A primary aspect of a continuum of care plan involves techniques that enable you to not only maintain sobriety, but also uncover your best self.

This isn’t simply social media affirmation.

Through exposure to positive influences and new ways of thinking, you’re more likely to evolve—not because you were “bad” and need to be “good,” but because the “good” exists in you already, and you have more ways to reveal it.

Many rehabilitation programs include some type of 12-Step program to help people recognize aspects of recovery, stay accountable to the effort, and receive support from dedicated people who understand the joys and challenges of choosing to be sober. However, some individuals want a little more than what these programs offer.

The SMART Recovery organization, established in 1994, is one that a number of people are exploring as a different—or additional—option. It uses guidelines informed by cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) methods. According to the American Psychological Association, CBT follows principles such as:

  • Understanding that “faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking” contribute to psychological problems.
  • Also contributing to psychological issues are “learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.”
  • Individuals who have psychological challenges “can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.”

With this CBT foundation combined with the concept of abstinence, the SMART Recovery program—an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training—utilizes Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a system created by psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s. REBT enables people to adjust belief systems and emotional reactions. This helps them change actions and reactions to avoid being triggered and prompt regression into self-destructive behaviors.

It’s a type of self-empowerment: thinking creates emotions and emotions lead you to act. Once you comprehend the role your perception of circumstances or events plays in actions or reactions, you have the ability to process thinking and feelings more effectively—and you’re less likely to default to escapism behavior as a coping mechanism.

The SMART Recovery program methods are approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The Principles of SMART Recovery

The SMART REBT method is a four-part system:

  1. Establish and maintain the motivation to abstain
  2. Learn how to handle urges
  3. Manage thoughts and emotions through effective action
  4. Create a balanced approach to all aspects of life

Part of the REBT approach is to use the past as a learning tool, not a continual point of reference or blame for addictive behavior. This helps participants take ownership of present feelings and actions in order to change them for the better and have a healthier life.

Instead of requiring someone to acknowledge addiction “powerlessness,” SMART utilizes the concept of “locus of control.” In psychology, this phrase refers to what extent an individual believes he or she has control over what happens in life.

Another aspect of SMART involves incorporating six phases of change. This concept is from Changing for Good, a book by James Prochaska, professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Rhode Island. His philosophy is, “change doesn’t depend on luck or willpower. It’s a process that can be successfully managed by anyone who understands how it works.”

The concept of “staging” is the foundation of SMART.

It works something like this:

  1. Pre-contemplation: Individuals currently aren’t interested in change or are unaware of behavioral issues.
  2. Contemplation: They are aware of possible problems and want change, but may not be committed to the act or confident about how to go about it.
  3. Preparation: They acknowledge responsibility for behavioral modifications and create a plan to make adjustments.
  4. Action: They are more aware and in control of self-directed change and unwanted behavior.
  5. Maintenance: They use new aspects of thinking, feeling, and control but are aware of high-risk scenarios.
  6. Graduation/Exit: They are more confident, have a greater understanding of thoughts and emotions, and use this control and new behaviors to move forward with a healthier outlook and way of life.

Choosing Between a 12-Step Program and SMART

Technically, you don’t have to choose between a 12-Step group such as AA and SMART Recovery. It all depends on what works for you. There are some core differences, including that one is secular and another often incorporates spiritual inspiration in its core principles. The SMART position is “The use of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices in recovery is a personal choice and not part of our program.”

However, the organization also states that “while our approach differs from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous [for example], it does not exclude them.” It goes on to say that many people will use 12-Step programs in conjunction with the skills they learn from SMART Recovery. “At SMART, we believe that each individual finds his own path to recovery…and that the power to change addictive behavior resides within each individual.”

SMART also differs from most 12-Step programs regarding the philosophy of recovery. Much of the 12-Step structure focuses on maintaining sobriety “one day at a time,” settling someone “in recovery” for life. SMART designs its principles to enable individuals to consider life after comprehensive addiction treatment as “recovered.”

While many 12-Step programs have a sponsor mentorship as part of fellowship and support, SMART does not. This is part of the organization’s purpose of helping individuals define accountability.

Like 12-Step programs, SMART Recovery routine meetings are in a variety of communities. But they follow more of a crosstalk format, allowing participants to engage with each other. Meetings are open to anyone and free, but people have the option to donate if they wish. Each meeting lasts about an hour or slightly longer. There’s an online group available as well.

Learn more about SMART Recovery.

Cottonwood Provides You with Many Resources

Our behavioral health clinicians provide you with comprehensive tools to help with relapse prevention. Contact us to learn more about what may be best for your continuum of care plan.

By Tracey L. Kelley

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