10 Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

10 Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

You’ve made a courageous decision to seek help for your addiction, but you’re not quite sure if the traditional 12-step program is the right fit for you. Perhaps it’s the spiritual aspect, the focus on a higher power, or simply the structure of the program that doesn’t resonate with you. Regardless of the reason, you’re not alone in seeking an alternative path to recovery. As you embark on this journey, it’s essential to find a support system that aligns with your beliefs, values, and individual needs.

In this article, we’ll explore a wide range of peer support group alternatives to 12-step programs, giving you the tools to make an informed decision about your recovery path. We’ll delve into the core principles, meeting formats, and effectiveness of each alternative, providing you with a comprehensive guide to help you discover the support group that’s best suited for you.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery is a science-based, secular support group that focuses on empowering individuals to overcome addiction by teaching self-reliance and evidence-based coping skills. Established in 1994, SMART Recovery aims to help individuals gain independence from a wide range of addictive behaviors, including substance abuse, gambling, and eating disorders.

At the core of SMART Recovery is the 4-Point Program, which emphasizes four essential components for successful recovery:

  1. Building and maintaining motivation: Participants learn to identify and strengthen their reasons for change, thus fostering a strong foundation for lasting recovery.
  2. Coping with urges: Participants develop tools and strategies to manage cravings and resist the temptation to engage in addictive behaviors.
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: Participants learn problem-solving and emotional management techniques to handle challenges in a healthier manner.
  4. Living a balanced life: Participants work on creating a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle to replace their addictive behaviors with healthier habits.

Meetings and online resources SMART Recovery offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically involve group discussions, skill-building exercises, and sharing of personal experiences. Online meetings are held via video conferencing, providing accessibility to those who cannot attend in-person sessions. SMART Recovery also offers various online resources, including an active forum, chat rooms, and educational materials to support participants in their recovery journey.

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of SMART Recovery in helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety. Some key benefits of the program include:

  1. A focus on self-empowerment and self-reliance, which helps participants build confidence and take responsibility for their recovery.
  2. A science-based approach that continuously incorporates the latest research findings to ensure the program remains relevant and effective.
  3. A flexible structure that allows participants to tailor the program to their specific needs and goals.
  4. The secular nature of the program, which makes it appealing to those who prefer a non-religious approach to recovery.

Overall, SMART Recovery offers a comprehensive and evidence-based alternative to 12-step programs, providing support and guidance for individuals seeking a more self-reliant and science-driven path to recovery.

LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing Secular Recovery, founded in 1997, is a non-religious, abstinence-based recovery support group that promotes personal growth and empowerment for individuals struggling with addiction. LifeRing aims to create a safe and inclusive space for individuals to find their own path to recovery while fostering a supportive community.

LifeRing’s approach to recovery is based on the 3-S Philosophy, which consists of the following principles:

  1. Sobriety: LifeRing promotes complete abstinence from addictive substances and behaviors, as this is considered the foundation of a successful recovery.
  2. Secularity: LifeRing is a secular organization, meaning it does not endorse or oppose any religious beliefs. This inclusive approach allows individuals from all backgrounds to feel welcome and supported in their recovery journey.
  3. Self-help: LifeRing encourages individuals to take charge of their recovery by developing their own personal recovery plan, tailored to their unique needs and circumstances.

LifeRing offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically consist of open discussions, during which participants share their experiences, challenges, and successes in recovery. Online meetings are conducted through video conferencing and provide an accessible alternative for those unable to attend in-person sessions.

LifeRing also provides various online resources, including email discussion groups, a vibrant online community, and a comprehensive collection of literature and recovery tools to assist individuals throughout their recovery journey.

While there are limited formal studies specifically evaluating LifeRing’s effectiveness, many participants have reported positive outcomes and experiences with the program. Key benefits of LifeRing Secular Recovery include:

  1. A non-judgmental, inclusive environment that supports individuals of diverse backgrounds and beliefs.
  2. A strong emphasis on personal empowerment, encouraging participants to take control of their recovery and develop a plan that works best for them.
  3. A focus on the present and future, rather than dwelling on past mistakes or failures, which can foster a more optimistic and forward-thinking mindset.
  4. A supportive community that offers encouragement, understanding, and shared experiences, promoting a sense of belonging and connection.

LifeRing Secular Recovery offers a valuable alternative to 12-step programs for those seeking a secular, self-directed approach to addiction recovery. By fostering personal empowerment and providing a supportive community, LifeRing helps individuals find their unique path to sobriety and a healthier life.

Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery is a non-profit, peer-led addiction recovery support group founded in 2014, which utilizes Buddhist-inspired principles and practices to help individuals overcome addiction. The program emphasizes mindfulness, compassion, and personal growth as key components of the recovery process. Refuge Recovery welcomes people from all spiritual backgrounds and is adaptable to anyone seeking a non-traditional path to recovery.

Refuge Recovery’s approach is centered around the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and the Eightfold Path, which provide a framework for understanding and overcoming addiction. The program focuses on the following key principles:

  1. Understanding the nature of suffering: Acknowledging that addiction causes suffering and recognizing the need for change.
  2. Identifying the cause of suffering: Exploring the underlying causes and conditions that contribute to addictive behaviors.
  3. Recognizing the possibility of recovery: Believing that freedom from addiction is achievable through personal transformation and growth.
  4. Following the Eightfold Path: Implementing mindfulness, ethical conduct, and mental discipline as practical tools to foster recovery and personal development.

Refuge Recovery offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings generally consist of meditation practices, group discussions, and readings from the program’s literature. Online meetings provide an accessible option for those unable to attend in-person sessions and follow a similar format to the face-to-face meetings.

Additionally, Refuge Recovery offers a variety of online resources, including a podcast, literature, and an active online community where individuals can connect and support one another throughout their recovery journey.

Although there are limited formal studies on the effectiveness of Refuge Recovery, many participants report positive outcomes and personal growth through the program. Some key benefits of Refuge Recovery include:

  1. A holistic approach that addresses the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of addiction and recovery.
  2. An emphasis on mindfulness and meditation, which can help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms and improve emotional regulation.
  3. A compassionate, non-judgmental environment that encourages self-reflection, personal growth, and healing.
  4. The adaptability of the program, making it suitable for individuals of various spiritual backgrounds or those seeking a non-religious path to recovery.

Refuge Recovery provides a unique and holistic approach to addiction recovery, drawing on Buddhist principles and practices to foster personal growth, mindfulness, and healing. For individuals seeking an alternative to 12-step programs, Refuge Recovery can offer a supportive, compassionate, and empowering path to sobriety and a healthier life.

Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery program founded in 1991, aimed at helping individuals overcome various forms of addiction, hurts, and unhealthy behaviors. The program integrates biblical principles with the traditional 12-step model, offering a spiritual approach to recovery for those seeking a faith-based support system.

The Christ-centered 12 steps and biblical comparisons Celebrate Recovery adapts the traditional 12-step program by incorporating biblical teachings and references. Each step is paired with a relevant scripture to highlight its spiritual foundation:

  1. Admitting powerlessness over addiction (Romans 7:18)
  2. Believing in a higher power, represented by God (Philippians 2:13)
  3. Surrendering to God’s will (Matthew 11:28-30)
  4. Conducting a personal moral inventory (Lamentations 3:40)
  5. Confessing one’s wrongs (James 5:16)
  6. Becoming ready for God to remove character defects (James 4:10)
  7. Asking God to remove shortcomings (1 John 1:9)
  8. Making a list of people harmed and becoming willing to make amends (Luke 6:31)
  9. Making amends whenever possible (Matthew 5:23-24)
  10. Continuing personal inventory and admitting wrongs (1 Corinthians 10:12)
  11. Seeking connection with God through prayer and meditation (Colossians 3:16a)
  12. Carrying the message of recovery to others (Galatians 6:1)

Celebrate Recovery meetings typically begin with a large group gathering, which includes worship, a teaching or testimony, and the recitation of the program’s principles. Afterward, participants split into smaller, gender-specific share groups for open discussion and support. Some locations also offer step-study groups, where participants engage in a more in-depth exploration of the program’s steps.

Celebrate Recovery provides various online resources, such as literature, testimonies, and a meeting locator. While online meetings are not officially endorsed by the program, some groups have independently organized virtual meetings for those unable to attend in-person sessions.

Although there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of Celebrate Recovery, many participants report positive experiences and success in overcoming addiction through the program. Key benefits of Celebrate Recovery include:

  1. A faith-based approach that resonates with individuals seeking spiritual growth and healing in their recovery journey.
  2. A supportive, non-judgmental environment that encourages connection and a sense of belonging.
  3. A comprehensive program that addresses various forms of addiction, hurts, and unhealthy behaviors.
  4. A strong emphasis on accountability and personal responsibility, which can help foster lasting change.

