A complete guide to the 12-step program
Few initiatives have proved as successful for those with addictions than the twelve-step program. Founded in the United States in the 1930s, it was initially established as a set of guiding principles for those with an addiction to alcohol.
Over the years, it has grown and adapted to fit a range of problems, including eating disorders, and drug and gambling addictions. Today, it is recognised as one of the most effective tools for overcoming an addiction, with millions of fellows worldwide.
Who founded the 12 steps?
The first twelve-step fellowship was founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, known affectionately by members as Bill W and Dr. Bob. The two met in 1935 through a Christian group called the Oxford Group. Bill W was a recovering alcoholic and Dr. Bob was an alcoholic who wanted to become sober.
Shortly after meeting Bill W, Dr. Bob quit drinking and the two went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). As membership of AA grew, its guiding principles morphed into the twelve steps, which remain largely unchanged today. They are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The influence of Carl Jung
In 1961, Bill W wrote a letter to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to express his gratitude for the role he played in inspiring the creation of AA and the twelve-step program. Specifically, he made reference to a conversation Jung had had some years before with one of his patients.
“That conversation between you was to become the first link in the chain of events that led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous,” Bill W wrote.
“My recollection of his account of that conversation is this: First of all, you frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned.
“When he then asked you if there was any other hope, you told him that there might be, provided he could become the subject of a spiritual or religious experience – in short, a genuine conversion.
“You pointed out how such an experience, if brought about, might remotivate him when nothing else could.”
Additionally, Bill W was encouraged by Jung’s writings to promote the spiritual aspect of recovery. This was an aspect that took on a particularly religious character in AA. Seeing AA’s success, Jung gave advice on how the group could develop its format further.
12-Step treatment: The Minnesota Model
Since its initiation in 1935, AA has grown and developed along with the twelve-step program. Today, there are a plethora of “Anonymous” groups for treating addiction, including NA (Narcotics Anonymous), SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) and WA (Workaholics Anonymous). Each one incorporates the twelve steps and adapts them for the individuals within that group.
The Minnesota Model is an interpretation of the twelve-step treatment based on the idea of caring for sufferers of addiction without searching for a “cure” but instead looking to treat the illness “one day at a time”. A long term approach, the Minnesota Model focuses on treating addicts holistically, including treatment for body, mind, and spirit.
A defining aspect is that it combines expertise from many disciplines including doctors, psychiatrists, and counsellors, using a multidisciplinary approach that recognises the need for addicts to reconfigure all aspects of their life, from finances to friendships.
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