Written By:Amber Hollingsworth,LPC

Recently, another counseling professional reached out to me and asked me about what to do with a client who was resistant to 12 step meetings due to spiritual aspects of the program. I thought it was a great question, because it’s a concern that comes up alot!  So I have decided to post my response to that question, as I am thinking that there are others with a similar concern.

Thanks Heather for bringing up this issue.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to think about what information would be useful for others.  If anyone else has a question or thought about what information would be useful, I would love to get any suggestions you have for topics I could address!

Here is my response to that question:

There are other options to 12 step groups.

I really like to send local people to FAVOR (faces and voices of recovery).  This works well for new comers and is less ritualistic.  They believe in all pathways to recovery and their meetings are “all recovery” (meaning not specific to any one particular drug addiction).  There is also something called SMART recovery.  I believe they have at least one meeting a week locally, but to be honest, I am not as familiar with that approach.

All that being said, most newcomers go into new recovery groups trying to find anything to “disqualify” themselves from being a part of a group/program.  It’s the nature of the problem.  If it weren’t that, then it would likely be that “everybody else is worse than them,” or “everybody else is older than them,” or “everybody there isn’t as bad as them.”  It is a scary thing to put yourself out there in a group like that so they almost always have a defense mechanism against it..

I usually encourage people to try all the different types of meetings and then come tell me about their experience.  I call it “tour-da-recovery.”

Other than that, I try to explain to people that they can utilize the 12 steps and not be religious.  It’s all about finding some sense of meaning and purpose in life (which is pretty essential to recovery), however this can be done in lots of ways.  There is a chapter in the Big Book called “we agnostics” and it talks about the phenomenon of alcoholics who don’t have any particular spiritual beliefs.

If I am dealing with a really intellectual sort of person, I usually explain to them that being in active addiction puts the limbic system on fire and that makes it very difficult (maybe impossible) to be able to experience the feeling of connectedness (to friends, family, and to a higher power).  Basically they lose the biological capacity to feel that feeling of connectedness to the outside world.  When they stop using/drinking, this eventually gets better and most people do find some sense of spirituality (ability to find a higher meaning and purpose in life).

Sorry if that was overkill!  This is a VERY common problem, so I have to discuss this issue often.  Thanks for asking the question.  I think I’ll post this information on a blog, because it is such a common concern. I like to tell clients that I am “nondenominational recovery.”  I believe in it all!

Hope that was helpful,


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