Don’t Knock It Until You’ve Actually Tried It


I have spent many hours on the phone with nervous family members at the beginning of a client’s treatment episode having to reassure them as to the efficacy of 12 Step recovery.  Mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, or the children of these incoming clients are scared, discouraged, and exhausted. Their feelings are understandable, as is their desire to find a permanent solution. Nearly all have sent their loved one to treatment before, and many have unfortunately been forced to endure the crushing disappointment of multiple treatment attempts and multiple failures. These concerned families will often tell me that 12 Step recovery hasn’t worked for their child, parent, or spouse in the past. So why will this time be different?

It’s important to note that within this perfectly valid question is the implication that the 12 Steps is, or has been, the problem. I would challenge that assumption. BRC Recovery has been positively changing the lives of chronic relapsing, treatment resistant clients since 2006. Our 12 Step immersion program follows the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous – the original and most ubiquitous of 12 Step fellowships – and has remained unchanged since the company’s founding.  We use it because it works. In fact, I have often told families that 12 Step recovery works 100% of the time. This may sound like hyperbole but my experience has proven otherwise.

Because our clients typically have lengthy and severe histories of addiction, almost all of them have had some direct experience with or exposure to the 12 Steps. Rarely do we find that much of it has been comprehensive or consistent. It usually consists of little more than attending meetings or working a few steps while in treatment somewhere. This “previous experience” is more of a curse than a blessing because it perpetuates the fallacy to both the client and the family of “been there, tried that,” and continues to fuel misconceptions surrounding whether 12 Step immersion can work. The simple fact is that 12 Step recovery was designed to be diligently practiced, and success is contingent upon strict and consistent adherence to the process.  We work tirelessly every day to create a safe environment where our clients can discover for themselves how life-changing the process can be.

Getting our clients to strictly adhere to that process is, of course, challenging. They arrive on our doorstep restless, irritable, and discontent, and suffering from untreated addiction and alcoholism. A few may arrive with strong motivation to change, but far more arrive feeling they have been down this road so many times that they struggle to believe change is actually possible. So, how do you get someone to jump in with both feet and engage in something they don’t believe in?

In the coming weeks and months as part of this series, I and others will be writing about how we deliver 12 Step immersion to our clients. We will cover the importance of community-driven environments, the imperatives of structure and accountability, how we determine treatment duration, our Family Services Program and the crucial role that families must play in recovery, as well as the need for a comprehensive and long-term continuum of care. When these elements are in place, we can stop negotiating with the disease of addiction and bring real change to our clients.

Written by: Tim May, BRC Recovery Executive Director