Celebrate Recovery offers a faith-based alternative to traditional 12-step programs, providing a supportive community for individuals seeking a Christ-centered approach to addiction recovery. By incorporating biblical principles and teachings, the program can be a powerful source of spiritual growth and healing for those committed to their recovery journey.

Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a non-profit organization founded in 1975, dedicated to helping women overcome addiction through a self-help program designed specifically to address the unique needs of women in recovery. WFS aims to empower women to develop emotional and spiritual growth, promoting a holistic approach to recovery that focuses on building self-esteem, self-worth, and personal responsibility.

The WFS program is centered around 13 Acceptance Statements that serve as guiding principles for personal growth and recovery. These statements focus on self-affirmation, positive thinking, and emotional healing, encouraging women to replace self-destructive behaviors with healthier coping mechanisms:

  1. I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
  2. Negative thoughts destroy only myself.
  3. Happiness is a habit I will develop.
  4. Problems bother me only to the degree I permit.
  5. I am what I think.
  6. Life can be ordinary or it can be great.
  7. Love can change the course of my world.
  8. The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.
  9. The past is gone forever.
  10. All love given returns.
  11. Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.
  12. I am a competent woman, and have much to give life.
  13. I am responsible for myself and for my actions.

WFS offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically involve group discussions, sharing of personal experiences, and reflection on the 13 Acceptance Statements. Online meetings are held through video conferencing and provide a convenient option for those unable to attend face-to-face sessions.

WFS also offers various online resources, including a vibrant forum, literature, and other materials to support women in their recovery journey.

While there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of Women for Sobriety, many participants have reported positive experiences and successful recovery through the program. Some key benefits of WFS include:

  1. A gender-specific program tailored to address the unique needs and challenges faced by women in recovery.
  2. A focus on personal growth, self-esteem, and emotional healing, which can promote lasting change and empowerment.
  3. A supportive, non-judgmental environment that encourages connection and a sense of belonging among participants.
  4. A holistic approach that emphasizes emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Women for Sobriety provides a valuable alternative to traditional 12-step programs for women seeking a supportive, gender-specific community that focuses on personal growth and empowerment. By addressing the unique needs and challenges faced by women in recovery, WFS offers an inclusive and nurturing environment for healing and personal development.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), also known as Save Our Selves, is a non-profit network of autonomous addiction recovery support groups founded in 1985. SOS offers a secular alternative to traditional 12-step programs, focusing on self-empowerment and personal responsibility in the recovery process. The program is open to individuals seeking recovery from various forms of addiction and welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs.

The SOS Guidelines for Sobriety SOS promotes a set of guidelines for maintaining sobriety, emphasizing personal responsibility, and offering practical tools to support recovery. These guidelines include:

  1. Achieving and maintaining abstinence from addictive substances and behaviors.
  2. Acknowledging and accepting personal responsibility for one’s own recovery.
  3. Seeking and providing support from others in the recovery process.
  4. Prioritizing sobriety and recovery in all aspects of life.
  5. Developing and utilizing healthy coping strategies to manage stress, emotions, and challenges.
  6. Encouraging honest and open communication in recovery discussions.

SOS offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically involve open discussions, sharing of personal experiences, and the exchange of practical recovery strategies. Online meetings, conducted through video conferencing, provide an accessible option for those unable to attend face-to-face sessions.

SOS also provides various online resources, such as literature, articles, and a meeting locator, to support individuals throughout their recovery journey.

While there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of SOS, many participants have reported positive experiences and success in overcoming addiction through the program. Key benefits of SOS include:

  1. A secular, inclusive approach that welcomes individuals of all backgrounds and beliefs.
  2. A strong emphasis on personal responsibility and empowerment, fostering self-reliance and resilience in recovery.
  3. A focus on practical strategies and tools to support sobriety and personal growth.
  4. A supportive, non-judgmental environment that encourages open communication and mutual support.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety provides a valuable alternative to traditional 12-step programs for individuals seeking a secular, self-empowering approach to addiction recovery. By focusing on personal responsibility, practical strategies, and a supportive community, SOS offers an inclusive and effective path to sobriety and a healthier life.

Moderation Management

Moderation Management (MM) is a non-profit organization founded in 1994, offering a behavioral change program and support network for individuals seeking to moderate or reduce their alcohol consumption. MM provides an alternative to abstinence-based recovery programs, emphasizing personal responsibility and self-management to achieve healthier drinking habits. The program is designed for those who do not identify as severely dependent on alcohol or who prefer a harm reduction approach.

MM follows a set of nine Steps of Change that encourage individuals to assess their drinking habits, set personal goals, and develop healthier behaviors. The steps include:

  1. Monitoring and self-assessment of drinking patterns.
  2. Exploring the reasons for wanting to change.
  3. Setting moderate drinking limits and goals.
  4. Learning and implementing self-management skills.
  5. Identifying and managing triggers and high-risk situations.
  6. Engaging in positive alternatives to drinking.
  7. Developing a support network.
  8. Evaluating progress and adjusting goals as needed.
  9. Maintaining moderation and healthy habits over time.

The MM ToolBox provides a variety of practical tools and resources to support individuals in their moderation journey, such as drink trackers, goal-setting worksheets, and self-assessment quizzes.

MM offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically involve group discussions, sharing of personal experiences, and mutual support in achieving moderation goals. Online meetings are conducted through video conferencing, providing an accessible alternative for those unable to attend face-to-face sessions.

MM also offers various online resources, including literature, articles, online forums, and a meeting locator, to support individuals in their moderation journey.

Although there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of Moderation Management, many participants have reported success in reducing their alcohol consumption and achieving healthier drinking habits through the program. Key benefits of MM include:

  1. A harm reduction approach that focuses on moderation rather than complete abstinence.
  2. A strong emphasis on personal responsibility, goal-setting, and self-management.
  3. A supportive, non-judgmental environment that encourages open communication and mutual support.
  4. Practical tools and resources to help individuals track, assess, and adjust their drinking behaviors.

Moderation Management offers a unique alternative to traditional abstinence-based recovery programs, providing a supportive community and practical tools for individuals seeking to moderate or reduce their alcohol consumption. By emphasizing personal responsibility, self-management, and a harm reduction approach, MM can help individuals achieve healthier drinking habits and improved well-being.

The Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit organization founded in 2006, offering a unique approach to addiction recovery by integrating physical fitness, social connection, and a supportive community. The program aims to help individuals overcome addiction by fostering personal growth, self-esteem, and resilience through fitness activities, group events, and a sense of belonging. The Phoenix is open to anyone with a minimum of 48 hours of sobriety and is free of charge, with the only requirement being a commitment to a sober lifestyle.

The Phoenix emphasizes the powerful role of physical fitness and community in the recovery process, offering a variety of fitness activities and events designed to promote personal growth, self-esteem, and overall well-being. By participating in regular exercise, individuals can experience numerous benefits, such as:

  1. Improved physical health and reduced risk of relapse.
  2. Increased mental and emotional resilience.
  3. Enhanced mood and reduced stress levels.
  4. A sense of accomplishment and boosted self-esteem.

The supportive community within The Phoenix encourages social connection, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual support among members. This sense of connection can be instrumental in overcoming addiction and maintaining long-term sobriety.

The Phoenix offers a wide range of in-person fitness events and activities, including CrossFit, yoga, running, hiking, and more. Members can participate in group classes or join group events, such as sober social gatherings and community service projects.

In addition to in-person activities, The Phoenix also provides online resources, such as virtual fitness classes, workshops, and an active online community where members can connect, share experiences, and support one another in their recovery journey.

While there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of The Phoenix, many participants have reported positive experiences and success in overcoming addiction through the program. Key benefits of The Phoenix include:

  1. A unique approach to recovery that integrates physical fitness, social connection, and personal growth.
  2. A wide variety of fitness activities and events, catering to diverse interests and fitness levels.
  3. A supportive, non-judgmental community that fosters a sense of belonging and mutual support.
  4. The promotion of overall well-being, self-esteem, and resilience through regular exercise and social interaction.

The Phoenix offers a novel and holistic approach to addiction recovery, combining physical fitness, social connection, and a supportive community to help individuals overcome addiction and build a healthier, more fulfilling life. For those seeking an alternative to traditional recovery programs, The Phoenix can provide a dynamic and empowering path to sobriety and personal growth.

Recovery Dharma

Recovery Dharma is a non-profit organization that offers a mindfulness-based, peer-led recovery program for individuals seeking to overcome addiction. Founded in 2019, Recovery Dharma utilizes Buddhist-inspired principles and practices to promote personal growth, self-awareness, and healing. The program is open to people recovering from various forms of addiction and encourages an inclusive, non-judgmental environment that fosters compassion and self-discovery.

