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Psychologist's Anti-AA Screed Stirs Up a Furor

An article in the Huffington Post slams the 12 Steps, arguing that people with addictive behaviors are hurt by self-identifying as addicts.

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By Bryan Le

03/13/12

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A controversial op-ed about Alcoholics Anonymous published today in The Huffington Post has set off a massive debate on the site, enraging many in the 12-step community. Russell Bishop, a well-known psychologist and author, argues that just because people sometimes exhibit addictive behaviors they shouldn't be identified as addicts, since the "implications of affirming that you are your behavior" are inherently negative. Citing a 1995 article in the Harvard Medical Health Letter which asserted that 80% of alcoholics recover on their own, Bishop attacks AA for relying on “negation” that he claims "may not be all that helpful.” Specifically, he criticizes the fellowship for asking members introduce themselves with the phrase “...and I'm an alcoholic.” A member “is not asked to affirm that he is on the road to recovery having struggled with alcohol," he writes. "Instead, he is asked to affirm that he is forever more to be known as an alcoholic.” He also blasts a popular passage from AA's Big Book which claims that the only people who fail to maintain sobriety in the program are those “incapable of being honest with themselves.” Bishop calls the assertion “curiously damning.”

One thing that does work about AA,  Bishop says, is the comfort it gives to "people who lack meaningful, in-depth contact with other friends on a day-to-day basis," by connecting them with others who share the “sensitivity” that led them to abuse substances in the first place. "These kinds of recovery programs begin by insisting that you proclaim yourself to be forever lost and then further demean those who struggle by asserting a series of natural-born defects," he writes provocatively. As an alternative to 12-step groups, the author advocates building “a positive foundation upon which to build an even more positive life” through the “power of affirmations.” The psychologist boldly ends his piece by inviting readers to share their views and experiences with him at russell@russellbishop.com. It's safe to say that his inbox will be filling up pretty quickly.

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