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The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Is Mentoring a Replacement for the Twelve Steps

“Is mentoring a replacement for the Twelve Steps?”

Just because others are heading in one direction doesn’t mean that is the right direction for you. Give yourself a chance to try it, and if it doesn’t work, head out and find someplace new and interesting to explore.

This is an “elephant in the room” question that is so loud, I can usually hear its clomping footsteps gallumphing past me before the asker even gets within earshot.

The Twelve Step fellowship, being at once the single most effective sobriety maintenance program yet documented and yet one of the most hotly contested, is a subject about which nearly everyone involved in any aspect of recovery has an opinion.

For some who are in recovery from eating disorders, having a Twelve Step eating disorders-focused home group or fellowship to attend regularly has been a life-saver.

For others, they have found Twelve Step communities in the context of eating disorders recovery to be highly triggering, demotivational, confusing, and sometimes scary.

I myself am actually in the latter group.

Or at least I was, approximately two decades ago when I first started trying to recover from my eating disorder by attending the only support group I could find, a local meeting of Overeaters Anonymous, Anorexics and Bulimics chapter.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there were some sick folks in that group. I went as an anorexic and left as an anorexic and bulimic. I often tell people today that if the Twelve Steps had worked for me at that time in my life, MentorCONNECT would not exist today.

But that is not to say that mentoring for eating disorders recovery is in any way designed or intended to be a replacement – or even a supplement – to a Twelve Step-based recovery community.

In fact, as is often advised to new spiritual aspirants who are “shopping” for a religion to call home, it is best to choose one path and stay on it, rather than hopping and leaping between different paths, always searching for a faster or easier way.

And while mentoring itself might not be regarded as a “path” per se, there is no doubt that the continuity and close-knit connections that are formed between fellow recovering and recovered persons within the context of a single recovery community focused on a shared system of exchanging support can be highly beneficial.

In the same way, attempting to juggle the approach and protocols of two different types of recovery support can, especially with the limited energy a recovering person often has at their disposal, feel unnecessarily confusing and draining.

Mentoring is mentoring. The Twelve Steps are the Twelve Steps.

One approach may work better for one person, and the other approach might be a much better fit for someone else.

The point here is not to replace, supplant, substitute, or even support the other, but simply to give recovering persons as many options as possible to find the type of support that is the best fit.

Today’s Takeaway: Each of us is utterly unique, and our recovery support needs are equally unique. We each of us need and deserve to discover what works best for us, and we can only do that if we have options. Where have you perhaps been withholding from yourself the chance to explore all of your options and find the approach that is the best fit for your support needs at this point in your recovery journey?

The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Is Mentoring a Replacement for the Twelve Steps

Shannon Cutts

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2013). The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Is Mentoring a Replacement for the Twelve Steps. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2018, from


Last updated: 16 Oct 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Oct 2013
Published on All rights reserved.