Recovery Dharma is based on the core teachings of Buddhism, focusing on mindfulness, compassion, and self-awareness to support the recovery process. Key principles and practices of the program include:

  1. The Four Noble Truths: Acknowledging the existence of suffering, its causes, the possibility of liberation, and the path to freedom from addiction.
  2. The Eightfold Path: A practical guide to living a life of wisdom, ethical conduct, and mental development, leading to freedom from addiction and suffering.
  3. Meditation and mindfulness: Developing self-awareness and cultivating inner peace through various forms of meditation and mindfulness practices.
  4. Sangha (community): Fostering a supportive, compassionate community that encourages mutual growth, understanding, and connection.

Recovery Dharma offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically involve group discussions, sharing of personal experiences, meditation practices, and reflection on Buddhist teachings. Online meetings are conducted through video conferencing, providing a convenient option for those unable to attend face-to-face sessions.

Recovery Dharma also provides various online resources, including literature, meditation guides, and an active online community where members can connect, share experiences, and support one another in their recovery journey.

While there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of Recovery Dharma, many participants have reported positive experiences and success in overcoming addiction through the program. Key benefits of Recovery Dharma include:

  1. A mindfulness-based approach that promotes self-awareness, personal growth, and healing.
  2. A strong emphasis on compassion, understanding, and non-judgment, fostering an inclusive and nurturing environment.
  3. The integration of meditation and mindfulness practices to support mental and emotional well-being.
  4. A supportive community that encourages connection, mutual growth, and a sense of belonging.

Recovery Dharma offers a unique, mindfulness-based approach to addiction recovery, drawing on Buddhist-inspired principles and practices to promote healing, self-awareness, and personal growth. By integrating meditation, compassionate support, and a strong community, Recovery Dharma can provide a powerful and transformative path to sobriety and well-being.

Recovery International

Recovery International (RI), formerly known as Recovery, Inc., is a non-profit, self-help mental health organization founded in 1937 by Dr. Abraham Low. The program offers a structured, cognitive-behavioral approach to improving emotional health and well-being for individuals struggling with various emotional and mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as those in addiction recovery. The goal of RI is to help participants develop self-management skills, build resilience, and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Recovery International utilizes a cognitive-behavioral approach to support emotional health, focusing on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The program aims to help individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts, beliefs, and patterns that contribute to emotional distress. Key principles of the RI method include:

  1. Self-help: Encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their emotional well-being and actively engage in their recovery process.
  2. Cognitive restructuring: Identifying and modifying irrational thoughts and beliefs to reduce emotional distress and promote healthier behaviors.
  3. Coping techniques: Learning and applying practical tools and strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges.
  4. Peer support: Providing a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share experiences, insights, and encouragement.

Recovery International offers both in-person and online meetings. In-person meetings typically involve group discussions, sharing of personal experiences, and the practice of cognitive-behavioral techniques. Online meetings are conducted through video conferencing, providing a convenient option for those unable to attend face-to-face sessions.

RI also provides various online resources, including literature, articles, and a meeting locator, to support individuals in their emotional health journey.

While there are limited formal studies evaluating the effectiveness of Recovery International, many participants have reported positive experiences and improved emotional health through the program. Key benefits of RI include:

  1. A structured, evidence-based approach to improving emotional health and well-being.
  2. A strong emphasis on self-help, personal responsibility, and resilience.
  3. Practical tools and techniques to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges.
  4. A supportive, non-judgmental environment that fosters connection, understanding, and personal growth.

Recovery International offers a valuable, evidence-based approach to supporting emotional health and well-being for individuals dealing with various mental health challenges, as well as those in addiction recovery. By focusing on cognitive-behavioral principles, self-help, and peer support, RI can help individuals develop the skills and resilience needed to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Choosing the Right Alternative

When selecting an alternative support group for addiction recovery, it is essential to consider factors that align with your personal beliefs, needs, and circumstances. Some factors to consider include:

  1. Personal beliefs and values: Choose a support group that resonates with your beliefs and values, whether secular, spiritual, or religious. This alignment can provide a more meaningful and effective recovery experience.
  2. Individual needs and goals: Different support groups cater to various needs and goals, from abstinence to moderation, and from gender-specific to inclusive approaches. Select a group that aligns with your unique needs and recovery objectives.
  3. Availability and accessibility: Consider the availability of support groups in your area or the accessibility of online resources and meetings. Choosing a group that is easily accessible can help ensure consistent participation and support throughout your recovery journey.

It’s essential to recognize that not every support group will be the right fit for everyone. Trying multiple support groups can help you determine which approach works best for you and offers the support you need to succeed in your recovery. Experimenting with different groups can also provide valuable insights into various recovery strategies and help you create a personalized path to sobriety.

While personal research and exploration are crucial in finding the right support group, consulting with professionals, such as therapists, counselors, or medical providers, can also be beneficial. These professionals can offer guidance and recommendations based on their expertise and familiarity with various recovery programs. Involving a professional in the selection process can help ensure that you find a support group that aligns with your needs, goals, and circumstances, ultimately leading to a more successful and sustainable recovery journey.


As you embark on your journey toward recovery, it’s essential to remember that you don’t have to face it alone. Peer support plays a crucial role in overcoming addiction and maintaining sobriety. By engaging with others who share similar experiences and challenges, you can draw strength and inspiration from their successes and learn valuable lessons from their setbacks.

With the wide array of alternatives to 12-step programs available, you have the opportunity to explore different approaches and find the one that resonates most with you. Whether it’s a secular, spiritual, or even fitness-oriented support group, the key lies in finding a community that aligns with your values and fosters a sense of belonging.

As you navigate the path to recovery, be open to trying different support groups and seeking professional guidance when necessary. Remember that your recovery journey is a personal one, and finding the right support network can make all the difference in helping you build a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life.

My Approach to Counselling

My Approach to Counselling

Living with addiction can feel like a constant battle where you’re always on the losing side. You may have tried to gain control over your addiction, only to find yourself slipping back into old patterns and habits. The experience can leave you feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and alone, particularly if you’ve reached out for support in the past and it hasn’t worked out as you’d hoped. You might be asking yourself if things will ever change or if you are destined to remain trapped in this cycle.

These feelings and concerns are not uncommon. In fact, as an addiction counselor, I’ve heard them time and time again from individuals seeking help. It’s important to know that you’re not alone in your struggles, and there is hope for a brighter future. This article aims to answer some of the most common questions and concerns I get from potential clients about my approach to counselling. By addressing these issues, I hope to provide you with the information and reassurance you need to take the first step towards healing and recovery.

My Background and Approach

My passion for addiction counseling is rooted in my academic background and professional experiences. I obtained my PhD in Sociology in 2015, which allowed me to delve deeper into the complex interplay of social factors and individual behaviors. In 2016, I began working in the problem gambling field, which opened my eyes to the devastating impact of addiction on individuals, families, and communities. This experience fueled my passion for helping people break free from the cycle of addiction and led me to specialize in this field, obtaining a Chemical Dependency Certificate from St. Clair College and also qualifying to become a Certified Gambling Counsellor.

Over the years, I have worked in various settings, including withdrawal management and residential treatment. These experiences have provided me with invaluable insights into the different stages of recovery and the unique challenges that individuals face along the way. My diverse professional background has equipped me with the knowledge and skills required to support clients as they navigate their recovery journey, and has allowed me to develop a well-rounded and holistic approach to addiction counseling.

I understand that addiction is a multifaceted problem that affects the mind, body, and spirit of the person grappling with it. To provide comprehensive and effective support, I use a combination of psychological tools and evidence-based strategies, including acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and motivational interviewing (MI). These methods help me address the unique needs and circumstances of each individual, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution for addiction.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a powerful psychotherapeutic approach that seeks to improve psychological flexibility, allowing individuals to develop a healthier relationship with their thoughts, emotions, and actions. ACT operates under the premise that attempting to suppress or control distressing experiences can actually exacerbate them. Instead, it focuses on helping people accept their emotions and thoughts, allowing them to commit to actions that align with their values and goals. By employing this method, I help clients break free from the vicious cycle of addiction and develop more adaptive coping strategies.

Motivational interviewing, on the other hand, is a client-centered approach designed to elicit and strengthen a person’s intrinsic motivation to change. This method involves empathic listening, open-ended questioning, and collaboration between the counselor and the client. By using MI, I help clients explore their ambivalence about change, address their fears and concerns, and strengthen their commitment to recovery. This collaborative approach enables individuals to take ownership of their recovery process and empowers them to make lasting changes in their lives.

I firmly believe that to effectively help someone overcome addiction, it is crucial to meet them where they are at and come up with personalized, action-oriented solutions. In my practice, I take the time to understand each client’s unique background, experiences, and challenges. This helps me create a tailored recovery plan that addresses their specific needs, taking into consideration their strengths, weaknesses, and personal goals. By doing so, I increase the likelihood of sustainable recovery and provide clients with the tools and resources they need to maintain their progress long-term.

