Positive Criminology

Self-help groups and the 12-Step program

One of the most popular approaches in the Western world for self-change in the field of addiction is that of the 12-Steps self-help group. Self-help groups in general, and in particular the 12-Steps groups, which emphasize spiritual and moral change, represent another aspect of positive criminology. The groups serve as a place for learning and practicing new behavior and values, alongside spiritual development. Research conducted among addicts who participated in the 12-Steps program and the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) self- and mutual-help groups has identified several therapeutic elements that helped addicts in the recovery process, including change in their perception of life and finding new and noble meaning to life (Galanter, 2007), spiritual awakening through faith in a higher power that helps them to abstain from psychoactive substances (Ronel & Humphreys, 1999-2000), transformation of anger and resentment into forgiveness (Hart & Shapiro, 2002), and sponsoring another person in the recovery process (Crape, Latkin, Laris, & Knowlton, 2002). According to Ronel (1998), self-help organizations such as NA constitute a bridge to recovery, connecting the drug subculture to the general dominant culture.

The 12-Step program originated in AA and was then adopted by other self-help organizations that target a variety of problems, such as drug addiction (NA), eating disorders (Overeaters Anonymous [OA]), emotional disturbance (Emotions Anonymous [EA]), and others (Room, 1993). Since its inception, the 12-Step program has caught the attention of professionals as a possible expert approach of therapy, first limited to addiction (White, 1998) and later extended into other fields, such as domestic violence (Ronel & Claridge, 1999) or victims' assistance (Brende, 1993; Ronel, 2008), as well. It could, therefore, be perceived as being a general, professional treatment method and program for recovery, also known as Grace Therapy (Ronel, 2000). In a professional setting, the 12 steps may be adapted to the changing needs of the participants (Brende, 1995; Ronel, 2000). The program emphasizes the spiritual nature of change and recovery as a continuous process and as a way of life, where the recovering individuals gain a growing recognition of a Higher Power, turn their lives over to this Power, and receive direction and help from the Higher Power.