The Twelve Steps, Revisited
June 15, 2015 | By Laura MacKay
How is The Brown Method™ step therapy different from the original Twelve Steps?
Dr. Brown knows that some people are going to view any change to the Twelve Steps as sacrilege. Or at least feel uncomfortable about it. If either one of those is you, consider first reading the post “A Shout-out to AA.” Dr. Brown may critique the program and the steps, but she’s also a fan in many ways: the program saved her life.
All right then. The Brown Method™ step therapy differs from the traditional steps in important ways that include not only nuts and bolts, but also underlying premises. I’m going to summarize the seven key differences here. There’s more detail in Addiction Is the Symptom.
1. This therapy assumes that healing is possible
How likely are you to heal if you don’t even believe it’s possible? As the program would have it, you will always be “in recovery,” never recovered. The labeling of a disease as “chronic” or “incurable” does not mean that it can’t be healed, only that no one has figured out how to do it. The “fact” that addiction is chronic is merely an assumption, one based primarily on the high rate of relapse associated with traditionally available programs and therapies—most of which focus on the symptom, not the cause. (See the glossary for Dr. Brown’s definition of healing.)
2. It focuses on cause rather than symptom
The program of AA tends to focus on the symptom: on not doing X, on abstinence. This is illustrated by the practice of creating a different step group for every symptom—that is, every addiction. New groups are sprouting up all the time. (One of the latest is Internet and Tech Addiction Anonymous, ITAA.) Abstinence is important when we’re talking about alcohol and other drugs, but too many people stop there (until they don’t). Dr. Brown views this symptom focus as one of the biggest reasons for relapse. Her method tackles the root cause of addiction in all its manifestations. (See the glossary on addiction.)
3. It eliminates trial and error
In Dr. Brown’s decades of experience, another reason for the high rate of relapse is the practice of doing the steps—in particular Step Four—by personal interpretation. As if there could be an infinite number of ways to fix the same problem. Not likely. Dr. Brown’s Fourth Step Algorithm is a set of simple, precise instructions that she’s been using with great success for many years with clients and sponsees. No more trial and error = consistent results. (See the glossary on relapse.)
4. It focuses on empowerment, not powerlessness
In Dr. Brown’s Step One, you’re asked to accept your powerlessness over all of life, not just your drug of choice. This goes to the heart of the control issues that drive addiction. And it’s ultimately about recognizing, reclaiming, and acting on the power you do have. (See the glossary on control.)
5. It focuses on the wrongs you have suffered
Traditionally, the Step Four inventory plays out as a face-to-face with the wrongs you’ve done. Kind of hard not to beat yourself up, and that’s the last thing you need. You’re probably doing that every day already, maybe even every five minutes. The Brown Method step therapy turns it around: it’s an inventory of the wrongs you yourself have suffered, including at your own hands. It reveals the lifetime of pain and the resulting fear and resentment that conditioned your addictive behavior. (See the glossary on addictive behavior.)
6. It assumes your inherent goodness
The Big Book’s premise is that you are flawed. It encourages self-judgment—if not necessarily deliberately—with such phrases as “flaws in our makeup,” “character defects,” and “spiritually sick.” For Dr. Brown, this is a huge problem. Her work assumes that it’s not you who are defective, but rather the conditioning imposed on you. You’re great. (See the glossary on conditioned fear, control, and manipulation.)
7. It utilizes professional help
Dr. Brown recognizes that sponsorship can be extremely valuable. But she recommends that you choose a professional therapist or counselor to facilitate the twelve-step process outlined in Addiction Is the Symptom. The reasons for this are detailed in the book, but one reason is that The Brown Method step therapy has powerful psychological components, and the understanding, rigor, and insight of a talented, experienced professional will help ensure your success. If you’ve got some heavy trauma in your background, it’s even more important.