To ensure that I provide the most effective and up-to-date support to my clients, I am committed to staying informed about the latest research and developments in the field of addiction. I believe that a strong foundation in evidence-based practice is essential for providing the best possible care to my clients and fostering their long-term recovery.

In addition to my clinical work, I am passionate about knowledge translation – the process of converting complex concepts into simple, easy-to-understand language that is accessible to everyone. Through my website, I share evidence-based information and resources on addiction and recovery, helping to bridge the gap between scientific research and the general public. My goal is to empower individuals, families, and communities with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed decisions about their mental health and well-being. By demystifying addiction and breaking down the barriers surrounding it, I strive to create a more compassionate and supportive environment for those seeking help.

You can find all of my articles here.

Another essential aspect of my approach to addiction counseling is fostering a strong therapeutic alliance with my clients. I believe that a trusting and respectful relationship between counselor and client is the cornerstone of successful therapy. By creating a safe and non-judgmental space, I encourage clients to openly discuss their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without fear of stigma or judgment. This open and honest communication allows me to better understand their needs and tailor my interventions accordingly.

An integral part of my practice is also incorporating relapse prevention strategies into the treatment process. I work closely with clients to identify their triggers and high-risk situations, helping them develop effective coping mechanisms and strategies to prevent relapse. This proactive approach not only supports clients in maintaining their recovery but also helps them build resilience and confidence in their ability to manage challenges in the future.

What to Expect in a Session

Sessions are designed to be a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental space where clients can openly explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to addiction. My aim is to create an environment that fosters trust, understanding, and collaboration between the client and myself. While every session is tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of the individual, the following elements are typically included in a counseling session:

Building rapport: At the beginning of each session, I take the time to establish a connection with the client, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. I inquire into how the client is doing and engage in active listening to set the tone for open communication and build a strong therapeutic alliance.

Assessing progress: I begin the session by reviewing the client’s progress since our last meeting. We discuss the goals and objectives that were set, any challenges faced, and any successes achieved. This helps me gauge the client’s current state and determine the focus of the session.

Identifying the focus: Based on the assessment of progress, I work with the client to identify the key areas to be addressed during the session. This may include exploring the client’s thoughts and feelings around their addiction, addressing specific challenges, or working on developing new coping strategies.

Active listening and empathy: Throughout the session, I use active listening skills and empathic responses to fully understand the client’s experiences and emotions. This helps the client feel heard, understood, and validated, fostering trust and openness in the therapeutic relationship.

Utilizing therapeutic techniques: Depending on the client’s needs and the focus of the session, I draw upon a range of therapeutic techniques, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, motivational interviewing, and cognitive-behavioral interventions. These evidence-based approaches help the client develop a deeper understanding of their addiction, build motivation for change, and learn new skills to cope with triggers and high-risk situations.

Goal-setting and action planning: Towards the end of the session, we collaboratively set specific, achievable goals for the client to work on before our next meeting. This may involve practicing new coping strategies, engaging in self-reflection, or experimenting with stopping or moderating their addiction in a particular way.

Closing the session: I close each session by summarizing the key points discussed and ensuring that the client feels supported and clear about their goals for the coming week. I also provide the client with the opportunity to ask questions, address any concerns, or provide feedback on the session.

Scheduling the next session: Finally, we schedule the next session, ensuring that the client has a clear plan for ongoing support and a structured timeline for working towards their recovery goals. In the beginning, sessions are usually conducted on a weekly basis, depending on the client’s needs, but as we gain momentum, sessions are usually spaced out to a bi-weekly frequency, or a monthly check-in.

Overall, a counseling session with me is a collaborative, empathic, and solution-focused process that seeks to empower clients in their journey towards recovery. By providing a supportive environment and utilizing evidence-based techniques, I help clients develop the skills, motivation, and resilience needed to overcome addiction and create lasting change in their lives.

A Positive Approach

Taking a positive approach to addiction counseling is an essential aspect of my practice. I firmly believe that focusing on building a life of meaning, purpose, and connection is a powerful way to foster sustainable recovery and personal growth.

This perspective helps shift the focus from merely eliminating addictive behaviors to creating a fulfilling and rewarding life that supports long-term well-being.

To cultivate a positive approach, I incorporate the following elements into my counseling sessions:

Strengths-based perspective: I emphasize clients’ strengths, resources, and resilience, helping them recognize their own abilities and potential. By focusing on what they are already doing well and building upon these strengths, clients can develop greater self-efficacy and confidence in their ability to overcome addiction.

Values clarification: An essential aspect of building a meaningful life is identifying and connecting with one’s core values. I work with clients to explore their personal values and determine what truly matters to them. This process helps them develop a clearer sense of purpose and guides their decision-making, ensuring that their actions align with their beliefs and goals.

Goal-setting and action planning: Once clients have identified their values, we collaboratively set realistic, achievable goals that align with their desired life direction. By breaking these goals down into smaller, manageable steps, clients can develop a clear action plan for moving forward. This process not only fosters a sense of accomplishment and motivation but also helps clients build a life that reflects their values and priorities.

Building connection: Social support and connection play a vital role in recovery and overall well-being. I encourage clients to cultivate and maintain healthy, supportive relationships with family, friends, and peers. This may involve joining support groups, participating in community activities, or engaging in hobbies and interests that facilitate connection and a sense of belonging.

Enhancing well-being: In addition to addressing addiction directly, I also work with clients to promote overall well-being and quality of life. This may involve exploring strategies for improving physical health, emotional regulation, stress management, and self-care. By nurturing all aspects of well-being, clients can create a more balanced, fulfilling life that supports their recovery.

Celebrating progress: Acknowledging and celebrating clients’ achievements, both big and small, is a crucial component of a positive approach. By recognizing and validating their efforts, clients are more likely to stay motivated, maintain a positive outlook, and continue working towards their goals.

Instilling hope: As an addiction counselor, I strive to instill hope in my clients by consistently demonstrating belief in their ability to change and grow. I emphasize that recovery is a journey, and setbacks are natural and expected. By providing ongoing support and encouragement, clients can develop a resilient mindset that allows them to persevere through challenges and maintain their commitment to recovery.

By focusing on building a life of meaning, purpose, and connection, I help clients create a strong foundation for sustainable recovery and personal growth. This positive approach not only empowers clients to overcome addiction but also enables them to develop the skills and resources needed to thrive in all areas of their lives.

An Invitation to Reach Out

If you are struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone. Addiction can be an incredibly isolating and disheartening experience, often leaving you feeling trapped, overwhelmed, and unsure of how to move forward. But reaching out for support is the first crucial step towards regaining control of your life and overcoming the challenges that addiction presents.

As you begin your journey towards recovery, the proper support can significantly increase the odds of success. It is important to be connected to someone who not only understands the complexities of addiction but also genuinely cares about helping you create a fulfilling, addiction-free life. As an addiction counselor, I am committed to providing personalized, evidence-based support tailored to your unique needs and circumstances.

Together, we will work to identify your strengths, clarify your values, and set achievable goals that align with your vision of a healthier, happier future. By focusing on building a life of meaning, purpose, and connection, you can develop the resilience, motivation, and skills needed to overcome addiction and maintain lasting change.

I invite you to reach out for support and take that first step towards a brighter tomorrow. Remember, recovery is not only possible but also within your reach. With the right guidance and encouragement, you have the power to transform your life and rediscover the joy, hope, and fulfillment that may have seemed out of reach for so long.

Please feel free to contact me here, and together, we will embark on this journey towards healing.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Addiction

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Addiction

In recent years, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has emerged as a promising and empirically supported approach to treating addiction. Developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Steven C. Hayes, ACT is a mindfulness-based, behavioral therapy that emphasizes psychological flexibility and a values-driven life. The primary goal of ACT is to help individuals develop skills to better handle difficult thoughts and emotions, leading to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to using ACT for addiction treatment. By discussing the application of ACT and outlining its core principles, this guide will serve as a valuable resource for mental health practitioners, individuals struggling with addiction, and their loved ones. With a focus on the theoretical framework, intervention strategies, and overcoming common challenges, this article will provide the necessary tools to effectively implement ACT in addiction treatment and support recovery.

Understanding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Theoretical framework

  1. The role of psychological flexibility

Psychological flexibility is the central concept in ACT, which refers to an individual’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances, tolerate distress, and engage in values-based actions. It is the capacity to be fully present and aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences without becoming excessively attached or avoiding them. In the context of addiction, psychological flexibility allows individuals to better manage cravings, triggers, and negative emotions, ultimately promoting healthier choices and more adaptive behaviors.

  1. The Hexaflex model

The Hexaflex model is a graphical representation of the six interconnected core processes that underpin psychological flexibility in ACT. This model serves as a roadmap for the application of ACT, illustrating how the six processes work together to support individuals in developing greater psychological flexibility and overcoming challenges associated with addiction.

