Recovery: What Is It Good For?

February 21, 2021
Posted in:

Beyond one’s personal recovery, what could the general idea of recovery be good for?

To explore what the idea of recovery could be good for, I would like to separate the word “recovery” from its normal use (about people making personal changes in the face of addiction illness), and highlight some other benefits that could be found in the idea of what recovery is.

In this article I would like to turn from recovery as a personal matter and look at some other uses of the word and of the idea of recovery.

About three years ago it started to seem to me that the word “recovery” in its use as a technical term in clinical, research, public health, and policy circles had lost its window of opportunity, was no longer viable, and had probably become outmoded.


We were seeing so much public criticism from academics, professional clinicians, and various advocates aimed against:

  • Twelve step recovery (as found in all its forms including A.A., N.A., Al-Anon, CoDA, O.A., etc.),
  • Twelve Step Facilitation as a clinical practice, and
  • both abstinence and sobriety themselves,

that I had reached an internal tipping point.

A Well-Known Name
The area of depth psychology I have drawn from for this article has an especially well-known name. That very well-known name is so well known, that the name could easily get in the way of some readers taking in my idea. So, I’ll share that name later in the article. For me, until the most recent few years, the name would serve as a major block and if I saw it I would probably stop reading. That’s how strict my education and training were, and how I was taught to think.

For now I will say that this area of depth psychology has been described as a larger meta-topic than it is commonly known to be. And in that way, it is said to be comprised of four separate, but interdependent, endeavors. It is further said that each of those four endeavors is really a separate discipline, or field of study – each in their own right.

Many people who are aware of this area of depth psychology because of its well known name are unaware of its separate application in these four areas.

To me, these four areas also apply to the idea of recovery. And to me these four areas show us some additional potential of the idea of recovery – beyond its application to one’s own personal change.

A Four-Part Framework

I suggest that we can also consider Recovery a meta-topic that comprises the same four areas, and we can borrow the same four-part framework. Each area could serve as a target of study or as a lens through which one conducts their work.

What are the four areas we would borrow?

  • A method of understanding personality (its formation, development, and function, etc);
  • A way of understanding the mind (its components, topography, functions, etc.);
  • method of psychotherapy (arranging and providing it);
  • topic and tool for conducting research.

With very little effort we can transfer those four areas of interest from depth psychology and apply them as four parallel areas of potential content and value within the construct of Recovery.

Four Potential Areas of Study

First of all, Addiction Recovery can be thought of as a Personality theory

  • It has occurred to me that insofar as the Steps and Traditions can apply to any person (as anyone is eligible to potentially develop addiction illness) that the progenitor of 12 step recovery (A.A.) has accidentally built a personality theory.
  • For example, the steps (commonly described as relation to self) and traditions (commonly described as relation to others) point to personality facets and ranges of function common to all people generally.
  • Similarly, the Spiritual principles of both the Steps (as found in A.A.) and of the Traditions (as found in O.A.) point to common personal and collective values.

What could the world gain from a full inquiry into the character and personality of Recovery?

Second, we can consider Addiction Recovery as informing the topography and components of the mind: the Study of Cognition and Metacognition

  • The book titled Addictive Thinking (Twerski) outlines the content and style of cognition commonly present in later-stage moderate to severe SUD’s (addiction illness). These include problematic patterns in attempts to resolve cognitive dissonance and problematic end-point cognitive schema that end up serving as barriers to recovery.
  • The article titled A.A. and 12 Step Recovery: A Model Based on Social and Cognitive Neuroscience (Galanter) outlines the cognitive elements of a program of Addiction Recovery from a 12 step perspective, redefines them in operationalized terms from general psychology, and identifies the associated brain region for each.
  • The book titled RecoveryMind Training (Earley) provides an outline and overview of cognitive and cognitive-behavioral changes during the earlier and later phases of recovery.

What could the world gain from a full inquiry into the mind of, and that is, Recovery?

