Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC

The SMART Road to Recovery

Joy-4-11There are more paths to sobriety than I have fingers to count them on, but until this month the only local program available has been Alcoholics Anonymous. While AA and its 12-step program has been phenomenal in its success reaching and helping millions of alcoholics and addicts achieve and maintain sobriety, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people struggle with its wording or its focus on spirituality and might appreciate a slightly different approach.

Beginning on June 27, there’s a new recovery option in town: SMART Recovery. Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) is a science-based recovery support group that was started in 1994 to provide a recovery environment based on cognitive-behavioral principles rather than the spiritual focus that is the foundation of AA.

For those of you saying, “I don’t have a drinking or drug problem,” don’t stop reading just yet. SMART groups are open to persons struggling with any sort of compulsive behavior that is creating problems in your life. Gambling, shopping, food, and sex are examples of some other common addictions.

SMART has a four-point program that addresses both short-term and long-term strategies for creating and maintaining change in your life.

• Building and maintaining motivation. Motivation is perhaps the single most important factor in a successful recovery, and SMART offers many comprehensive tools designed to develop and maintain the motivation needed to let go of unwanted behaviors. Motivational interviewing techniques, the change plan worksheet, and the cost/benefit analysis are three such tools.

• Coping with urges. Urges serve as cues that trigger behaviors. SMART provides tools to understand and overcome them, turning urges into triggers for coping skills, rather than compulsive behaviors.

• Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Learning to live in the real world and deal with everyday problems and emotions is an important part of recovery. SMART uses Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, as a tool to help learn to deal with life on a day-to-day basis. We act as we feel and we feel as we think, therefore our thoughts govern our actions. The objective is to modify behaviors by changing our beliefs and the thoughts they generate.

• Living a balanced life. Point four of the program concerns finding a balance between short-term gratifications and the achievement of long-term goals and satisfactions. We learn to set goals in all areas of life – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic.

SMART Recovery encourages a holistic approach, designed to help achieve a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Lifelong attendance is not expected of participants. Some people leave the program when they’ve gained enough tools to feel healthy and ready to live a clean and sober life on their own. Others choose to become volunteers to “pay it forward” and help others to recover.

SMART is a program of self-empowerment based upon the belief that the power to change addictive behaviors resides within each individual. While it is accepted that religious or spiritual beliefs and practices can be a helpful and supportive part of a recovery program, spirituality is not a part of this program. Some people find that SMART combined with AA make a powerful recovery plan.

For more information on SMART Recovery, you can look on their website: or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or simply show up and check out one of the new weekly meetings beginning June 27 in Ajijic: 3:00 pm on Wednesdays in the Sala at the Lake Chapala Society. The meetings are free-of-charge, but a hat will be passed to defray expenses. Find out if it might help you to get SMART.

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 765-4988. Check out her new website:


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