By Jim Braastad
Smart Recovery Distance Training Coordinator
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to represent SMART Recovery® in a panel discussion “Alternative Recovery Models” at the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies in Center City, Minnesota. Each panelist responded to five questions.
What follows is my response to those questions and amounts to a concise outline of the SMART Recovery option for those suffering from alcoholism and/or other forms of addiction.
What do you think is the most important things to know about the SMART Recovery® program?
The “SMART” in SMART Recovery® is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training. We help people gain independence from any type of addictive behaviors, whether they are substance or activity addictions. We believe individuals seeking recovery should be fully informed about the range of recovery options available and free to choose among them. SMART Recovery® promotes the idea of self-empowerment and self-management, encouraging our participants to take full responsibility for their recovery.
SMART’s basic premise is that by focusing on your thoughts, feelings and behavior, one can make their life more manageable. Our meetings focus, educate and support one’s capacity and ability to regulate their own behavior. Based on scientific knowledge, our methods evolve as scientific knowledge evolves. Our 4-Point Program® offers specific tools and techniques for each of our program points, being:
- Enhancing and Maintaining Motivation
- Coping with Urges
- Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors
- Living a balanced life
How do you see SMART Recovery® working for people?
Who might benefit from our approach? That’s an easy one… ANYONE! That is, anyone who has a desire to change and is willing to do the necessary work to make the change.
Due to the secular and science-based aspects of our program, one might assume that we’re targeted to a specific group or type of individuals, but that isn’t the case. Very often, the term “secular” is perceived to mean “anti” or “non-religious”… this isn’t the case either.
While it is not a requirement to believe in a religion or spirituality in our program, we recognize that spiritual beliefs are very important to many and we help our members to identify and live consistently with their individual values and beliefs. However, we believe the power to change addictive behaviors resides within each individual and does not depend upon adherence to any particular spiritual viewpoint. As such, we view the use of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices in recovery as entirely a personal choice, but it is not a part of our program.
I’d find it very difficult (if not impossible) to define a specific “type” of person who might benefit from our program. In the course of my various volunteer roles with the SMART Recovery® organization, I’ve come across a wide array of people with different backgrounds, education, etc… covering the full spectrum of various “types” of people. Again, it’s all about whatever works for each individual. There is no single approach that “works” for everyone; there are many paths to recovery, many ways that one can get to where they want to go. The SMART Recovery® program is only one such path. It turned out to be the right path for me.
Is there any empirical evidence that supports the SMART Recovery® approach?
There are many models about addictive behavior, each containing certain implications for what to do to prevent and treat addictive behaviors. SMART Recovery® does not endorse or adopt any particular model. Instead, we’ve drawn upon what has been scientifically shown to work, and placed them into a broad framework for a rational approach to change. Most of what has been proven effective so far has come from the conditioning, social learning and cognitive models. It is important to note, though, that this is not saying that the other models do not also have something to offer.
There is now one study that supports SMART’s effectiveness (published by Reid Hester and colleagues in 2013), and one that found a SMART Recovery approach comparably effective to a 12-step approach in a day treatment setting (published by Patt Penn and colleagues in 2000). The SMART Recovery program is based on treatments that have strong scientific support, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Prochaska and DiClimente’s Stages of Change, and Miller and Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing. We also use components of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), by Albert Ellis, because they are easy to understand and convey CBT principles easily. Because of the evidence and scientific research behind these various methods which the SMART Recovery program have drawn upon, we are confident that our approach works very well for many people.
Is SMART Recovery® compatible with the 12-steps, or would it be used instead of the 12 steps?
As stated previously, SMART Recovery® believes that each individual finds their own path to recovery, finding what “works” for them. I’m aware of many instances of our participants using both SMART Recovery and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). While our approach differs from 12-step programs, it does not exclude them – or any other recovery program. Some of our participants choose to attend AA, NA or other meetings when they cannot attend a SMART Recovery® meeting, finding what they hear at those meetings to be helpful to them on their own path to recovery.
Regardless of any differences in our approaches, I believe we are all in this together, that we share the same worthy goal – helping people overcome their addiction. Regardless of the program or approach, I’m sure everyone would agree that successful recovery requires making good choices. The right method and approach for making those “good choices” are as varied and different as the individuals who are making them. Research shows that people who are allowed to choose their recovery method are more successful than those who are required to use a particular recovery method, no matter which it might be. SMART Recovery® fully supports choice in recovery, as is reflected in our slogan, “Discover the Power of Choice”.
Where is the best place to get more information about your approach?
7304 Mentor Ave, Suite F
Mentor, OH 44060