A colleague of mine with years of experience in multiple 12 step programs who would prefer to remain anonymous wrote:
I checked out your post and I like it but I’d like to weigh in on a few things since I have experience in support groups (AA for 14 years).
-The anonymity is multifaceted as laid out in the 12 traditions of our text: what is shared in the room stays in the room, i.e. it is not to be shared with someone who was not present.
People are only asked to share their first name. Outside the meetings we may identify ourselves as members of the program as long as it’s not in public media going out to people not in the room with us or people we don’t know (tv, radio, film, Twitter). A private Facebook group where all the members know each other or are in the program would not be okay. A public mentioning on Facebook would not be in keeping with the traditions. Saying you attend 12 step meetings without being specific would be considered okay. Again, these are my interpretations of the traditions.A lot of members don’t understand that this tradition is to protect the program from people anointing themselves as spokespersons. Our motto is attraction rather than promotion.
There are meetings where feedback after someone’s share is allowed. That is decided upon by the group to be a format. The person who creates the meeting can decide the format but a motion at any time can be put forward to change the format and all members get a vote. We call it a group conscience. Any person can start a meeting. We are self-supporting through our own contributions/donations (to pay for rent, coffee etc). There is no fee.
Deep interpersonal connections are often formed in the meetings especially among members who consistently attend and begin to know each other and give feedback after the meeting. The intimacy and vulnerability that is fostered in healthy meetings (there are some bad ones as there are no 12 step police) is often the template for relationships outside the meetings (work, romantic relationships, public interactions etc).
12 step programs are not religious, though the word “God” is sometimes used we have many atheists who choose the group as their higher power. The goal is to move from self-obsessed isolation towards human connection, honest self-reflection, leading a principled life and being of service in and out of the rooms. The byproduct of that is a sense of peace that takes away the allure of our addiction. It is a principled program for living. The root of our problems is a lack of tools to cope with our feelings and warped perceptions. The 12 steps are tools to manage those.
The only requirement to attend a meeting is the desire to stop engaging in our addiction.
If a person is disruptive a group conscience may be taken to keep them from attending if it is affecting the integrity/safety of the meeting. This very rarely happens but sometimes very mentally or emotionally disturbed people fall into this category.
Of course these are my interpretation of the traditions and some may disagree but another one of our mottos is that the integrity of the program’s traditions is paramount to its survival lest no person or group try to “take charge”. What are your thoughts about this?
My thoughts: This is a very clear description of the value of 12 Step Programs. I believe that support groups and psychotherapy groups complement each other. They are not mutually exclusive by any means. Their goals are different. The goal of support groups is self-help; the goal of psychotherapy groups is the resolution of relationship conflicts with a professional therapist as the leader. Support groups are usually free. Members are peers to each other, (anyone can start a meeting) and the group process is democratic. The requirements in most psychotherapy groups are that members come, talk and pay. The exchange of money between the group members and the leader creates a different dynamic in the group process as compared to support groups. While the contact between psychotherapy group members is limited to a specific time and place, it is my understanding that under certain conditions, support members can have contact with each other. In the groups that I run, outside the group contact is not allowed. It has been my experience that outside the group contact tends to dilute the intensity of emotional exchanges with group meetings.