Psychotherapy and 12 Step Based Programs – An Integrated Approach

By: Daniel S. Szuhay

Daniel Szuhay, MA
Group Facilitator

People turn to psychotherapy to find relief from their day-to-day difficulties. A therapist’s office can offer an individual a safe, confidential, contained space with a professional whose purpose is to help that person heal from whatever it is that is troubling them. Although there are many different therapeutic styles, the goal of psychotherapy is always the same, a decrease in troublesome symptoms and an increase in the ability to joyfully experience work, love, and play.There are those for whom psychotherapy is not enough. Many people turn to 12 step based anonymous programs to address troublesome addiction related issues.

There are many different types of 12 step based programs and these programs have helped countless individuals find relief from problems associated with substance abuse, gambling, over-eating, co-dependency issues, sex and love addictions, among others. These programs work and they help people turn their lives around.

The disease of addiction affects the physical, the mental, and the spiritual aspects of the addict’s life and also impacts the lives of those around the addict. 12 step based programs have a very specific and prescriptive course of treatment. Individuals are encouraged to attend meetings, work the 12 steps, and be of service; the three cornerstones of any 12 step program, “unity, recovery and service.”

The very first word found in the 1st step is “we” and it is often noted that recovery from addictive behaviors is best achieved when engaged with a community of other recovering individuals. As mentioned above, there is also a heavy emphasis on “getting into action,” such as being of service, attending meetings, or talking with another sober individual when feeling “restless, irritable, or discontented.” Although, these simple actions can, at times be quite challenging to do, they work. The 12 step approach is also quite different from how individual psychotherapy works.

Psychotherapy is about establishing a warm, caring, therapeutic alliance with one other person. Intimate details are shared privately. Discussions regarding feelings are encouraged. Feelings are not facts; however, the feelings that are most prevalent stand out for a reason. Many times current strong emotional reactions have their origins from past difficult emotional experiences. In psychodynamic oriented therapies, family histories are explored as a potential source for current day struggles. Healing happens when overwhelming and troublesome feelings are re-experienced and tolerated in a corrective and supportive environment.

An integrated approach utilizing both 12 step programs and psychotherapy can accelerate an individual’s emotional and psychological recovery and growth. As detailed above, psychotherapy and 12 step programs offer their own unique perspectives and when combined provide the best of both worlds; working individually with a professional and being part of a community of like-mined people. Each course of treatment can support the other to optimize an individual’s potential to re-imagine themselves, their lives, and future possibilities.

Daniel S. Szuhay, MA-La Fuente Hollywood Group Facilitator
Doctoral Candidate, Pacifica Graduate Inst.

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