23 May 2016

Does 12 Step Therapy Require Belief in God?

Addiction is an illness that is often treated with 12 step therapy. The basis of 12-step work is something that many treatment organisations have adopted because they know that this process is one with a proven track record of success.

The 12-step model of abstinence began as a part of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was founded in the early 1930s by Bill Wilson and Dr Robert Smith (known as Dr Bob). Their non-profit organisation was created to help those struggling with alcoholism get sober and stay sober. The principle behind AA was that members would offer each other support and motivation by getting together on a regular basis to share their stories and experiences. They would also work through the 12-steps if they wished; working the steps has never been a mandatory requirement for AA membership.

The success of AA and its 12 step programme has been phenomenal, with millions of people around the world having been helped to overcome their alcohol addictions. The principles of AA have also been adapted for other organisations, such as Gamblers Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

However, one aspect of AA and the 12 step programme that many people have an issue with is whether it is necessary to believe in God or be religious to make the programme work.

The 12 Steps and the Higher Power

A number of the 12 steps refer to God and a ‘Higher Power’ and this can be uncomfortable for those who do not describe themselves as religious. They may be of the opinion that the programme or 12 step therapy will not work for them. The truth is that the belief that 12 step therapy is based on religion is a common misconception – it is not necessary to believe in God or be religious to benefit from the 12 steps. They can be adapted to suit anyone’s beliefs, and many AA members are not religious at all.

The idea of the Higher Power is based around the idea that people do need to take strength from something other than themselves in order to overcome their addiction. This means that the addict must think about what it is that is helping him or her to change their maladaptive behaviour. While many people do believe this ‘higher power’ to be God, others use things such as the spirit of their ancestors, the love they have for their family, or simply an unknown force. It really does not matter what a person’s higher power is, as long as he or she believes that it is helping them to change and improve their behaviour.

A Positive Power

Those who have struggled with addiction will already be aware of the power of this illness and how it can take over their lives. Addiction to substances such as alcohol or drugs can be described as giving yourself over to a negative power; one which you have no control over. Addiction is a force that can make a person do things they never planned to do; it can change their behaviour and personality so that they are no longer recognisable to their loved ones.

Those who have experienced this negative power will find it much easier to believe that there is a corresponding positive power; one that will help them to overcome the scourge of addiction and set them on the right path again. Believing that a positive higher power will help is a fundamental part of 12 step therapy and has proven time and again to be effective when it comes to overcoming addiction.

God as a Higher Power

There is no doubting that the early interpretation of the 12 steps by AA saw God as the Higher Power but as the organisation grew, it soon became apparent that not every member was religious. Those who did not believe in God could also be affected by alcoholism, so it was important that the 12 steps applied to non-religious members too. It was essential that all members of AA were made to feel welcome and believed that the 12 steps could be followed and implemented to their situation. At the end of the day, the Higher Power can be whatever a person wants it to be – God or otherwise.

Doing Your Part

Steps one to three talk about being powerless over alcohol and turning control of your life over to your Higher Power. However, it is important to remember that you do need to play your part too. You cannot just sit back and expect a higher power to cure you of your illness.

Twelve step therapy involves working through the 12 steps and putting in the effort required to conquer your addiction. You must be prepared to meet with your counsellor or sponsor, attend meetings and learn how to change your negative behaviour. As you work through the steps, you will learn a lot about yourself and you can begin to heal. You can use your higher power to help you through the process of recovery, but you must be ready to make the commitment and work hard to get better.

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