Episode 9: Talking SMART with Steve Bergier

Steve Bergier, a certified SMART Recovery Facilitator in Orange County, California was kind enough to not only submit a story to AA Beyond Belief, but also to spend his Sunday morning having a conversation with me about his experience with SMART Recovery. Steve isn’t an official spokesperson for SMART Recovery, so his comments during the podcast and his essay are solely his opinions, and not necessarily the opinions of SMART.

SMART an acronym for Self Management and Recovery Training, provides a completely secular, science-based approach to recovery that’s intended to evolve over time as we gain new insight and understanding of addiction. According to the SMART FAQ, page on their website, a good place to begin reviewing the scientific foundation of SMART is the Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches: Effective Alternatives, by Reid K. Hester and William R. Miller.

In this podcast, Steve walks us through some of the tools used in SMART meetings, most of which are taken from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and we also talk about some of the differences between SMART and AA, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each.

I think you will enjoy this engaging discussion.


Mentioned During the Podcast

SMART OC: The website for SMART in Orange County, California. Steve is the webmaster for this site.

Sunday Irving Meeting Blog: Steves blog.

SMART Tool Chest

ABC Worksheet

CBA Worksheet

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  1. Eric L December 5, 2016 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this podcast. I have been sober for 10+ years but got away from AA because of the God agenda. Recently, I am trying to reintegrate back into AA because I find the fellowship helps me. I believe my issues, today, are behavioral so SMART Recovery seems like a good choice for help with those.  There aren’t many SMART meetings in my area, though.  What I have done is identify some versions of the 12 Steps that fit with my values/beliefs/non-beliefs and use those in conjunction with the SMART Handbook. I hope to find success!

  2. Steve K January 25, 2016 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Just some points in relation to the content of the podcast by John and Steve when contrasting SMART with AA, and the fellowship’s idea of being “powerless.”

    The concept of being ‘powerless’ over one’s addiction in AA can be viewed as unhelpful in other models of addictive behavior/treatment and as encouraging a lack of responsibility for the problem. My experience of the AA program of recovery is that I am responsible for practicing the principles and actions contained in the Steps and engaging with AA and recovery practices in general. (e.g, service, phoning a sponsor and attending meetings.)  Recovery activity enables the alcoholic not to take the first drink. It’s often quoted in AA that “it is a program of action.”

    This is not really any different from a SMART group member being responsible for practicing CBT strategies. AA is all about practicing new thinking and behavior ie CHANGE from old thinking and behavior that leads to drinking.< .p>

    My understanding as a layman is that addiction interferes with the rational choice and decision making ability (self-control area of the pre-frontal cortex) within the sufferer due to its effect upon the individual’s biochemistry and brain function. AA’s Step one is an admission of this lack of control.

    In relation to Step 3, we all know that “turning our will and life over to a higher power” can be the principles within the Steps and the fellowship of AA. Turning to resources beyond one’s own for help. Again, no different than turning to a SMART group for help and support for dealing with a chronic addiction that one lacks control over (if there wasn’t a lack of control there would be no need for help from the SMART group). 

    The effectiveness of participating in 12 Step groups is increasingly becoming “evidence based”. The following quote is from a review paper of multiple research studies:
    Multiple studies evaluating the efficacy of AA, both as a stand alone treatment and in comparison to other treatment models point to the substantial and ever increasing body of literature that suggests that regular post-treatment attendance in 12-step programs significantly improves alcohol and other drug use outcomes (Cloud et al., 2006).  AA has been cited as one of the few treatment models to demonstrate positive abstinence outcomes (Groh et al., 2008) and appears to be equal or superior to conventional treatments for alcoholism (Vaillant, 2005). Twelve-step programs, for example, have been shown to be more effective than cognitive behavioural skills training for most substance abusers (Brown, Seraganian, Tremblay, & Annis, 2002).”
    Research also identifies ‘Sponsorship’ as an effective ‘mechanism of change’ in relation to recovery outcomes. Yes sponsorship is open to abuse, but so are most things in life.

    In relation to the distinction made between “a lapse” and “relapse”;  AA is very black and white on this issue I agree, but I think with good reason due to a characteristic of addiction called denial! If taking a drink isn’t taken very seriously the danger can often be a full blown relapse with all the possible tragic consequences. The year before last 3 members of my home group died within a few months of each other due to picking up a drink again. Lets not forget what we are dealing with – often a killer illness.

    While I think the SMART recovery approach is healthy and I am fully familiar with it’s philosophy, I personally would miss the moral/spiritual/enlightened altruism of the 12 Step group. There is a depth to AA style recovery and fellowship that makes it special and such a popular approach in my view, even with all its faults. Different approaches suit different personalities, so I agree, “whatever works for you”.

    • John S January 25, 2016 at 3:48 pm Reply

      All very good points Steve and I can’t disagree. The distinction about lapse and relapse was interesting to me. I don’t know quite what to think of it and I may have emphasized it even more so than they do in SMART. I suppose if one has a lapse, they were lucky not to have experienced a full blown relapse. Then those who do experience a full blown relapse are lucky indeed to make it back alive. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.

      I think the language of AA is sometimes a difficult obstacle for people to overcome. A newcomer sees the word “powerless”, but doesn’t look past to the other steps where we become responsible for our own recovery. We are actually empowered by admitting powerlessness. The powerlessness in my opinion, pertains to alcohol. I am absolutely powerless over that and my life became unmanageable as a result”.

      • Eric L December 5, 2016 at 9:36 am Reply

        I agree, John. My opinion of the “powerless” mantra of AA is that it is meant to produce reliance on a “Higher Power.” The implications for atheists/agnostics are obvious. I think there are degrees of powerlessness. As for alcohol, I am not willing to roll the dice on that behavior because my experience has taught me that it tends to consume my life and has often terrible consequences.

  3. Michael D January 25, 2016 at 4:30 am - Reply

    This is a really good podcast. Great to hear from people using different methods of support in recovery, discussing solutions in such a rational way. I think it is important to try and bring people together that use different types of support, and for those who are happy in the solution that they use, to learn about others so that they can tell newcomers about the alternatives out there.

    Also thanks for the links to my podcasts in the sidebar, I really appreciate that!

    • John S January 25, 2016 at 7:31 am Reply

      Thanks for visiting and for the kind comment. I also enjoy your site Recovering from Recovery, and the podcast.

  4. Glen January 24, 2016 at 11:35 am - Reply

    If a sponsor tells you that you can’t be in AA if you don’t believe in a certain way, don’t drop AA, drop that sponsor.

    • John S January 25, 2016 at 7:35 am Reply

      Good point Glen. One must be very careful in their selection of a sponsor. I sometimes veer from the traditional advice to get a sponsor early on. It might be better to utilize a wide variety of people in the beginning and then take maybe several months to decide upon a sponsor. In those first few months of sobriety, we can be a bit vulnerable.

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