally with one another. Many individuals who attend both programs have commented that the Recovery International meeting approach helps them develop greater self-discipline in how they deal with their inner environment, while 12-step meetings offer an outlet for sharing feelings in a looser format. They note that their mental health benefits from both and that the two approaches can dovetail with one another and reinforce or enhance their improvement.
Another area worthy of examination is to take a look at the basic philosophies of Recovery International and the 12-step program. The 12-step program is rooted, to a marked degree, in the belief that by surrendering or turning over one's will, symptoms or problems to a power greater than oneself (or God if one chooses) inner progress in the form of reduced difficulties, serenity, contentment and peace of mind are obtained. Recovery International, through what is known as the Recovery system, on the other hand, emphasizes more of a "down-to-earth" cognitive-behavioral approach for dealing with one's problems, stressing the importance of using one's will, in a positive manner, to help oneself. Recovery International, however, does recognize the limitations of the will in that we cannot control the “outer environment.”
It should be pointed out that some Recovery International members have stated that they feel Recovery International has a spiritual dimension underlying many of its principles. These include learning to think in terms of the group instead of only oneself, the desirability of developing a sense of “averageness” and reducing one's sense of self-importance. The following quote from Recovery International’s main text, Mental Health Through Will Training, p. 140, tends to illustrate this: "Recovery refuses to be modern, and the leadership which it supplies aims precisely at teaching you how to conquer confused ideas and perturbed emotions through simplicity of thinking and humility of feeling."
In a similar vein, the 12-step program has a very practical side to it and stresses that one needs to do the footwork and take certain steps on their own if they are to be successful. This is stated succinctly on p. 40 of “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:” "It appears that there are certain things which only the individual can do. All by himself, and in the light of his own circumstances, he needs to develop the quality of willingness. When he acquires willingness, he is the only one who can make the decision to exert himself. Trying to do this is an act of his own will." And later on the same page, it is noted, "Our whole problem had been the misuse of willpower." It would seem that both programs share the common belief that the member should learn to use his will in a constructive manner.
I would suggest, that the two philosophies presented in Recovery International and 12-step programs could be blended together, if one chooses, without the development of any internal conflict. One long-time Recovery International group leader and participant in both programs, Patrice Sena, who is also a counselor has commented, "I think the use of the Recovery International tools gives the individual a deeper connection of what the 12 steps are really talking about. The clients start to connect in a more concrete way through Recovery International and thus apply themselves more fully to the 12 steps. It is such a wonderful blend when one does both programs. It accelerates the client in having a deeper commitment and understanding to both the 12-step program and the Recovery International system."
In conclusion, we are fortunate to live in a time where there are many kinds of help available to the mental health consumer. Mental and emotional problems can be complex and quite challenging; perhaps those individuals who can pull from different paths will increase the tools at their disposal and thereby enhance their prospects for mental and emotional well-being. Through deeper understanding of one another along with greater communication between groups and organizations that provide help for the mental health consumer, we can more effectively work together to assist the struggling individuals of our society.