Six core processes of ACT

  1. Acceptance

Acceptance involves fully experiencing and embracing one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without trying to avoid or suppress them. In addiction treatment, this means acknowledging cravings, uncomfortable emotions, and past experiences related to substance use without judgment or resistance.

  1. Cognitive defusion

Cognitive defusion refers to the process of distancing oneself from thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, thereby reducing their impact and influence over one’s behavior. This allows individuals struggling with addiction to recognize that thoughts and feelings are transient experiences, rather than absolute truths or directives to act upon.

  1. Being present

Being present involves cultivating non-judgmental awareness of one’s internal and external experiences in the present moment. Mindfulness practices help individuals develop the ability to focus on the here and now, instead of being consumed by past regrets or future worries. This skill is particularly important in addiction treatment, as it enables individuals to effectively manage cravings and triggers.

  1. Self-as-context

Self-as-context is the ability to observe one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences from a detached perspective, recognizing that the self is not defined by these experiences. This process allows individuals to develop a sense of self that is separate from their addiction, fostering self-compassion and resilience in recovery.

  1. Values

Values are the deeply held principles that guide an individual’s actions and decisions. In ACT, identifying and clarifying one’s values is crucial for motivating change and fostering a sense of purpose in recovery. By aligning their actions with their values, individuals can create a more meaningful and fulfilling life without the need for addictive substances or behaviors.

  1. Committed action

Committed action involves setting achievable goals and taking concrete steps to pursue one’s values. This process helps individuals struggling with addiction to develop new, adaptive behaviors and coping strategies, ultimately supporting their long-term recovery.

ACT and addiction

ACT’s emphasis on psychological flexibility and values-based living makes it particularly well-suited for addiction treatment. By targeting the underlying cognitive and emotional processes that contribute to addictive behaviors, ACT helps individuals develop the skills necessary to manage cravings, tolerate distress, and pursue a more meaningful life. Additionally, ACT’s focus on acceptance, mindfulness, and self-compassion fosters a non-judgmental and compassionate approach to recovery, which can reduce shame and stigma associated with addiction.

A growing body of research supports the use of ACT in addiction treatment. Numerous studies have shown that ACT can effectively reduce substance use, improve psychological well-being, and increase treatment retention. Furthermore, ACT has been found to be effective across a range of addictive behaviors, including alcohol and drug addiction, smoking cessation, and gambling disorder. These findings highlight the potential of ACT as a valuable intervention for individuals struggling with addiction.

Implementing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Addiction

Identifying and understanding triggers

    The first step in implementing ACT for addiction involves assessing and understanding the individual’s triggers for addictive behaviors. These triggers can include internal factors, such as thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, as well as external factors, such as social situations, environmental cues, or specific people. By identifying these triggers, both the therapist and the individual can gain a clearer understanding of the factors that contribute to their addictive behaviors and develop targeted strategies to address them.

    Exploring personal values and life goals

    Next, the therapist and individual work together to explore the person’s core values and life goals. This process often involves a series of conversations and exercises designed to help the individual reflect on their values, priorities, and aspirations. By gaining a deeper understanding of what truly matters to them, individuals can begin to envision a life without addiction and identify the values-based actions necessary to achieve their goals.

    Acceptance techniques

    a. Willingness and openness

    One of the key aspects of acceptance in ACT is cultivating an attitude of willingness and openness to experience uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Instead of trying to control or avoid these experiences, individuals learn to allow them to be present without judgment or resistance. Therapists can guide individuals through various experiential exercises, such as mindful breathing or body scanning, to help them develop this attitude of willingness and openness. By fostering an accepting stance toward their internal experiences, individuals can better manage their cravings and urges without resorting to addictive behaviors.

    b. Urge surfing

    Urge surfing is a mindfulness-based technique that can be particularly useful for managing cravings in addiction treatment. It involves observing and riding out the wave of an urge or craving without giving in to it. The individual learns to recognize that cravings are temporary, and they can pass without the need for engaging in addictive behaviors. To practice urge surfing, the therapist may guide the individual through a series of steps, such as:

    1. Noticing the craving or urge as it arises.
    2. Observing the sensations, thoughts, and emotions associated with the craving without judgment or resistance.
    3. Mindfully breathing and focusing on the breath as the craving intensifies and eventually subsides.
    4. Reflecting on the experience and the individual’s ability to tolerate the craving without giving in to it.

    By mastering the art of urge surfing, individuals can gain confidence in their ability to handle cravings and resist the temptation to engage in addictive behaviors.

    Cognitive defusion techniques

    a. Labeling thoughts

    A common cognitive defusion technique involves labeling thoughts as they arise, helping individuals to detach themselves from the content of the thought and recognize it as a mental event rather than a reality or truth. For example, instead of getting caught up in the thought, “I need a drink,” the individual may learn to label it as “the craving thought” or “the urge to drink.” This process can help create distance between the individual and their thoughts, reducing the influence these thoughts have on their behavior.

    b. Metaphors and experiential exercises

    ACT therapists often use metaphors and experiential exercises to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of cognitive defusion. For example, the therapist may ask the individual to imagine their thoughts as leaves floating down a stream, clouds passing by in the sky, or cars driving by on a busy highway. By engaging in these exercises, individuals can learn to observe their thoughts from a distance, without becoming entangled in them or allowing them to dictate their actions.

    Mindfulness and being present

    a. Mindfulness exercises

    Mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, can be employed to help individuals develop the ability to be fully present and non-judgmentally aware of their internal and external experiences. These exercises teach individuals to focus their attention on the present moment and observe their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judgment or resistance. By practicing mindfulness regularly, individuals can enhance their ability to tolerate distress and cope with cravings and triggers more effectively.

    b. Techniques for enhancing present moment awareness

    In addition to formal mindfulness exercises, therapists may introduce various techniques for enhancing present moment awareness in daily life. These can include:

    1. Encouraging individuals to engage in mindful activities, such as walking, eating, or washing dishes, with full attention and awareness.
    2. Suggesting the use of grounding techniques, such as focusing on the breath or engaging the senses, to bring the individual’s attention back to the present moment when they find themselves lost in thought or overwhelmed by emotions.
    3. Incorporating brief mindfulness check-ins throughout the day, where the individual pauses to observe their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judgment.

    By integrating these techniques into their daily lives, individuals can cultivate a greater sense of presence and awareness, which can support their recovery from addiction.

    Developing self-as-context

    a. Perspective-taking exercises

    Perspective-taking exercises can help individuals develop a sense of self that is separate from their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. These exercises may involve guided imagery, role-playing, or written reflections, where the individual is encouraged to adopt different perspectives and explore their experiences from a detached standpoint. For example, the therapist may ask the individual to imagine observing their thoughts and emotions from the perspective of a compassionate observer, a curious scientist, or a wise mentor. Through these exercises, individuals can learn to view their experiences as temporary and separate from their core self, fostering self-compassion and resilience in recovery.

    b. Self-compassion

    Self-compassion is an essential component of self-as-context, as it involves recognizing and accepting one’s imperfections and struggles without self-judgment or criticism. Therapists can help individuals cultivate self-compassion by encouraging them to treat themselves with kindness, understanding, and care, just as they would treat a dear friend or family member. This may involve guiding individuals through self-compassion meditations, journaling exercises, or simply reminding them to practice self-kindness in their daily lives. By developing self-compassion, individuals can foster a healthier relationship with themselves and better navigate the challenges of recovery from addiction.

    Values clarification and goal setting

    a. Identifying and prioritizing values

    In the context of addiction treatment, clarifying one’s values is a crucial step in motivating change and fostering a sense of purpose in recovery. Therapists can support individuals in identifying and prioritizing their values by guiding them through a series of reflective exercises, such as creating a values hierarchy, writing a personal mission statement, or discussing their ideal future self. By gaining clarity on their most deeply held values, individuals can develop a strong foundation for making values-based decisions and pursuing a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

    b. Establishing achievable goals

    Once an individual has clarified their values, the therapist can help them set achievable goals that align with these values. This may involve breaking down larger, long-term goals into smaller, more manageable steps, and identifying specific actions the individual can take to work towards these goals. By establishing clear, values-based goals, individuals can create a roadmap for their recovery journey and maintain a sense of direction and purpose in their lives.

    Committed action

    a. Developing a personalized action plan

    With their values and goals in mind, individuals can work with their therapist to develop a personalized action plan for recovery. This plan should outline the specific steps the individual will take to pursue their values and goals, as well as any strategies and resources they will use to cope with challenges and setbacks along the way. The action plan may include a combination of practical tasks, such as attending support group meetings or establishing a daily routine, and psychological strategies, such as practicing mindfulness or engaging in self-compassion exercises.

    b. Monitoring progress and adjusting the plan

    As individuals begin to implement their action plan, it is essential to regularly monitor their progress and make adjustments as needed. The therapist and individual can work together to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies being used and identify any barriers or challenges that may be impeding progress. By maintaining open communication and a collaborative approach, the therapist can support the individual in adapting their plan and overcoming obstacles on their path to recovery.

    c. Building accountability and support systems

    A crucial aspect of committed action is building a strong support system and fostering a sense of accountability in the individual’s recovery journey. This can involve engaging family members, friends, or support group members to provide encouragement, understanding, and practical assistance. Additionally, the therapist may help the individual identify external sources of accountability, such as regular check-ins with a sponsor or participation in a formal recovery program. By cultivating a network of support and accountability, individuals can bolster their motivation and resilience in the face of challenges, ultimately enhancing their chances of long-term recovery success.

