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Do the 12 Steps Work for Trauma as Well as for Addiction?

Do the 12 Steps Work for Trauma as Well as for Addiction?

The 12-Step program has long been a staple of treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction. But what about other ailments? Are the 12 Steps only effective for combating addiction? One innovative clinician is using the 12-Step approach to trauma recovery.

Rivka Edery, LCSW, is an experienced clinician who has spent much of her career focusing on trauma recovery and its connection to spirituality. She's the author of Trauma And Transformation: A 12-Step Guide. How does she apply the 12-Step program to trauma recovery?

Do the 12 Steps Work for Trauma as Well as for Addiction?Her Approach to the 12 Steps and Spirituality

  • Step One: Establish a rapport with her patients. By exploring their past, Edery can help with "admitting powerlessness."
  • Step Two: Edery helps patients locate a personal source of spiritual meaning that's their "higher power," which can help "restore [the patient] to sanity."
  • Step Three: Make the decision to turn one's life over to the "higher power." Connecting to this personal spiritual source is what Edery calls "The Survivor's Rock of Recovery."
  • Step Four: Patients take stock of their lives, and all resentments. It's not about blaming, but about letting go of negativity. Insights are shared with Edery and with the patient's "higher power."
  • Step Five is a twist on AA's Twelve Steps, which call for admitting "the exact nature of [one's] wrongs." Instead, in trauma recovery, Edery focuses on exploring pain and shame, and letting go of secrets.
  • Step Six: Ask for help. This is very difficult to do for many survivors of trauma (particularly interpersonal trauma, such as abuse). But this step builds on Step One by patients admitting that they cannot heal themselves.
  • Step Seven: With Edery's help, patients ask the "higher power" to remove all the roadblocks to healing or letting go.
  • Step Eight: Address any negative life history. Many survivors of trauma (such as incest survivors) end up propagating or seeking revenge for their harms. Step Eight is where they take responsibility.
  • Step Nine: Patients make amends for any wrongdoing, with Edery's help. Connections can be re-established and relational healing can begin.
  • Step Ten: Take inventory every day, which is a lifelong process. Edery asks her patients to visualize a "strand of diamonds," which represents their growth moments.
  • Step Eleven: Patients set aside time every day to communicate with their personal spiritual source, or "higher power."
  • Step Twelve: Encourage patients to be active in raising awareness for fellow victims of trauma. Edery also likes to encourage patients to participate in support groups.

Does it Work?

Every has found that her approach really works. She writes, "integrating a spiritual, 12-step approach that includes a core component of client accountability empowers clients to contribute to their own sense of purpose and meaning in life." Who knows? There may be even more therapeutic opportunities to apply the 12 Steps beyond the realm of addiction or trauma.

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