Imagine attending a local meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narconon. What would you expect to find? You would probably expect to see a group of recovering addicts sitting in a circle, sharing their thoughts. Such groups are common because this type of group-oriented therapy has proved successful. However, what if it could be taken to the next level.

That next level can be seen by way of a number of volunteer organisations now springing up around the UK. These organisations utilise a form of mentoring that pairs one former drug or alcohol user with another who is currently in recovery. What is most remarkable about these programmes is that they are not necessarily administered in the classic institutional setting. In other words, mentoring does not always take place inside the circle at the local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Many times, it takes place one-on-one, at a fast food restaurant or in the recovering addict’s home.

Proponents of the mentoring method believe it is a very powerful tool because it helps the individual addict understand there is someone in his or her corner who has been through the same troubles. The confidence and connection established by this sort of mentoring is very difficult to replicate in a hospital or private rehab clinic. Not that those other types of services are not needed – they are. However, mentoring goes above and beyond traditional rehab treatments by equipping the recovering addict to live a substance-free life long after rehab has concluded.

The Mentoring Process

The mentoring process begins only after the recovering addict has at least completed detox. Under ideal circumstances, he or she will have also completed a 4 to 12 week rehabilitation programme. Nevertheless, that is not always possible due to financial restraints. In either case, mentors are not usually working with strung out addicts still heavily involved in addictive behaviour.

The idea behind mentoring is to help the recovering addict through his or her journey of learning to live without addictive substances. In order to do that, mentors need to gain the confidence of those they are working with. So the process does not begin with therapy, it begins with a few introductory meetings designed to let mentors and recovering addicts get to know one another. That is why you might find them meeting at a fast food restaurant for lunch.

Once a basic level of trust is established, the mentor can then go on to begin discussing the issues the recovering addict is dealing with. Some of the volunteer mentors have been trained in the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT); others just sit, listen, and respond when needed.

These regular, individual meetings are supplemented by weekly group meetings where all of the addicts and mentors come together. This is the time for organized CBT and 12-step work. Occasionally there will be other therapies such as music or art included.

Not for Everyone

The title of this article poses the question as to whether or not addiction recovery through mentoring is workable. In a nutshell, it is – at least for some people. It is not a therapy suitable for everyone, but for those who take to it, the mentoring programme can be a life changer. It can be the one thing that equips the recovering addict to permanently avoid relapse. And that is what recovery is all about.

For mentoring to be successful, the recovering addict must be committed to recovery. A half-hearted effort will not yield the results one would expect if he or she were hoping to stay clean permanently. The recovering addict also must be willing to invest in a mutually beneficial relationship as well. It is not just about receiving; it is also about giving back.

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