If a healthcare or social service provider suspects that a patient or client has a substance use disorder (SUD), the provider should ensure that the client receives formal treatment. Once the client receives formal treatment—or if he or she refuses or cannot afford treatment— the provider’s next step is to facilitate involvement in a mutual support group.
Matching clients to treatment based solely on gender, motivation, cognitive impairment, or other such characteristics has not been proved to be effective.
Clients who are “philosophically well matched” to a mutual support group are more likely to actively participate in that group. Thus, the best way to help a client benefit from mutual support groups is to encourage increased participation in his or her chosen group.
Professional Local Knowledge
Providers can increase their knowledge of mutual support groups, and thus their ability to make informed referrals, by doing the following:
- Become familiar with the different types of support groups and their philosophies. Most groups’ Web sites describe their philosophies and have online publications (see list of mutual support group Web sites below).
- Determine which groups are active locally. Most groups’ Web sites have meeting locator services.
- Find out about the different types of meetings available within local mutual support groups (e.g., which meetings are for women only).
- Establish contacts in local mutual support groups. AA and NA in particular have committees whose members work with healthcare and social service providers to get clients to meetings and to provide information to providers.
- Attend open meetings to expand knowledge of mutual support groups and how local meetings are conducted.
Understanding the needs and beliefs of clients with SUDs helps providers make informed referrals.
Providers should find out clients’ experiences with mutual support groups, their concerns and misconceptions about mutual support groups, and their personal beliefs. Persons who agree with the group’s belief system are more likely to participate and, thus, more likely to have better outcomes. For example, having strong religious beliefs is related to greater participation in the spiritually based 12-Step programs.
Follow-up and Support
Once clients are attending a group they are comfortable with, the provider should actively encourage the clients’ support group experiences by scheduling follow-up visits to talk about their experiences and providing positive feedback. Clients should be asked about details—how many meetings are they attending, do they have a sponsor, are they abstinent.28 Gentle, positive encouragement will likely increase participation. Providers should watch for signs of an impending relapse, such as a reluctance to discuss group participation or periods of extreme stress. By offering knowledgeable advice and informed referrals and taking an ongoing, active interest in clients’ support group experiences, providers can make a difference in their clients’ recovery.
Brief Twelve Step Facilitation