The author of this article describes a psychological model, based on studies he and his colleagues have conducted, to clarify the operation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other movements that operate through social and ideologically grounded support and can be characterized as “spiritual recovery movements.”
Taken together, the findings from the cited studies make evident that peer-led ideologically oriented self-help programs illustrate the value of combining intense mutual support with the psychology of commitment to a health-related ideology.
Although peer-led self-help programs are not among the approaches employed by traditional psychiatrically grounded providers of care, their success underlines their potential value to mental health professionals who can make use of these programs to complement conventional treatment.
This would require the introduction of certain elements in professional curriculums, such as;
- an understanding of the psychology underlying these programs,
- an openness to the contribution of such programs to recovery from illness, and
- competency in referral to and even collaboration with these programs.
The current practice of psychiatrists and general medical caregivers does not reflect acceptance of these programs, however.
The author recommends that physicians in psychiatric residency programs should, as part of their standard curriculum, attend AA meetings, visit drug-free therapeutic community programs, and serve as co-leaders of peer-led therapy groups on ambulatory services.