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Recovery Czars,
Part II

Part I
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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Any social worker employed in the field of substance abuse is familiar with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is a logical sequence to the Steps from Step One through Step Twelve. The Steps culminate with Step Twelve: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

In other words, recovering alcoholics lend a helping hand to the alcoholics who are still drinking. The goal is to lead the sick and suffering alcoholic to a sober and meaningful life. It is often referred to as doing a Twelfth Step, or, Twelve Stepping someone. The A.A. fellowship was founded on this concept. The recovering alcoholic selfishly stays sober by unselfishly reaching out to those still trapped in the insanity of alcohol dependence. So far, so good.

Now, should a career in addiction counselling be considered a valid way to work through Step Twelve? And, is addiction counselling an arena in which recovering patients can legitimately work through any Step? If these questions are not answered correctly, then it is possible that the recovery of both the counsellor and his patients could be negatively affected.

Let's turn to one of the original resources, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, a standard publication of the Alcoholics Anonymous World Services since 1952. Let's read the first paragraph on page 106.

The joy of living is the theme of A.A.'s Twelfth Step, and action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety. When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price tag on it.
[End of quote.]

Twice in the same paragraph it is mentioned that Twelve Step work should not involve payment: "the kind of giving that asks no rewards," and "the kind of love that has no price tag." This would seem to rule out getting a paycheck as a counsellor. That is, if the counselling job is being used as a background for Twelfth Stepping. This means that Twelfth Step work and a career in counselling are not identical.

Let's move on to the second question. Even though the answer to the first question voids the necessity of asking the second question, the answer is nevertheless professionally significant. Are the helping professions an arena in which Twelfth Step work can be done? For example, there are numerous inpatient rehabilitation facilities in which patients are expected to work through all twelve Steps.

Can the Twelve Steps be mandated or enforced? Does this not become almost fanatic, or sort of like a state religion? If the Twelve Steps are removed from the context of the A.A./N.A. fellowships, does it not counteract the relationship of love between the recovering alcoholic and the sick alcoholic? Can the Steps be effective when transposed to a treatment facility? Counsellors and A.A. sponsors are not identical. Treatment facilities and A.A. meetings provide different structures and produce a different kind of relationship.

Recovery czars seem to blur the boundaries between their own recovery needs and their professional responsibilities. They seem to promote client Twelve Step work as a totalitarian substitution for a genuine treatment plan. They use a quasi-Twelfth Step as a personal crutch to hold them up when among other professionals or para-professionals who indeed have a strong career footing in which the Twelve Steps is only a part of the larger whole.

This is not to say that the Twelve Steps should be omitted from the treatment plan. Teaching and discussing the terminology involved is an essential part of good counselling. Patients need to have an understanding of terms such as, powerless, Power greater than ourselves, sanity, defects of character, and so on. A good counsellor can compliment and supplement the work that a patient is doing in the A.A./N.A. fellowships.

Non-recovering professionals are capable of understanding the Twelve Steps. They are capable of applying the Twelve Steps to their personal lives for personal reasons, since the Steps seem adaptable to a number of emotional problems. Twelfth Stepping is not solely a matter of ability, it is a matter of context and relationship.

The trust a patient places in the counsellor lends itself to discussion of Step work, perhaps more in a manner of explanation, clarification, and review. A beginner who has just worked Step One with his sponsor, for example, may also gain therapeutic benefit by reviewing this process in the counselling session. But the actual Step work should take place within the A.A./N.A. fellowships and between the sponsor and the sponsee.

Sobriety is not the only consequence of working the Twelve Steps. An equally important result is the continuation of the A.A./N.A. fellowship itself. Counselling alone can be ineffective in getting alcoholics sobered up. The A.A./N.A. fellowship must continue from generation to generation, and counsellors need to support the A.A./N.A. principles while maintaining appropriate professional boundaries. (Written 05/19/03 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2003 Natalia J. Garland