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Another Look at 12 Steps Step 5 (Step 5 of the 12-Steps Program)

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problems-12-steps-step-5This is the 5th in our series of reviews of the 12-Steps addiction treatment program and how each step compares with a 12 Steps alternative approach.

We understand the 12 Steps have helped many, many people over the years, and we respect that success. We also recognize that the approach does not work for everyone.

The main purpose of this series is to present some potential limitations with the 12 Steps that you may not have considered. We want to make it easy for you to understand the differences as you go through your addiction treatment research.

What is the AA 12 Steps Addiction Treatment Program?

The AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12 Steps program has been in existence since 1939. It was created by an alcoholic for other alcoholics, and relies on group support and behavior modification to a very large degree. It is still the main healing protocol and approach in the vast majority of addiction treatment programs (including very expensive residential treatment centers).

This was a revolutionary program at the time that is still widely used all over the world today! Still, it is 80 years old and the statistics are showing it has some shortcomings in terms of success rates. In the decades following its introduction, there have been many breakthroughs in psychology, spirituality and healing, but the 12 Steps have not been updated to take advantage of these advances.

With that let’s take a look at the 5th step, 12 Steps Step 5.

Another Look at 12 Steps Step 5

Step 5 off the 12 Steps program states:

"We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

The fifth step of Alcoholics Anonymous includes God and another person into the healing process. Let's take a closer look at this, shall we?

Let's break it up into pieces.

1. Spiritually speaking, it is always exciting to see God included in any approach.

Our Ego “Edges God Out.” By including our Creator, healing is inevitable. Spiritual Psychology is founded on the principle that “the Father does the work.” As therapists, we are helping channel God in the therapy session.

2. "Admitting to ourselves.."

This goes a long way in the healing process. We may make believe we are okay and hide ourselves from the truth, but as we take an honest look at ourselves we can make the adjustments if we have the desire to do so.

3. Including "another human being.."

This may be an issue and is probably the main problem with 12 Steps Step 5. As a therapist, it is easy to get hung up into the belief that patients are going to unzip and show us all their problems.

Does this really matter?

The old school approach was the belief that bringing issues up to the surface was healing in itself. But if not done with care and expertise, this can be damaging, it can re-traumatize the patient, and put a halt to any gains in addiction or mental health treatment.

Do we really need to have patients unzip?

If they aren’t comfortable in doing so, then no. Therapists and counselors don’t heal them anyway – God does. All we can do is be supportive, provide them with valuable information, and portray to them that they have all the resources within them that are necessary to properly heal.

4. Last but not least is admitting the "exact nature of our wrongs.”

This is the other potential problem with 12 Steps Step 5. The concept of "right" and "wrong" thinking has plagued man since before the middle ages. Have addicts done wrong or according to Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) “used faulty reasoning which led to faulty behaviors”?


Thomas Edison once stated: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

This is instructive, inspirational, and can be applied to addiction treatment as well.

The right vs. wrong viewpoint has led to a lot of problems throughout the world.

If I am right, then it follows that you are wrong; a zero-sum game.

Being wrong can create an identity of being a failure. People aren’t broken, or flawed; they didn’t do anything wrong. They have just discovered ways that didn’t work for them. According to Albert Ellis, the founder of REBT, all one needs to do is challenge the irrational beliefs, change them, and the resulting behaviors with be functional.

Life is all about failure and learning. We fell down a lot before we finally learned how to walk. Watching children learn how to talk can be pretty entertaining. Have they wronged? Not at all – they were learning.

When somebody turns to a substance for relief, they were doing the best they can with the information they had and with all their life experiences.

It was the only choice they thought they could make. Being in the helping field, we are trying to help them learn new tools and skills to fall back on in case the same situation repeats itself again.

In working with recovering addicts it is crucial to be sensitive to where a person is.

They have come to us for help and it is important to do whatever we can to provide it. The ultimate intent of Bill W, the author of the 12 Steps approach, was probably getting people to make better choices in their lives.

Was it really about admitting wrong and humiliating themselves?

Or coming up with better solutions for themselves, growing, and becoming a better person?

Perhaps the wording of 12 Steps Step 5 should be:

"We admitted to God and to ourselves the exact nature of our learnings."

Worded this way, a new 12 Steps Step 5 could show the recovering addict that they can make different choices in the future, learn from their faulty thinking (as Ellis would say), and not see themselves as doing something wrong, but as a learning opportunity.

The Persian poet Rumi stated in the 13th century - "Out beyond the forest of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi nailed it over 700 years ago. Instead of focusing on blame, why not focus on the solution?

Right vs. wrong thinking belittles people. Hasn’t an addict gone through enough of that?

Isn’t it time to pick them up, empower them to making better choices for themselves, and supporting their efforts along the way?

About The Clearing

The Clearing is a residential treatment center located on beautiful San Juan Island, Washington. We created The Clearing in response to the pervasiveness of treatment centers that focus more on luxury than modern, evidence-based therapy.

Our approach is based on healing the underlying core issues that cause addiction. If you'd like to learn more, contact us, or download our free eBook:

Free eBook Download:  Another Look at the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous


  Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues

Courtesy RecoveryShare.com

Gregg Makuch

This post was written by Gregg Makuch

Gregg helps get the word out about The Clearing. When he’s not riding his bike and enjoying the beauty of the San Juan Islands, Gregg loves to cook and spend time with his family.

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