Third, we can consider Recovery as a Method of therapy

  • In his article about Recovery Carriers Bill White describes those people who function as sources of positive contagion. This contagion seems to derive merely from recovery itself, within and through their person. He describes the content, process, and “lift” provided to others, that is brought about by recovery.
  • Culture has been examined not as a helpful context or frame, but as the treatment itself. It is axiomatic that the majority of people with lifetime substance use disorder recover without formal treatment. Recovery culture is an active therapeutic ingredient, and can be found across people groups.
  • Carl Jung and Bill W. corresponded and some of those letters are available for us to study. In one letter, Jung outlined what is tantamount to a cultural framework as his curative suggestion to Bill W. If you read those letters, Jung’s ingredients will probably be surprisingly familiar.

For clarity I will say that evidence-based counseling methods like Twelve Step Facilitation and Motivational Interviewing are excluded from what I am aiming at here. Rather, I mean to focus on recovery itself (recovery that is modeled, caught, and practiced) as the therapeutic agent.

What could the world gain from a full inquiry into Recovery as the therapy?

Fourth, we can apply Recovery as a Research method

  • The value of experiential knowledge as data has been outlined by various researchers (Borkman’s 1976 paper comes to mind).
  • Styles, pathways and varieties of the recovery experience have been outlined, (Bill White’s book and papers on this topic come to mind).
  • In the book Recovery Rising we are told the story of Bill White’s “epiphany in Dallas” as an A.A. old-timer encouraged him to study recovery itself, and not just treatment, and not just treatment outcomes.
  • One dream project I have longed for over several years would be to have Artificial Intelligence read the entire approved recovery literature and aggregate the indicators it contains within and across all the Stages of Healing.
  • The NA text titled Living Clean: The Journey Continues serves to me as information obtained during recovery, but from the perspective of traveling in recovery over time. It is as if the writing provides a view from the point of view a time voyager. It opens us to the notion of potential content that could be gained only from the continuity of data, and the continuity of data collection.

What could the world gain from a full inquiry using Recovery as a research method, not just a research target?

A word too common to understand?

What was the area within depth psychology whose name might have gotten in the way if I had revealed it? That word is Psychoanalysis. Within its complete scope, psychoanalysis as a field of study is properly understood to function separately and together as a:

  • theory of personality,
  • way of understanding the mind,
  • method of therapy,
  • and tool of research.

To me, Recovery is like that, and also has potential in those same four areas.

Like “psychoanalysis” (when understood within its complete scope) “Recovery” could be considered to include a theory of personality, a way of understanding the mind, a method of therapy, and a tool of research.

Thus, Recovery could be understood to include far more than only the personal matter of one’s wellbeing that the word “recovery” commonly conveys.

My Wish List

Do we have a text examining the domains and function of human character and personality – through the lens of recovery? What is the collective and potential constellation of the personality of recovery?

  • Currently my favorite more modern texts on the topic of Personality formation and function are Character Styles (Stephen Johnson) and The New Personality Self Portrait (Oldham & Morris).

Do we have a text describing the topography and function of the mind as seated in recovery?

  • My favorite classic article about the operation of the mind is Negation (Freud).
  • My favorite more modern text on the topic of the topography and function of the mind is The Unthought Known (Bollas).
  • To me, the clearest overview of the value of this area of the topography and function of the mind is Freud’s writing on the topic of metacognition.

Do we have a text describing the arrangements before and during the provision or transmission of healing found in recovery?

  • Pertaining to analytically-oriented therapy, my favorites articles include Winnicott’s work titled Fear of Breakdown and Bion’s piece titled Notes on Memory and Desire.

Do we have a text informing us of recovery itself as a research method?

  • As for research in the analytic tradition my favorite classic texts are Kohut’s book “How Does Analysis Cure?”, and one by Freedman and others titled “Another Kind of Evidence.”

A Recurring Worry

In spite of the latent potential in these four areas/methods of inquiry, I remain uncertain as to the future of the word Recovery.

Copyright © 2024 Recovery Alliance Initiative
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram