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What is SMART Recovery?
SMART (Self Management And Recovery Training) Recovery is a self-empowering addiction mutual help program. It is the most widely available of the non-12-step group. It has about 1,000 weekly meetings in the U.S., and about 2,000 worldwide.
SMART Recovery addresses both substance and behavioral addictions.
Instead of emphasizing helplessness and the need for a Higher Power, SMART Recovery focuses on helping participants develop their capacities to manage their addiction using several cognitive-behavioral techniques. SMART Recovery helps participants learn to think differently. Their focus is on teaching self-empowerment and self-reliance. As such, SMART Recovery does not include a sponsorship system.
SMART Recovery has a 4-point program for which they offer tools and techniques for each program point:
1. Building and Maintaining Motivation
2. Coping with Urges
3. Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
4. Living a Balanced Life.
SMART Recovery provides both in-person and online groups. They also have a message board and a 24/7 chat room. They have facilitators who teach techniques for self-directed change. Importantly, they support evidence-based addictions treatment, including the use of medications for addictions and other psychiatric problems. They believe in evolving their approach as scientific knowledge evolves.
SMART Recovery sees addiction as a set of complex maladaptive behaviors with possible physiological factors.
What does SMART Recovery teach?
SMART meetings teach members a number of “tools of recovery. Their worksheets are taken from the Cognitive behavioral and motivational interviewing literature. Their aim is to correct irrational thinking and build motivation for change:
• ABC problem solving worksheet
o Activating Event (Antecedent)—what were others and I doing and feeling?
o Emotional and behavioral consequences—often destructive emotions and behaviors.
o Irrational beliefs about the activating event that led to the emotional and behavioral consequences. These are often SHOULD, NEED, or MUST statements about how things should be that don’t match up with reality.
o Dispute—Dispute the beliefs to find which are dysfunctional. What is the evidence? (Where is it written in stone that…) Is the belief helpful or unhelpful?
o Effective New Belief and Emotional Consequence—what is a more realistic, positive belief? What are my new feelings and behaviors based on my new belief?
• A Crash Course introduction to the ABCs of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
o REBT is an evidence-based approach to stop being victimized by our own thinking. One example is to take ownership for our feelings and not blame others for either how we feel or how we act. REBT counters the faulty assumption that someone SHOULD behave a certain way. Accepting Reality includes accepting that we cannot always control what other people say, do, or feel. REBT tries to cultivate peace of mind by stopping demanding something that you cannot get. Demands are downgraded into preferences.
• A Change Plan Worksheet
o List a change you want to make, how important it is, the most important reasons for making the change, the steps needed to make the change (the change plan), how other people can help, how you will know your plan is working, and some potential obstacles to change.
• A Cost Benefit Analysis of addicting vs. engaging in Recovery.
• Four Questions about Addiction
o What do I enjoy about my addiction? What does it do for me? (Specific Examples)
o What do I think I will like about giving up my addiction? What good things might happen when I stop addicting?
o What do I hate about my addiction? What bad things does it do to me and to others? (Specific Examples).
o What do I think I won’t like about giving up my addiction? What am I going to hate, dread, or dislike about living without my addiction?
• Hierarchy of Values Worksheet
o What are that things that are most important to you?
o Of all the things that are important to you, what are the five most important?
o When people do this exercise, what is usually missing from the list is their object of addiction, even though their actions would suggest that their addiction is the most important thing to them.
This exercise shows the discrepancy between what we value and our behavior. Whenever we addict, we see that this places what we value the most in jeopardy. When we addict, we choose to addict over what we value most.
SMART Recovery has many other worksheets and handout on rational coping statements, relapse prevention, triggers, lifestyle balance, self-acceptance, and self-enhancement, among many other subjects.
SMART Recovery teaches participants to monitor their thoughts real-time. If cravings arise, they practice countering the dysfunctional thoughts underlying the cravings in the moment with more constructive and reality-based thoughts. They teach participants how to “think it through,” seeing the consequences of addicting vs. not addicting. If other negative thoughts arise, members learn to counter the negative thoughts and feelings that can lead to a downward spiral into addiction.
SMART Recovery also focuses on helping members to restore a healthy balance of work, love, and play. Participants work on ways to have fun as a way of managing stress and as a substitute for addicting.
What are SMART Recovery meetings like?
The biggest difference from 12 step meetings is that there is a facilitator and “cross-talk.” SMART Recovery meetings are active discussions. Meeting guidelines include staying focused on recovery, not talking too long, not being disrespectful, and not giving advice. Suggestions are allowed.
The meeting agenda starts with a welcome, a brief check-in, establishing the topics of discussion, the discussion period, collecting donations, making announcements, and a check-out. Meetings usually last 60-90 minutes. Meetings allow, but do not encourage, the use of the labels “Alcoholic” and “Addict.”
Participants are encouraged to live by the slogan, “Discover the Power of Choice.” SMART is respectful of people’s autonomy and freedom to decide for themselves whether addiction is a disease or a bad habit, whether they have a Higher Power or not, and which, if any, substances or behaviors to abstain from. SMART will not insist that addiction is like diabetes—a disease that can be managed but never cured. You are free, however, to have this understanding of addiction if you wish. Also, Total Recovery, or cessation of all addicting, is not necessarily the goal. SMART Recovery respects people’s choices to try to moderate their use of an addictive substance if they wish. While the focus is on stopping addicting, SMART does not dictate that people must stop before the first drink or drug; it is up to the member to decide when they need to stop.
Members are not encouraged to attend SMART meetings for life, as is sometimes encouraged in 12-Step meetings. Members are encouraged to go only until their problems are solved.
Some people go to SMART Recovery for tools to assist recovery and to 12-step meetings for fellowship. This can be helpful.
According to what research as to tell us to date, SMART Recovery is as effective as AA or other 12-step programs. What is important is that people choose the type of meeting that feels most comfortable for them. People with high religiosity, for example, tend to do better with AA and NA.
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