    Overcoming Challenges in ACT for Addiction

    Common challenges

    1. Resistance to acceptance

    One common challenge in implementing ACT for addiction is the individual’s resistance to acceptance, particularly when it comes to accepting uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and cravings. This resistance may stem from a natural inclination to avoid or suppress negative experiences, as well as from deeply ingrained beliefs about the need to control one’s emotions or thoughts.

    1. Difficulty engaging in mindfulness practices

    Some individuals may struggle with engaging in mindfulness practices, finding it challenging to focus their attention on the present moment or to observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment. This difficulty may be exacerbated by factors such as anxiety, past trauma, or a lack of prior experience with mindfulness techniques.

    1. Ambivalence towards change

    Another common challenge in ACT for addiction is ambivalence towards change. Individuals may be torn between their desire to overcome their addiction and the comfort of familiar behaviors. This ambivalence can manifest as resistance to therapy, reluctance to set goals, or difficulty committing to values-based actions.

    Strategies for overcoming challenges

    1. Psychoeducation and normalization

    To address resistance to acceptance and difficulties with mindfulness practices, therapists can provide psychoeducation on the rationale behind these concepts and normalize the challenges associated with them. By explaining the benefits of acceptance and mindfulness in the context of addiction recovery and acknowledging the difficulties that many individuals experience in practicing these skills, therapists can help alleviate resistance and foster a greater willingness to engage in ACT techniques.

    1. Building therapeutic rapport and alliance

    A strong therapeutic rapport and alliance are crucial for overcoming challenges and ambivalence in addiction treatment. By creating a safe, non-judgmental, and empathetic therapeutic environment, therapists can encourage open communication and promote trust between themselves and the individual. This rapport can be fostered through active listening, validation of the individual’s experiences and emotions, and a genuine interest in their well-being.

    1. Utilizing motivational interviewing techniques

    To address ambivalence towards change, therapists can integrate motivational interviewing techniques into their ACT approach. Motivational interviewing is a client-centered counseling method that focuses on exploring and resolving ambivalence to promote behavior change. By utilizing open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, and summaries, therapists can help individuals explore their reasons for change, enhance their motivation, and resolve any ambivalence they may have towards recovery.

    Some motivational interviewing techniques that can be incorporated into ACT include:

    a. Eliciting change talk: Encourage the individual to express their reasons for wanting to change, the benefits they perceive in overcoming their addiction, and their values that support recovery.

    b. Rolling with resistance: When the individual expresses resistance or hesitancy towards change, therapists can adopt a non-confrontational approach, acknowledging the individual’s concerns and exploring the reasons behind their resistance.

    c. Developing discrepancy: Help the individual recognize the discrepancy between their current behaviors and their values or goals, emphasizing the importance of aligning their actions with their values to achieve a more fulfilling life.

    By integrating these strategies into the ACT approach, therapists can effectively address common challenges in addiction treatment, ultimately supporting individuals in their journey towards recovery and a values-driven life.


    Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a promising and evidence-based approach to addiction treatment, focusing on psychological flexibility, values-based living, and the cultivation of adaptive coping skills. By understanding the theoretical framework and core processes of ACT, mental health practitioners can effectively implement this therapy to address the unique challenges faced by individuals struggling with addiction. Overcoming common challenges, such as resistance to acceptance, difficulty engaging in mindfulness practices, and ambivalence towards change, is essential for successful treatment outcomes. By utilizing strategies like psychoeducation, building a strong therapeutic alliance, and incorporating motivational interviewing techniques, therapists can empower individuals to overcome these challenges and embark on a path towards lasting recovery and a more meaningful, fulfilling life.

    What is Motivational Enhancement Therapy?

    What is Motivational Enhancement Therapy?

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a client-centered, evidence-based therapeutic approach designed to enhance an individual’s intrinsic motivation for change. Focused primarily on the treatment of substance use disorders, MET has also proven effective in addressing other behavioral issues. It is rooted in the principles of motivational interviewing and emphasizes a non-confrontational and collaborative relationship between therapist and client.

    The primary goal of MET is to help individuals recognize and resolve their ambivalence about changing maladaptive behaviors, empowering them to make informed choices that improve their quality of life.

    In this article, we will explore the origins of Motivational Enhancement Therapy, its core components and principles, and the process of implementing MET in a therapeutic setting. We will also discuss the effectiveness of MET compared to traditional counseling methods, its integration with other treatment modalities, and training and certification opportunities for therapists.

    Origins of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy was developed in the early 1990s as a time-limited, focused intervention for substance use disorders. It emerged in response to the need for an effective, brief treatment approach that could be easily implemented in various settings. MET’s development was informed by research on the effectiveness of motivational interviewing, a technique designed to elicit behavior change by helping clients explore and resolve ambivalence.

    Motivational interviewing (MI) is a client-centered, directive counseling approach that aims to enhance motivation for change by exploring an individual’s ambivalence and fostering their self-efficacy. Developed by clinical psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in the early 1980s, MI laid the foundation for the creation of Motivational Enhancement Therapy.

    While MET and MI share common principles and techniques, they differ in some aspects. MET is a more structured and focused intervention, incorporating specific assessment and feedback components that help clients better understand their personal situation and the consequences of their behaviors. In contrast, MI is a broader counseling approach that can be applied to various behavior change scenarios, beyond substance use disorders.

    The development of Motivational Enhancement Therapy was primarily led by William R. Miller, the co-creator of motivational interviewing. Miller, along with other researchers and clinicians, refined the MI principles and incorporated additional strategies to create a time-limited, focused intervention specifically tailored for substance use disorders.

    Other key contributors to the field of MET include Stephen Rollnick, Theresa B. Moyers, and Paul Amrhein. These researchers have played a significant role in refining and evaluating the effectiveness of MET, as well as promoting its integration into broader treatment approaches for substance use disorders and other behavior change contexts.

    Core Components of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    A Collaborative and non-confrontational approach

    One of the essential components of Motivational Enhancement Therapy is its collaborative and non-confrontational approach to counseling. Therapists work as partners with their clients, encouraging open communication and fostering a supportive environment where clients feel comfortable exploring their thoughts and emotions. The therapist avoids directly challenging the client’s beliefs and instead uses reflective listening and open-ended questions to guide the conversation. This approach helps build rapport, reduce resistance, and facilitate meaningful discussions about the client’s readiness for change.

    Enhancing intrinsic motivation

    MET focuses on enhancing clients’ intrinsic motivation, which is the desire to change behaviors based on personal values, beliefs, and goals. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful driving force for long-lasting change, as it comes from within the individual rather than external sources. Therapists work with clients to identify and strengthen their personal reasons for change, thus increasing the likelihood of sustained behavior modification.

    Client-centered focus

    A key aspect of MET is its client-centered focus, which acknowledges that clients are the experts on their own lives and experiences. The therapist’s role is to support clients in identifying their unique strengths, resources, and goals, and to help them navigate the change process at their own pace. This empowerment-based approach fosters a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy in clients, as they recognize that they possess the necessary skills and abilities to achieve their desired changes.

    Goal-setting and problem-solving

    MET emphasizes the importance of setting clear, realistic, and measurable goals for behavior change. Together, the therapist and client collaboratively develop a change plan, which includes specific objectives, strategies, and a timeline for achieving these goals. The therapist supports clients in identifying potential barriers to change and developing problem-solving skills to overcome these obstacles. By actively engaging clients in the goal-setting and problem-solving process, MET helps to promote accountability, self-efficacy, and sustained commitment to change.

    Principles of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    Expressing empathy

    Empathy is a fundamental principle of MET, as it helps to create a supportive and non-judgmental environment for clients. Therapists express empathy by actively listening, validating clients’ feelings and experiences, and demonstrating genuine understanding and compassion. This empathic approach fosters trust and rapport between the therapist and client, making it easier for clients to openly discuss their ambivalence and resistance to change.

    Developing discrepancy

    Developing discrepancy is a key technique in MET that involves helping clients recognize the gap between their current behaviors and their personal values, goals, or desired outcomes. By highlighting these discrepancies, therapists encourage clients to examine the consequences of their actions and consider the potential benefits of change. This process fosters a sense of discomfort with the status quo and motivates clients to take steps towards behavior change.

