Frequently Asked Questions
Is The Brown Method for me? (or someone I know?)
Yes! The Brown Method is for everyone because, broadly speaking, we’re all addicted to one degree or another. Addiction is about near-universal control issues that profoundly affect our everyday lives and relationships.
- Is there something that you want to permanently stop doing, but can’t?
- Anything you are preoccupied with despite adverse consequences, even if only to your peace of mind?
- Are your relationships full of conflict?
- Do you keep having the same relationship over and over, with different people?
- Have you done the traditional Twelve Steps but still feel kind of crazy and unhappy?
- Did you try doing the traditional Twelve Steps but quit or fall apart at Step Four?
- Are you going to more than one step group, because new problems keep cropping up?
- Do you try to control other people? Get them to change? Give advice that is not asked for?
- Do you seek the approval of others?
- Do you need everyone to like you?
- Do you say yes when you want to say no, or vice versa?
- Do you lie?
- Do you feel held back from meeting your potential?
- Do you feel as if you don’t know who you really are?
- Do you have no idea what you really want?
All of these and more are indicators of the emotional dependency (the problem) that underlies all addictive behavior (the symptom). Emotional dependency is deeply conditioned during childhood, and few of us escape it entirely. Wherever you live on the addiction spectrum, healing emotional dependency means becoming powerful in your own right and reaching your full potential as a human being.
What is the broad definition of "addiction"?
An addiction is any person, substance, or situation over which we have lost choice or believe we cannot live without — as evidenced by our continuing to consume or do or just want it despite the consequences for our health, mental state, family, and freedom. It occurs on a spectrum, the whole of which is unhealthy. With regard to food, for example, we put anorexia at one end and obesity at the other, generally denying the area between. But anorexia and the typical weight-loss diet differ only in intensity. Anyone who goes on a diet has a problem with food — much the same way that anyone who goes on the wagon has a problem with alcohol. Many people are unaware that they have a problem until the object of their addiction is withdrawn, or threatened to be.
What do you mean by “addiction is the symptom”?
The myriad addictive behaviors we engage in are manifestations of the same underlying problem: emotional dependency. They’re all characterized by attempts to control and manipulate externals to meet internal emotional and spiritual needs. The fundamental dynamic is one of dependency on “the other,” whatever or whomever that might be. Alcohol and other drugs, food, dieting, exercise, work, sex, porn, relationships, shopping, gambling, television, the Internet … We can become emotionally dependent on any of these and more.
What is The Brown Method like?
The heart of the process is a comprehensive, intensive, multi-phase exploration of all the painful relationships and incidents of your life. You’ll bring them to the surface, reinterpret them through the lens of emotional dependency, and then let them go. (For those familiar with the Twelve Steps, it’s inspired by Step Four and Step Five but departs from them in important ways.) Each phase builds on the last.
The process usually takes three to six months, and it’s largely self-directed: you work for 20 to 30 minutes every day, writing in a notebook. A professional therapist or other qualified facilitator will guide and support you (on a daily basis if necessary), and bear witness to your life history. Most contact with your facilitator can happen by phone or Skype — making long-distance therapy possible — and it’s usually very brief, just enough to keep you moving forward. The witness phase on the other hand can take several days and must happen in person. All this might sounds daunting, but honestly, people don’t experience it that way once they begin. The hard part is making the decision to do it.
How is The Brown Method different from traditional therapy?
See also “What’s The Brown Method like?” It’s really nothing like the talk therapy you may have tried in the past. It’s not about talking, it’s about working — 20 minutes a day, on your own. Your contact with your therapist or facilitator is often daily, especially at the beginning, yet brief, just enough to keep you moving forward. It’s also short-term, three to six months. And of course there’s the result. The work shows you how you’ve co-created most (certainly not all) of your problems and your pain, and it gives you the tools to stop doing that. It’s the end of therapy.
How is The Brown Method different from other addiction treatments?
Broadly speaking, two of the biggest differences are Dr. Brown’s radical assumption that healing is possible and her focus on the cause of addiction rather than on its myriad symptoms. “The labeling of a disease as ‘chronic’ or ‘incurable’ does not mean that it can’t be healed, only that no one has yet figured out how to do it,” she says. The sheer variety of Twelve Step groups, a different group for every addictive behavior (i.e. symptom), is illustrative of the typical focus on symptoms. When you look beyond the symptoms to address the cause, healing becomes possible. There’s a big difference in format, as well: The Brown Method is about working — 20 minutes a day — not talking. It’s nothing like the talk therapy that you may have tried in the past.
