Thinking About Drinking: Tips & Tools

Smart Recovery: It may be a good “fit” for you.

As an EAP Counselor, my colleagues and I frequently make referral suggestions to clients for more long-term individual and/or group counseling. When I am working with a client, I regularly talk to them about the importance of the “fit” with their soon to be new counselor or support group. During that discussion, I often reference a particular study by Ted Asay & Michael Lambert (1999). In short, Asay & Lambert’s research looked at percentages of client improvement in counseling and they found that 30% of client improvement was attributed to the therapeutic relationship that they had with their counselor. So, when I am thinking about who to refer my clients to I always keep that 30% in mind, because if the “fit” isn’t there it makes hard work even harder. 

The same holds true for recovery support groups. At times, a group’s values and norms may not “fit” with an individual. For example, this can occur when I suggest attending Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings to a client who does not believe in a higher power. While A.A. describes itself as a spiritual group rather than a religious one, there are folks who will feel that the “fit” isn’t there for them. In this case, I may recommend SMART Recovery meetings to clients.

So what is SMART Recovery? Well, SMART Recovery is a mutual aid support group and program that offers people the chance to work together to examine and change problem behaviors. Problem behaviors may relate to drinking, substance abuse, gambling, shopping, or the use of the internet. SMART is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training. The SMART approach is a nonspiritual, scientifically-based method. It uses evidence-based Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, as well as Motivational Interviewing tools and techniques to help folks achieve their goals. The SMART method focuses on what is referred to as their 4-Point Program.

The SMART 4-Point Program employs a variety of tools and techniques to help individuals gain independence from addiction and addictive behaviors. SMART members are encouraged to learn how to use each tool and to practice the techniques as they progress toward Point 4 of the program.

Point 1: Building and Maintaining Motivation- Point 1 focuses on building and maintaining motivation by considering one's values and utilizing a cost benefit analysis approach. A cost-benefit analysis  looks at a person’s advantages and disadvantages of using a substance or engaging in a certain behavior. Utilizing this type of method can help an individual identify discrepancies, which are the gaps between where a person has been and where they want to be. Through this method, individuals can come to realize that their current behaviors are not leading them towards their goals, and they can become more motivated and open to the change process.

Point 2: Coping with Urges- Point 2 helps individuals recognize their urges and learn how to better cope with them. Every person handles situations differently. Point 2 asks one to think about what’s acceptable and unacceptable for their life, and to set up boundaries based on that information. Boundaries can include avoiding alcohol-related events, eliminating harmful relationships, or staying clear of potential relapse triggers.

One of many techniques in Point 2 of SMART Recovery is known as DISARM (Destructive Imagery and Self-talk Awareness and Refusal Method). DISARM is a tool that exposes a person’s self-talk and images which tell them to use, as lies, excuses, and rationalizations. It confronts urge-producing thoughts by challenging them or reducing them to the point of absurdity. DISARM utilizes visualization to help an individual counter urge-based thinking and self-talk. Think of picturing an urge as a used car salesman or con artist. Some individuals find that this helps them detach from urged based thinking and externalize the addiction.

Point 3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors- Point 3 looks at an individual’s thoughts and feelings and how they can often lead to undesirable behaviors. Oftentimes people can think in distorted ways. Distorted thinking can be thought of as biased irrational perspectives that individuals place on themselves or others. Distorted thinking is often subtle and unknowingly reinforced over time. Point 3 of SMART Recovery works to address distorted thinking patterns through the ABCs of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). 

The ABC’s are a tool to assist individuals with disputing their distorted thinking. They are an acronym for Activating event, Beliefs, and Consequences.

A – Activating Event: an event that happens in the environment

B – Beliefs: the belief individuals have about the event that happened

C – Consequence: the emotional response to a belief

By using the ABC’s to disrupt irrational thoughts, individuals can learn to recognize their distorted beliefs, prove to themselves that they are untrue, and replace them with more effective and self-enhancing beliefs.

Point 4: Living a Balanced Life- Point four centers on living a balanced life. SMART Recovery views living a balanced life as when one has the time and freedom to engage in activities that allow them to express their individual values. Point four works to explore and identify one's values. Once an individual has identified their values, they then can work to set goals that align with them. Point 4 looks at trading short-term momentary concerns for more long-term enduring concerns. In short, Point 4 works to translate an individual’s personal values into their intended changes in behavior. You can learn more about Point 4 by checking out the tool Values & Goal Clarification.

If after reading this you find yourself curious about SMART recovery and feel like it might be a good “fit” you can find additional information here.

If you are an MSU employee, spouse, or benefits-eligible family member of an MSU employee and would like to discuss SMART Recovery further please feel free to contact the MSU Employee Assistance Program to schedule a discussion with a licensed professional today.


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