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Addiction and Powerlessness

It’s a good thing to admit that you’re powerless over your addiction … isn’t it?

Not so fast.

The very first step of the 12-Step paradigm begins: “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol …”

But what if that negative affirmation actually prevents you from getting well?

This idea of powerlessness runs very deep in addiction recovery culture, and it’s controversial to question it. The prevailing disease model of addiction emphasizes the idea that addiction is a “chronic and relapsing” disease. Once you have it, the thinking goes, you’ll always have it.

But is addiction a disease? There are many different perspectives on this question.

While the 12 Steps predate the disease model, they also emphasize the connection between addiction and personal powerlessness.

Step 1 is a negative affirmation … and a negative affirmation will always create a negative result. If we affirm that “we are powerless over alcohol” then the psychic and emotional tendency is to fulfill this and make it true

Learn more about this in our post, Another Look at the 12 Steps, Step 1.

Is there a better way? We believe so. In our Non 12 Step rehab, we teach that you’re not powerless. Rather, you’re the creator of your own life.

How do we help people to reclaim their own power, their own independence? We teach them self-reliance via self-counseling skills.

Why Self-Reliance in the Form of Self-Counseling?

Simply put, self-counseling means that you become your own therapist. You give yourself the same type of support you’d receive in a counselor’s office.

So you don’t need to rely on a therapist, counselor, family member, friend, pastor, or anyone else for your emotional health. Instead, you can gain true independence and self-reliance.

What does it mean to do self counseling?

You perform – on yourself – the exact same counseling strategies and techniques you’ve sat through in your counselor’s office. The differences are it is infinitely more effective, available 24x7x365, free, and relies on the one person who knows best what’s best for you: you.

When Does This Fit in the Recovery Timeline?

Let’s begin with a point of clarification: As you start your addiction recovery journey, it’s very important for you to receive help from compassionate, well-trained mental health professionals at the outset. Self-reliance is the objective, yes, but the first step toward this independence is to find qualified outside help.

Since we now know that most addictions involve a dual diagnosis – that is, a mental health condition combined with a substance abuse disorder – it’s imperative to get care for both issues. Ideally, you’ll find holistic treatment that helps you begin to heal on all four levels of self.

Once you’ve done that, then it’s time to learn how to rely on yourself. The best residential addiction treatment programs will equip you with the self-counseling skills you need in order to take great care of yourself once you leave treatment.

Again, this doesn’t preclude outside help after treatment. Participating in an aftercare program and receiving ongoing support and accountability is very important, but you also need to do your own work.

Why Is Self-Reliance Important in Addiction Treatment?

Receiving support from therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, and others is fantastic, but too many people stop there. Instead of putting your recovery in someone else’s hands, you need to empower yourself. You must learn how to take yourself through your own healing process.

In a traditional addiction recovery paradigm, you’re perpetually dependent upon external sources in order to work with your underlying core issues. This is problematic, as you won’t always have access to therapists, counselors, or 12 Step meetings.

Furthermore, you don’t want to be dependent on others for your happiness and well-being. This is real life, after all. Your best friend won’t always pick up the phone, and your partner won’t always be right by your side every minute of the day. Sometimes, you’re going to face shame and self-doubt on your own.

Self-Reliance and Counseling Basics

When you’re just starting off, it’s important to ground yourself in some basic skills. Before you move onto more advanced techniques, make sure that you know how to do the following:

  • See your own loving essence, the love that is the center of who you truly are
  • Do “heart centered” listening – that is, listen to yourself with compassion, patience, and gentleness
  • Identify and express your own feelings
  • Accept personal responsibility for your choices in life
  • Identify, own, and accept your projections
  • Engage in positive self talk

Self-Reliance with Therapeutic Techniques

Once you’ve mastered your basics, you can move on to the following therapeutic modalities:

  • Person-Centered Therapy: Listening, questioning, and reflecting with love
  • Rational Emotive Therapy (RET): Revising our irrational beliefs and creating new ones, which then changes our behavior
  • Gestalt Therapy: Healing from unfinished emotional business with empty chair work
  • Reality Therapy (RT): Committing to a pattern of behavior, repeating it, and taking responsibility
  • Spiritual Psychology (SP): Applying love to the parts of ourselves that hurt, so we can heal

For a great example of an exercise integrating all of these approaches, check out Self Counseling: Be Your Own Therapist.

Take Your Power Back

Lalah Delia said it well: “Self-care is how you take your power back.” And self-reliance is how you take great care of yourself and protect your own recovery long-term.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of counseling yourself, remember: Just as actual counselors go through years of training before they are certified to help others, you too will need time to practice being on your own side.

But if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised and gratified by the rewards. One day when you look in the mirror, you’ll see your very own supportive, caring, compassionate counselor gazing back at you.

Addiction and Powerlessness

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Addiction and Powerlessness. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2018
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