    Rolling with resistance

    Instead of confronting or challenging clients’ resistance to change, MET therapists “roll with” the resistance by acknowledging and validating clients’ concerns and hesitations. This approach minimizes defensiveness and promotes open dialogue about the clients’ ambivalence. Rolling with resistance may involve using techniques such as reflective listening, reframing, and asking open-ended questions to gently guide clients towards recognizing the need for change.

    Supporting self-efficacy

    Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve desired outcomes or make positive changes in their lives. In MET, therapists actively support clients’ self-efficacy by highlighting their strengths, past successes, and personal resources. By fostering a sense of competence and confidence, therapists empower clients to take ownership of their change process and believe in their ability to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

    The MET Process

    Initial assessment

    The MET process begins with an initial assessment, during which the therapist gathers information about the client’s history, substance use patterns, and relevant psychosocial factors. This assessment helps the therapist understand the client’s unique situation, identify potential barriers to change, and tailor the intervention to meet the client’s specific needs.

    Feedback and personalized information

    Following the initial assessment, the therapist provides the client with feedback and personalized information about their substance use and its consequences. This feedback may include data on the client’s substance use patterns compared to normative data, potential health risks, or the impact of their substance use on various aspects of their life. By presenting this information in a non-confrontational and supportive manner, the therapist helps the client recognize the need for change.

    Exploring ambivalence

    A crucial step in the MET process is exploring the client’s ambivalence about changing their substance use behaviors. The therapist uses open-ended questions, reflective listening, and other motivational interviewing techniques to help clients examine the pros and cons of their current behaviors and the potential benefits of change. This exploration of ambivalence is essential for fostering intrinsic motivation and helping clients resolve their uncertainty about taking steps towards change.

    Developing a change plan

    Once clients express a desire to change their behaviors, the therapist collaborates with them to develop a personalized change plan. This plan outlines the client’s specific goals, strategies for achieving these goals, and a timeline for implementing changes. The change plan also includes strategies for coping with potential barriers and setbacks, thus increasing the likelihood of successful behavior change.

    Monitoring progress and reinforcing change

    Throughout the MET process, therapists monitor clients’ progress towards their goals and provide ongoing support and encouragement. They help clients recognize and celebrate their achievements, while also addressing any challenges or setbacks that may arise. By reinforcing positive changes and fostering clients’ self-efficacy, therapists support clients in maintaining their motivation and commitment to their change plan.

    Effectiveness of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    Comparison to traditional counseling methods

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy has been found to be more effective than traditional counseling methods in facilitating behavior change, particularly in the treatment of substance use disorders. While traditional approaches often rely on confrontation and persuasion, MET’s non-confrontational, client-centered approach has proven more successful in enhancing intrinsic motivation and reducing client resistance. Moreover, MET’s time-limited nature allows for rapid engagement and progress, making it a cost-effective treatment option.

    Research and evidence supporting MET

    Numerous research studies and clinical trials have provided strong evidence for the effectiveness of MET in treating substance use disorders. A landmark study, Project MATCH, demonstrated that MET was as effective as, and in some cases more effective than, other evidence-based treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Twelve-Step Facilitation. Other studies have consistently shown that MET leads to significant reductions in substance use, increased treatment retention, and improved psychosocial outcomes.

    Success rates and long-term outcomes

    While success rates and long-term outcomes vary depending on the specific population and substance use disorder being treated, MET has generally demonstrated positive results. Clients who participate in MET tend to show greater improvements in substance use and related behaviors than those who receive traditional counseling methods. Furthermore, these positive outcomes tend to be maintained in the long-term, suggesting that MET helps to foster lasting change.

    Specific populations and settings where MET is most effective

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy has proven particularly effective in specific populations and settings. For instance, MET has shown promise in treating adolescents with substance use disorders, as its non-confrontational approach can be more appealing to younger clients. Additionally, MET has been successfully implemented in various treatment settings, such as primary care, emergency departments, and criminal justice settings, as its brief and focused nature allows for rapid intervention and progress. While MET is most commonly used to address substance use disorders, it has also demonstrated effectiveness in treating other behavioral issues, such as eating disorders, gambling addiction, and medication adherence.

    Incorporating MET into Other Treatment Modalities

    Combining MET with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy can be effectively combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to address both the motivational and cognitive-behavioral aspects of addiction. MET can be used to enhance clients’ motivation and readiness for change, while CBT can provide clients with the necessary skills and strategies to cope with cravings, triggers, and high-risk situations. This integrated approach allows therapists to tailor treatment to each client’s specific needs, offering a comprehensive and effective solution for substance use disorders.

    Integration with 12-Step programs

    MET can also be integrated with 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), to provide clients with a holistic approach to recovery. While MET focuses on enhancing clients’ motivation for change and helping them develop a personalized change plan, 12-Step programs offer a supportive community, a structured framework for recovery, and spiritual guidance. By combining the strengths of both approaches, clients can benefit from a comprehensive and flexible recovery plan that addresses their unique needs and preferences.

    Use in conjunction with medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy can be used alongside medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to provide a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment. MAT involves the use of medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, while MET helps to address the psychological and motivational aspects of addiction. When used together, MET and MAT can improve treatment retention, enhance clients’ motivation to engage in therapy, and ultimately increase the likelihood of long-term recovery success.

    Training and Certification in Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    To effectively deliver Motivational Enhancement Therapy, therapists should possess a strong foundation in counseling, psychology, or a related field. A minimum requirement is typically a master’s degree in clinical or counseling psychology, social work, or a related discipline. Additionally, therapists should have a solid understanding of the principles and techniques of motivational interviewing, as MET is based on these core concepts.

    There are various training programs and resources available for professionals who wish to learn and implement Motivational Enhancement Therapy in their practice. These may include workshops, seminars, online courses, and supervision from experienced MET practitioners. Organizations such as the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) and the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) offer training opportunities and resources for professionals seeking to develop their skills in MET and related techniques.

    When selecting a training program, it is essential to ensure that the program is evidence-based, up-to-date, and taught by experienced and qualified instructors. Many training programs also offer continuing education credits, which can be beneficial for maintaining professional licensure or certification.

    While there is no specific certification for Motivational Enhancement Therapy, obtaining certification in motivational interviewing (MI) can demonstrate a therapist’s competence in the principles and techniques that underlie MET. The Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) offers a certification process for professionals who have completed an approved MI training program and demonstrate proficiency in MI techniques.

    Continuing education is crucial for maintaining and enhancing therapists’ skills in MET and staying current with the latest research and developments in the field. Professionals can pursue continuing education opportunities through workshops, conferences, webinars, and online courses offered by reputable organizations and institutions. Regular supervision and consultation with experienced MET practitioners can also provide valuable ongoing learning and support.


    Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is an evidence-based, client-centered intervention that has demonstrated effectiveness in treating substance use disorders and other behavioral issues. By focusing on enhancing clients’ intrinsic motivation and empowering them to take ownership of their change process, MET has proven to be a valuable addition to the repertoire of addiction treatment options. With its origins in motivational interviewing, MET emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and personal autonomy, making it a non-confrontational and appealing approach for clients. The integration of MET with other treatment modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 12-Step programs, and medication-assisted treatment, allows for a comprehensive and tailored approach to addiction recovery. As more professionals receive training and certification in MET, the potential for this therapy to positively impact individuals struggling with addiction and behavioral issues continues to grow.

    Overcoming Resentment in Recovery

    Overcoming Resentment in Recovery

    As you enter the early stages of addiction recovery, you may find yourself confronting an unexpected and powerful emotion: resentment. It’s as if a storm has been brewing inside you, fueled by past hurts, betrayals, and perceived injustices. The weight of this emotion settles heavily on your shoulders, making it difficult to focus on the progress you’re trying to make.

    “I don’t deserve this,” you think to yourself, as certain situations or conversations seem to awaken this simmering resentment. A casual remark from a loved one or a seemingly harmless memory suddenly ignites a deep-seated anger within you. Your heart races, your palms grow clammy, and you find yourself thinking, “Why do they always have to bring that up?”

    In these moments, you become acutely aware of the walls you’ve built around yourself. “I have to protect myself,” you tell yourself, feeling a strong urge to shield yourself from the perceived attacks and criticisms that seem to lurk around every corner. This defensiveness is like a suit of armor that you wear, keeping you isolated from those around you, and making it difficult for you to truly connect with others.

    In active addiction and early recovery, resentment can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

    1. Constantly dwelling on past events or situations that caused us pain or suffering.
    2. Feeling a sense of injustice, as if we’ve been unfairly treated or wronged by others.
    3. Harbouring negative emotions towards others, even if they’re no longer in our lives.
    4. Difficulty in forgiving and letting go of grudges.

    In recovery, it’s essential to acknowledge and address resentment. This involves understanding the root cause of our feelings, reflecting on our part in the situation, and finding healthier ways to cope with these emotions. By doing so, we can work towards healing and prevent resentment from hindering our progress in recovery.

