The Therapeutic Value of the Group

Fifty Chosen Articles:
Number Nineteen.
Originally posted in March 2016.

What do we get from attending AA meetings?
How about valuables such as hope and social skills?

By Steve K.

The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group is a fundamental ‘mechanism of change’ in terms of recovery from alcoholism. The group provides its members with a supportive social network that promotes sobriety.

Participation in the group offers several therapeutic benefits which facilitate and support change for the individual. These therapeutic gains are as follows:


The group provides the inspiration of hope that there is a solution to a seemingly hopeless condition of mind, body and soul. AA groups generate optimism and confidence that change is possible. The group is a vehicle for positive psychology.

When I arrived at my first AA meeting I was full of despair and shame and felt completely trapped in my addiction to alcohol. The group gave me some hope that long term sobriety was possible through the example of others.


A fundamental therapeutic benefit obtained from the groups is identification with others who have experienced similar difficulties. This helps group members increase their self-awareness and lessens feelings of isolation, shame and guilt, which promotes self-acceptance.

Identification and sharing (self-disclosure) with others, along with inventory work, has greatly increased my self-awareness and self-acceptance over the years, which in turn allows for greater honesty, authenticity and humility.

Information and Wisdom

The AA group shares information and wisdom in relation to recovery from addiction and living life alcohol free and in emotional balance.

The group offers strategies for dealing with cravings and handling life’s problems and promotes wise philosophy such as: acceptance of things outside of one’s control, the importance of self-examination and self-responsibility, the concept of keeping focus in the present day; and detachment from other people’s behaviour. These are wise concepts that can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy. AA’s serenity prayer is Stoic philosophy in a nutshell.


A key ethical principle of AA groups is the practice of altruism, as expressed in Step Twelve and Tradition Five – ‘carrying a message of recovery to the still suffering alcoholic’. This practice helps group members develop this important virtue and encourages its application in other areas of life.

Participating in the group and absorbing the principle of helping others ‘without expectation of reward’, and the attitude of contributing to the group purpose or greater good (principle of service), inspired me to volunteer in my local community for good causes that benefit others outside of the AA group.

This service work, both inside and outside of the group, promotes one’s self-esteem and provides meaning and purpose in recovery. As someone who came into AA with very damaged self-esteem and had little sense of meaning in his life, feeling able to help others and developing a sense of purpose was very important to my recovery process.

The group, through its communication of the Steps and Traditions, also promotes the practice of other moral virtues such as, honesty, humility, willingness, courage, compassion and integrity.

Social Skills

Being a member of an AA group encourages the development of social skills. Groups provide the opportunity to be with, listen to, and talk with others; to test out and develop interpersonal skills such as self-disclosure, and by offering emotional support to others. Groups also provide the opportunity to observe healthy pro social behaviour in others, eg, service to and respect for other group members.

When I first started attending AA meetings, after years of relying upon alcohol and other drugs in order to socially connect with people, I had quite poor social skills. I was anxious in social situations and had no self-confidence. I didn’t really know how to approach people or start simple conversations and would stand around waiting for people to approach me, feeling very awkward. If someone didn’t start talking to me at the end of the meeting I would leave abruptly, feeling rejected and inadequate.

Over the years of attending AA meetings, I have had the opportunity to practice my social skills with others; learning how to approach people, say hello, and offer my hand in friendship.

I’ve learnt to ask how people are feeling and to listen to their responses, offering appropriate emotional support when needed. I have learnt to communicate my own feelings honestly, and to reach out for support from other group members. I’ve also learnt to engage in friendly banter and develop sober friendships.

These social communication skills may be taken for granted by some, but I had been abusing alcohol and drugs since my early teens, had very poor self-esteem, and had not developed these skills naturally during my active addiction years.

Becoming a member of an AA group also promotes a feeling of belonging, which is important for self-esteem and emotional health as humans are social beings and need social attachments. These groups and their social nature are a great antidote to the social isolation often created by alcoholism and other addictions.


The sharing of experience, strength and hope in AA meetings can provide an opportunity for catharsis. The group offers a space to vent and explore feelings while being listened to by others. This group format is particularly important for individuals who have a history of social isolation and are used to shutting off emotions through alcohol and other drug misuse.

In general, group members are listened to with respect, understanding and compassion while sharing in meetings, and this process facilitates improvements in self-awareness and self-acceptance; particularly when combined with supportive feedback from others at the end of the meeting.

During the earlier stages of my own recovery, I found being able to share my feelings honestly and openly within the AA group, both during the meetings and afterwards with group members, essential in my efforts to remain sober.

As someone who suffers with co-occurring disorders which impact upon my emotional well-being, I needed to communicate my distress to others as a form of release and as a coping strategy; a way of reaching out for support from other group members. Sharing my suffering within the AA group, and the support I received, enabled me not to take that first drink or another drug to cope instead.

I now find it very satisfying to be able to emotionally support other group members, particularly those in early recovery or those suffering from co-occurring illnesses.

Steve has been a member of AA for some 30 years and lives in Cheshire, England. He would describe himself as a humanist/agnostic. He has a background in advice and counseling work, mainly in the areas of mental health and social welfare law.

Steve has his own recovery website and you can connect to it here: 12-Step Philosophy. He has also written a book that is available free of charge as a PDF: The 12 Step Philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous: An Interpretation.

