I have been talking this week to some individuals who are Facilitators and Advisors to SMART Recovery groups in Chicago, and have learned that more meetings are taking place than ever before. This is a positive development for people struggling with drug and alcohol dependence, and for the professionals who need self-help resources to provide referrals for their clients.
SMART Recovery (Self-Management And Recovery Training) is a self-help and mutual support program for alcohol and drug addiction that uses the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is one of the approaches I’ve mentioned in previous entries on this website. It provides a welcome alternative to 12-Step support programs, particularly for those who may be uncomfortable with the emphasis on spirituality and the Higher Power that are central to the 12-step approach. However, SMART is also an alternative for people who are uncomfortable with other aspects of AA, NA, and their related programs. For some individuals, sources of discomfort include the all-encompassing attitude of powerlessness communicated by the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, the attitude that fostering lifelong dependence on the program is a necessary part of recovery, the demeaning of thinking and self-efficacy in some 12-Step meetings, and the “slogans” – typical of some old-timers – that can have a preachy tone.
SMART Recovery uses awareness of self-talk and internal cues to help former drinkers and drug users manage their life stresses, their urges, and their daily routines. It is a pragmatic approach, heavily influenced by Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, that helps individuals learn to recognize the mistaken thoughts that support further drinking or drugging. SMART is an abstinence program, and members have generally already recognized that they need to remain alcohol and drug-free permanently.
Many SMART participants have already attended 12-Step meetings for support, and some continue to do so. After all, 12-Step meetings have the advantage of wide availability (there are meetings in most communities several times a week). Some participants attend agnostic or atheist-friendly 12-step meetings (which are typically found in big cities) with SMART as their alternative meeting. SMART also hosts online meetings and discussion groups, and has many materials on their website. (The surveys of SMART participants are quite interesting, especially the questions about religious beliefs). SMART participants are increasingly being referred to the program by counselors, which is a good sign (in my view). Clients who participate in SMART Recovery, as well as clients who participate in 12-Step meetings, are all welcome in our counseling practice. Our approach fits comfortably with the SMART Four-Point principles of recovery maintenance.
I am encouraged that SMART has become more popular and hope that meeting availability will continue to expand as more people become interested in this approach. Currently, meetings are concentrated on the North Side of Chicago, and in DuPage County. There is also a closed meeting at the Jesse Brown VA Hospital; pointing to the fact that veterans with substance dependence are a population ripe for additional self-help resources.