While I’m a strong believer in the 12 step process, I’m of the mindset that introducing individuals to 12 step support groups is a delicate process.
Regular attendance at 12-step meetings is the cornerstone of most recovery programs and a hugely powerful tool to support long term recovery.
We all know how important first impressions are, however, and once we’ve made up our mind about something it is very difficult to change.
So please use the following directions wisely.
I like to try to help people get the BEST POSSIBLE first impression of 12 step meetings. I know this avenue is the one most likely to save their life!
Here are some important things to consider when recommending 12 step meetings to someone:
This is probably the most important factor to consider. Always consider the individual’s readiness for change. A premature AA referral will result in the person coming away thinking “I’m not nearly as bad as those people,” “I am different because_______________________.”
12 step meetings are full of wisdom, fellowship, and tradition but can be very intimidating to prospective newcomers. I like to talk in depth with clients about what to expect. I tell them all about the customs, reading, traditions, and I always give them a heads up on general information and the “unwritten rules/customs.” This goes a long way in making a person feel a little less intimidated by the 12 step process. I tell my clients that recovery is like a secret culture that has its own language, ways of thinking, and is loaded with traditions/customs. I warn them that it is a little like moving to a foreign country and trying to learn the language and laws all at once. I let them know that while it will feel strange the first few times, most people come to love the ritualistic way that meetings are ran. It ultimately gives them a feeling of comfort and familiarity no matter where in the world they attend a meeting.
Just by being flexible and open minded about support groups, you can increase the likelihood that a person will engage in a 12 step process. I like to call it “tour de recovery.” I suggest that individuals try out several types of meetings (NA/AA/FAVOR/Celebrate Recovery etc….) and come back and tell me all about their findings. NO ONE LIKES TO BE FORCED INTO ANYTHING! Forced meeting attendance will only increase the chance that the person will develop resistance/tolerance toward the 12 step process, and once this happens, it is hard to break the mindset. Although most of my clients that end up on long term recovery usually end up in AA, I generally find that AA is one of the more intimidating places for newcomers.
Bring a friend
If the individual has a friend, group member, or family member that’s already a member of a 12 step support group, it can be very helpful to suggest they tag along some time. This other person can be instrumental in connecting the individual with positive peer supports, and helping them feel less intimated by the process in general. WARNING: I often get asked about bringing a spouse, parent, friend (who isn’t in recovery) to meetings. Although, this is allowed in “open meetings,” I don’t recommend this. This can be a roadblock to connecting with others in the group because it is too easy to hide in the comfort of the familiar relationship.
Don’t freak out when they question the process
Integrating into a 12 step fellowship really is like learning a whole new language and culture. It is natural for individuals to question all kinds of things about the process. Allowing the individual to express their resistance without judgement will allow them to work through this resistance. For example: I often hear people say things like “AA is like a cult.” I usually validate this statement and say something like “It is sort of cult like!” They do things in a very ritualistic way and send messages to members about failure if they stop coming. And to be completely honest, there is a little flavor of “brain washing” that goes on. I generally follow this up by saying that a little brain “reprograming” is generally necessary to beat addiction. Most people understand this.
Remember: If you push too hard, not only can you foster an unfavorable attitude,
you may scare them away completely.