If The Brown Method has a spiritual component, how can atheists do it?
Atheists have! Rejecting religion doesn’t have to mean rejecting the spiritual aspect of your being, which is yours alone to define. Religion and spirituality are completely different things. Any given religious system may or may not promote spirituality, but even if it does, it is not the thing itself. Dr. Brown likes to define spirit as that which is life giving, that which promotes wholeness, not holiness. Spiritually speaking, The Brown Method requires only that you accept the notion of a power greater than yourself, within yourself. That is, you have to grasp that you’re not in the driver’s seat. You don’t have to know what is; after all, your spiritual journey is ahead of you, not behind you. But coming to terms with this power, however vague your concept of it may be — Nature? the Jungian collective unconscious? the Force? — is prerequisite to your release from the control issues that characterize addictive behavior. It may sound contradictory, but this acceptance of your powerlessness is ultimately very empowering.
When it comes to chemical addiction, isn’t relapse part of recovery?
That’s what they like to say, in view of the high rate of relapse. But as Dr. Brown sees it, the rate of relapse is so high because most treatment is focused on the symptom — the behavior. The root cause of addiction goes unaddressed, so of course you relapse. The Brown Method tackles both symptom and cause. Another reason for the high rate of relapse, she believes, is the practice of doing the Twelve Steps (in particular Step Four) by personal interpretation. Dr. Brown’s precise set of instructions for Step Four eliminates trial and error, for consistent results.
How do these steps differ from the original Twelve Steps?
The Brown Method differs from the traditional Twelve Steps in important ways that include not only nuts and bolts, but also underlying premises. The differences are outlined in detail in Addiction Is the Symptom (chapter 5, “The Twelve Steps, Revisited”). But let’s assume you’re wondering about the steps themselves. The key changes are to Step One and Step Four.
In Dr. Brown’s Step One, you’re asked to admit your powerlessness over all of life, not just your drug, process, or person of choice. This fundamental shift goes to the heart of the control issues that drive addictive behavior.
Step Four, traditionally “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” becomes an inventory of all relationships, and it concerns not how you may have hurt others, but rather the hurts you yourself have suffered. It reveals and ultimately transforms the lifetime of trauma that conditioned your addictive behavior. Personal interpretation has always been the norm for this step, but Dr. Brown’s Fourth Step Algorithm — a precise set of instructions — eliminates trial and error, for consistent results.
It’s also important to know that meetings and the Big Book are entirely optional.
How can The Brown Method work for all addictions?
Because addiction is addiction. All addictive behaviors (symptoms) share the same underlying problem: emotional dependency. All are characterized by attempts to control and manipulate externals to meet internal emotional and spiritual needs. The fundamental dynamic is one of dependency on “the other,” whatever or whomever that might be. One problem, one treatment … although The Brown Method is hardly a cookie cutter. While you do follow a set of precise instructions, the work comes from inside you, and your experience of it will be your own.
What do you mean by “healing”?
Within the context of addictive behavior, healing is a process that produces a qualitative change in your consciousness. This change frees us from emotional dependency and restores choice — addiction being characterized in part by a loss of choice. That is, it restores the ability to choose to avoid or disengage from addictive behavior as it surfaces. Where substances are involved, this makes abstinence possible, but healing goes beyond abstinence. The ultimate destination of healing is wholeness — a self-reliant state of being in which we can fully express ourselves spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, physically, and creatively, and therefore productively and financially. It’s a return to the self-actualization we knew at the very beginning of our lives.
What does Dr. Brown have against the Program?
Dr. Brown is critical of Alcoholics Anonymous. She even rewrites some of the steps (which will be shocking to many, we know). But she certainly doesn’t hate the Program. In fact, Dr. Brown credits AA with saving her life: “My critique of the Program notwithstanding, there would be no book, perhaps even no life and work to record, if I had not been able to stop drinking through AA,” she says in the preface of Addiction Is the Symptom (page ix). AA was a great teacher to her as well: “It was in AA that I learned … the practical meaning of love: to give with no expectations” (page 5). She also notes the benefits of sponsorship: “In the beginning, sponsorship also helps you achieve and maintain abstinence. Research has indicated that AA members who reach out frequently and consistently to their sponsors (and other fellow members) fare better than those who do not” (page 102).