Six articles written by Steve have been posted on AA Agnostica over the years. Here they are:

The Role of Choice in Addiction and Recovery (June 9, 2019)

The Opposite of Addiction – Connection (March 17, 2019)

The Therapeutic Value of the Group (March 31, 2016)

A Personal Inventory (January 7, 2016)

A 12 Step Agnostic (September 9, 2015)

Practising Virtue and 12 Step Recovery (November 23, 2014)

Steve also did a podcast with John Sheldon which is available on the Beyond Belief Sobriety website: Episode 58: The 12 Step Philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous: An Interpretation by Steve K. (May 28, 2017).

8 Responses

  1. Beth H. says:

    Hi Steve. I have used each of these subheadings as a meeting topic for the past several weeks. The discussions have been lively and enthusiastic. People hadn’t looked at the meetings in this light before, but they definitely agreed with it. Next week is catharsis and then I need you to write a new article with several sections like this one. It has made chairing a breeze. ? I have always felt that I get more from the therapeutic value of the group than anything in AA literature. Thanks for writing!

    • Steve K says:

      Hi Beth,

      It’s a great idea to use the sub-headings as a meeting topic and I’m glad it’s worked well for you and the group.

      Thanks for sending me a copy of your book, but due to living in the UK the book is not redeemable to my account. I’ve now asked Amazon to credit your account with a gift certificate which they have done. Thanks for the thought though Beth, it’s kind of you.

      I have listened to the podcast you did with John S about your book. I understand where you are coming from and agree that the language in AA literature needs changing for those who suffer from low self-worth as the description of the egomaniac is not accurate for many in AA. However, Bill W also suffered from low self-worth which is often compensated for by arrogant, egotistical behaviour. When we are depressed, anxious etc we are focused upon ourselves too. In the 12 & 12 Bill describes the different types of character: the egotist, and the depressive who thinks poorly of themselves. He points out there that they are both versions of self- centredness.

      • Beth H. says:

        There are 4 common responses to childhood trauma – fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Bill’s was fight. I was mostly a fawner. Narcissistic mother who said I was selfish every time I wanted or needed anything, projected her self-loathing onto me, demanded to be placated and appeased. I learned that my needs must always come last. AA was very triggering for someone like me. Telling me I’m selfish and self-centered sounds just like my mother. I wish you could read my book. Sorry it didn’t work out.

        • Steve K says:

          I understand your perspective Beth and I’m currently reading the book ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ by Bessel Van Der Kolk. The book is a masterwork on the effects of trauma on mind, brain, and body. It explains the different responses you describe re trauma. I’ll see if I can buy a copy of your book from Amazon UK.

  2. Mike O says:

    Today’s my 10th anniversary of sobriety (finally, I can say how I have “double digit sobriety” along with the rest of the “Oldtimers” LOL) and reading this article reminds me that despite my differences and misgivings about various aspects of AA there are also many benefits to having the community of recovery to draw from.

    Oftentimes, AA feels to me like the conservative parent who I largely respect but from whom I’ve also had to rebel against and push back on in order to grow and mature and build my own perspectives and identity. Still, I always remember where I came from and how scared, lost and desperate I was 10 years ago today and how I wanted more than anything to put time and space between me and “my last drink”.

    With that time and space I can now appreciate better just how having those rooms, those various people and their various stories and personalities and advice (good, bad and in between) helped shape and form me. While in my case I really do believe that I would’ve still stopped even without the program (yes, I really was just THAT done with drinking), having the community and fellowship was invaluable to me in helping me to reassemble the pieces of my life into a more coherent whole. As imperfect and problematic as the program and its people often are and as messy as the trajectory of sobriety and life in general is I really am truly grateful that there are places we can go and try to get solace and relief from our troubles, if even only for an hour, and where we can build a version of ourselves free from addictive behaviors if we choose to.

    I don’t know what level of involvement I’ll continue to have in the program as time goes on but it’s a comfort to know how many people out there understand and know what it’s like, how my experience isn’t something to be ashamed of but rather a well of resources to draw from and help others with, that because of my time with AA I know there’s virtually nothing I go through in life (including this historic pandemic) that I have to go through alone. We’re never really alone.

  3. bob k says:

    Social Skills

    A significant percentage of AA members suffer from social anxiety at some level or another. One of the pioneers, Archie T. was able to get from Detroit to Akron by getting extremely loaded. Dr. Bob got him sober and took him in. For eight months, he never left the house. He couldn’t so much as take a walk around the block.

    Agoraphobia is social anxiety in the extreme but perhaps not as rare as we might think. A woman at Whitby Freethinkers was almost as bad as Archie despite having taken therapy for her condition.

    Among those who come and go very quickly from AA, surely there are some who are dreadfully discomfited by coming to meetings, so they stay home. The harder it is to come to AA, the less likely the person is to come. Getting oneself out of isolation is a classic problem for alcoholics and all the worse for the socially anxious. Some who come drunk NEEDED to get drunk to calm themselves enough to come to a meeting.

    Another fine contribution from Steve K.

  4. Adam Neiblum says:
    • Steve K says:

      Hi Adam,

      Your article promotes human’s pro social nature much like Rutger Bregman’s book ‘Humankind’. Well worth reading if you haven’t already. Great article BTW.

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