    It’s also crucial to surround ourselves with a strong support network and seek professional help when needed, as these resources can provide guidance and encouragement in overcoming resentment and maintaining sobriety.

    Recognize the Effects of Resentment

    Resentment can be a significant barrier to taking responsibility for one’s recovery, as it often leads to reactivity, defensiveness, and the adoption of an unhelpful victim identity. This can manifest in various ways, ultimately hindering progress and personal growth:

    Reactivity: When resentment is present, individuals may become overly sensitive and reactive to situations or comments that remind them of past hurts or perceived injustices. This heightened reactivity can make it difficult for them to maintain a clear perspective and respond constructively to feedback or suggestions, which are crucial for growth and healing in the recovery process.

    Defensiveness: Resentment often fuels a defensive mindset, where individuals feel the need to protect themselves from perceived attacks or criticisms. This can make it challenging for them to accept responsibility for their actions, as they may be unwilling to acknowledge their role in the situation or the consequences of their choices. This defensiveness can hinder progress in recovery, as it prevents individuals from learning from their mistakes and making necessary changes.

    Victim Identity: Resentment can lead to the adoption of an unhelpful victim identity, where individuals see themselves as powerless and blame others for their problems. This mindset prevents them from taking control of their lives and making proactive choices to improve their circumstances. By maintaining a victim identity, individuals may feel justified in their resentment and unwilling to accept responsibility for their recovery.

    Self-Sabotage: Holding onto resentment can result in self-sabotaging behaviors, as individuals may unconsciously undermine their own recovery efforts to confirm their victim identity or avoid addressing their resentments. This can create a vicious cycle of relapse and reinforce the belief that they are powerless over their addiction.

    To overcome these challenges and take responsibility for one’s recovery, it is essential to recognize and address resentment. This can involve self-reflection, therapy, and support from friends, family, or recovery groups. By actively working to let go of resentments and adopting a mindset of personal accountability, individuals can make significant strides in their recovery journey and develop healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with emotions and setbacks.

    Identify Your Resentments

    Identifying resentments is a crucial step in addressing them and moving forward in the recovery process. Here are some strategies to help you recognize resentments in your own life:

    Self-reflection: Spend time reflecting on your thoughts and emotions. Ask yourself if there are any situations, people, or events that consistently provoke negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, or frustration. Journaling can be a helpful tool for this process, as it allows you to record your thoughts and feelings in a structured way.

    Patterns of behavior: Observe your own behavior and interactions with others, especially during times of conflict or stress. Pay attention to recurring themes, such as consistently feeling wronged or unfairly treated by others, or reacting defensively when receiving feedback.

    Physical sensations: Resentment can manifest in physical sensations, such as muscle tension, headaches, or a tightness in the chest. Be mindful of these sensations and consider whether they might be linked to unresolved resentments.

    Seek feedback: Talk to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist about your feelings and emotions. They may be able to provide an outside perspective and help you identify resentments that you might not have recognized on your own.

    Engage in recovery groups: Participating in support groups or 12-step programs can be beneficial in identifying resentments, as you can learn from others’ experiences and insights. Listening to others share their stories can help you gain a deeper understanding of your own resentments and provide guidance on how to address them.

    Inventory of resentments: Create a list of people, institutions, or situations that you feel have wronged you or caused you harm. Be honest with yourself and include any resentments, even if they seem minor or irrational. This inventory can help you gain a clearer understanding of the resentments you’re holding onto and serve as a starting point for addressing them.

    Let Go of Resentments

    Letting go of resentments in recovery is a crucial aspect of personal growth and emotional healing. Resentments can hinder progress in recovery and lead to self-destructive behaviors, making it essential to address them effectively. The process of releasing resentments involves multiple steps and strategies, which are outlined below.

    Acknowledge your resentments: The first step in letting go of resentments is to acknowledge their existence. Identify the people, situations, or events that have caused you pain or discomfort and recognize the negative emotions associated with them. Be honest with yourself about your feelings and accept that holding onto these resentments is preventing you from moving forward in your recovery journey.

    Self-reflection: Spend time reflecting on the root causes of your resentments. Ask yourself why you feel wronged or hurt by the person or situation and consider any underlying issues or beliefs that may be contributing to these feelings. This process can help you gain a deeper understanding of your emotions and provide valuable insights into your patterns of thought and behavior.

    Take responsibility: Accepting responsibility for your part in the situation is a crucial step in letting go of resentments. Recognize the choices and actions that may have contributed to the conflict or issue and be willing to accept the consequences of those decisions. By taking responsibility for your actions, you can empower yourself to make positive changes and break free from the cycle of blame and resentment.

    Practice empathy and compassion: Cultivating empathy and compassion can help you see the situation from the other person’s perspective and develop a greater understanding of their actions or motives. This can enable you to let go of anger and bitterness and foster a sense of forgiveness and understanding.

    Forgiveness: Forgiving those who have wronged you can be a helpful aspect of releasing resentments. This does not mean condoning or forgetting the hurtful actions but rather choosing to let go of the negative emotions associated with them. Forgiveness is a personal decision and may take time.

    Learn from the experience: Use your resentments as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. Reflect on the lessons you can learn from the situation and consider how you can apply these insights to future experiences. This can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and prevent resentments from recurring in the future.

    Develop healthy coping strategies: Replace unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns with more constructive alternatives. Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help you manage negative emotions and reduce stress, making it easier to let go of resentments.

    Set boundaries: Establishing healthy boundaries can help you protect your emotional well-being and prevent resentments from recurring. Communicate your needs and limits clearly with others and practice assertiveness to ensure your boundaries are respected.

    Focus on gratitude: Shifting your focus from resentments to gratitude can help you develop a more positive outlook and appreciate the progress you’ve made in your recovery journey. Create a daily gratitude practice, such as journaling or sharing your gratitude with others, to cultivate a mindset of appreciation and contentment.

    Overcoming Resentments in 12-Step Recovery

    12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), place a strong emphasis on addressing and resolving resentments as part of the recovery process. These programs view resentments as a significant barrier to personal growth, emotional healing, and long-term sobriety. The principles and steps outlined in 12-step programs offer guidance on how to manage and let go of resentments effectively.

    Several key concepts from 12-step programs are relevant to resentments:

    Resentments as a “number one offender”: In the context of 12-step programs, resentments are often referred to as the “number one offender,” meaning they can be a major obstacle to recovery and a leading cause of relapse. Resentments can fuel negative emotions and self-destructive behaviors, making it crucial to address them in order to maintain long-term sobriety.

    Personal inventory (Step 4): The fourth step of the 12-step program involves conducting a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. This process includes identifying resentments and examining the root causes of these negative emotions. By acknowledging and analyzing resentments, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and thought patterns, which is essential for personal growth and healing.

    Admitting wrongs (Step 5): The fifth step of the 12-step program involves admitting to oneself, to another person, and to a higher power (as understood by the individual) the exact nature of one’s wrongs. This step encourages openness and honesty about one’s resentments and the role they may have played in the situation, fostering a sense of accountability and personal responsibility.

    Making amends (Steps 8 and 9): Steps 8 and 9 of the 12-step program focus on making amends to those who have been harmed by one’s actions. This includes acknowledging and addressing resentments held against others, as well as seeking to repair any damage caused by one’s own behavior. Making amends can help to mend relationships and promote forgiveness, both for oneself and for others.

    Ongoing self-evaluation (Step 10): The tenth step of the 12-step program involves continuing to take personal inventory and promptly admitting when one is wrong. This ongoing process of self-evaluation and reflection can help individuals identify and address any lingering or new resentments, ensuring that they do not hinder personal growth or recovery.

    Spiritual growth (Steps 11 and 12): The final two steps of the 12-step program emphasize the importance of spiritual growth and helping others in their recovery journey. Developing a stronger connection with a higher power (as understood by the individual) and practicing principles such as forgiveness, compassion, and humility can help individuals let go of resentments and maintain long-term sobriety.

    In summary, 12-step programs view resentments as a significant obstacle to recovery and provide a structured framework for addressing and resolving these negative emotions. By following the principles and steps outlined in these programs, individuals can work towards letting go of resentments, promoting emotional healing, and maintaining long-term sobriety.


    In conclusion, resentments are a significant barrier to personal growth and recovery from addiction. They can fuel negative emotions and self-destructive behaviors, making it essential to address and resolve them effectively. Strategies such as self-reflection, taking responsibility, practicing empathy and compassion, and forgiveness can help individuals let go of resentments and promote emotional healing.

    Moreover, participating in 12-step programs offers a structured framework and supportive community for individuals to work through their resentments and maintain long-term sobriety. By actively addressing resentments and developing healthier coping mechanisms, individuals in recovery can make significant strides in their journey towards personal growth and emotional well-being.