The 12 Steps: 4 Values Part 1

Part of my work as Chief of Psychology for Crossroads Centre is to integrate traditional 12-Step work with evidence-based treatments.  I’m happy to report that mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are now being utilized by our primary therapists with our clients to deepen and broaden the recovery experience. These therapies, along with cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, will enhance the holistic approach to individualized treatment we take at Crossroads and will keep us on the cutting edge of recovery.


For those of you who have relied on a 12-Step approach to recovery, a natural question may be, “How do MBRP and ACT mesh with the 12 Steps?”  Happily, the answer is, “very well.” A number of books have been written on mindfulness and the 12 Steps, and two that I would recommend are The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash and Kevin Griffin’s book One Breath at a Time.


The intersection between the 12 Steps and ACT is at the intersection of values.  ACT is a contextual cognitive therapy; this means that it focuses less on changing our distorted thoughts than on changing our relationship to them. ACT teaches us to accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences, rather than engage in the futile struggle of pushing them away or denying them.


Once we have accepted acceptance, so to speak, we can begin to turn our recovery focus to identifying our deepest values, or what we might think of as our individual true north. Identifying one’s values is the first step of a three-fold process. Next comes the work of creating a vision of where you want your life to be, based on those values. And, finally, each of us has to determine how vested we are in committing to making the changes necessary to achieve that vision. I call this approach to recovery “the 3 V’s.”  Values. Vision. Vested.


Values are not goals. For example, you may have a goal to get married and have children. The values driving this may be that you consider yourself a caring and loving person. You may never get married or have children but you can always be caring and loving. See the difference?


Essential life values underlie the 12 Steps, which may be one of the reasons they remain so powerful after 80 years. But for someone who is new to recovery, discovering the deep values hidden in the (sometimes) old-fashioned language of the Steps can be difficult. For some, the Steps are daunting because of all the language around God or the Higher Power.  For others, phrases like “defects of character” seem moralistic and off-putting.


In part 2 of this series, I will break down the Steps to reveal the key ideas behind the words. I think you will see how the ideas make sense and make the Steps easier to grasp. Then, in part 3, I will peel the onion back even more to reveal the deep values beneath the ideas. In doing so, I hope you will see the strength and durability of the values foundation upon which the 12 Steps were built.


Until next time, stay true to your values.


Bruce Singer, Psy.D.

Chief of Psychology

  1. Deborah. Burns says:

    This was helpful for me as I have 2 family members whom are ETOH’S. Thank you

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