Q&A with Tom Horvath, Ph,D.
Q: Hi, Tom. Thanks so much for talking with us today about the SMART Recovery Program. Perhaps you can start out by giving us a general overview of the SMART Recovery program? Something like a 1 minute “elevator pitch” for someone who is looking for help for possible addiction issues. What will someone who is new to SMART Recovery get out of the program?
A: SMART Recovery has a self-empowering approach to recovery. This approach is ideal for individuals who look at the future and think, “whatever happens, I’m going to do my best to make it work for me.” This self-empowering approach contrasts with the powerlessness or acceptance approach of the 12-steps. I suggest to people that they consider the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Of course we all need serenity, and courage, not to mention wisdom! But some individuals, looking forward, imagine they’ll use courage, more than serenity. SMART Recovery works best for individuals who emphasize courage.
Q: What do people who start SMART Recovery have in common?
A: This courage approach to recovery translates into a desire to get engaged in the 4 Points of SMART Recovery. SMART Recovery participants really want to learn about how to maintain their motivation, cope with craving, manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and live a balanced life.
Q: Although anyone who applies SMART recovery techniques to stay sober CAN stay sober, what types of personal qualities make program success more possible?
A: Any recovery program requires persistence. In SMART Recovery, being able to think for yourself is also a big advantage. We teach principles of recovery and self-management, but the application of these principles in a particular person’s life requires judgment.
Q: Do you track the success of SMART? How many people who join are sober 1 year later? 5 years? 10 years? What are the obstacles for tracking abstinence? If you don’t track success, can you start?
A: Tracking recovery time is not a part of our program. We don’t give awards, for instance, when you hit 30 days, 90 days, or a year. However, many participants do track it themselves, and we have no objection. The reality about recovery via support groups is that we know very little about it, and that reality includes AA and other support groups. You know who keeps showing up at the meetings, but you don’t know about anyone else. However, one difference with SMART Recovery is that we don’t assume that when someone stops attending meetings they have relapsed. Many individuals no longer need to attend meetings, so they stop. We encourage individuals to do what makes most sense for them. As to the specific answer to your question about how many are sober for 1 or more years, compared to how many started, no support group knows the answer. I’m confident that for all support groups, most of the people who show up once are not there later. We just don’t know a lot about what happens to them.
Q: Could SMART benefit from a mentoring model like sponsorship? Are there ways to put sponsorship, mentorship, or distance learning in place?
A: We do not have a sponsor system because we want everything about SMART Recovery to occur in public. We greatly reduce the chances that someone will get abused if all SMART Recovery activities are public. Individuals who want a sponsor might consider also attending AA and having a sponsor there, or seeing a psychotherapist. We have distance training in place for training meeting facilitators. Our online meetings could be considered a kind of distance training for participants.
Q: Can anyone be a facilitator of SMART meetings? Why do people volunteer to facilitate?
A: Being a facilitator is open to anyone, with or without a recovery history. Our volunteers have a range of motivations. Some want to strengthen their own recovery, or give back to SMART Recovery, or help the recovery movement because of a family member with addiction, or ensure that secular recovery options are available.
Q: SMART operates as a non-profit and that it operates on a shoe-string budget. If everyone were to donate money at a SMART meeting, how much would one person need to donate at each meeting in order to help keep the organization afloat? In other words, what’s an “ideal” donation amount?
A: I have never calculated that amount! If every meeting that passes the hat in the US sent about $50 per month to the Central Office, the organization would be self-funding. Because there are often local expenses also, the meeting probably needs to collect about $100 per month. If there were 10 people each meeting, and each donated $2-3 per meeting, that would cover it.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about SMART?
A: I love all of our volunteers! SMART Recovery is filled with vibrant, energetic, creative and caring individuals! We have about 700 volunteers, and are growing daily.
Q: Will treatment centers start using SMART on the future?
A: SMART Recovery can be a useful adjunct to treatment. At our rehab we take residents to one or two SMART Recovery meetings per week. There are a few treatment facilities in the US that also send their clients to SMART Recovery. It remains to be seen whether addiction treatment facilities start offering multiple tracks (SMART Recovery and 12 step and perhaps other tracks) or whether the SMART Recovery oriented track will be offered primarily by new facilities that open specifically to do so.
Q: What would you say to people in 12 step programs who critique the method?
A: There are lots of reasons why someone might not resonate with SMART Recovery, just as there are other reasons why someone might not resonate with 12 step, or other approaches. Individuals seeking recovery should be informed about their options, and then make choices based on their own experience. What someone else thinks about a particular recovery approach is irrelevant if the individual has chosen it and it’s working well.
Q: Any last thoughts that you’d like to share with us?
A: I look forward to the day when everyone associated with recovery understands and states that there are as many paths to recovery as there are individuals.
Tom Horvath, Ph.D., is a California licensed and board certified (ABPP) clinical psychologist. He is the founder and president of Practical Recovery, a non 12-step self-empowering addiction treatment system in San Diego. He is past president of the American Psychological Association’s Society of Addiction Psychology (Division 50), the world’s largest organization of addiction psychologists. He is the author of Sex, Drugs, Gambling & Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions (listed by the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies as a “Self-Help Book of Merit”). He has been involved with SMART Recovery since 1990, and president for over a decade.