The Higher Power Project is a qualitative study of the diversity of the language of Higher Power used by people in twelve-step recovery from addiction. The twelve step approach to recovery identifies the problem of addiction as rooted in the powerlessness of the individual over the substance or behaviour which is causing them or others harm. Given acceptance of this, an alternative power must be sought.
The twelve steps emerged in 1930s America, from a Christian context, and originally ‘Higher Power’ was understood in religious terms. Through an analysis of the language used by people in recovery, the Higher Power Project explores whether this remains the case today.
The Project seeks to generate a contemporary phenomenology of the language of Higher Power used by those in twelve-step recovery, both in anonymous fellowships and in other treatment settings in the UK. The findings of the Project will be of value to the addictions treatment professions, criminal justice professions, social workers, health workers, local authorities and policy makers.
The Higher Power Project has recently received a grant of £25.8K from The Sir Halley Stewart Trust to enable it to continue its investigations of ideas of Higher Power used by those in twelve-step style recovery. This will enable the team to interview members of a range of twelve step fellowships and those from different twelve-step treatment backgrounds about their experiences of Higher Power and ideas about spirituality.
The project has also received approximately £12K from the University of Chester for Research and Knowledge Transfer work.
The research so far…
To date thirteen former residents at a twelve step addictions treatment centre have spoken at length with the project team about their recoveries, their sense of a Higher Power, how they work the Twelve Steps, and what they think about religion and spirituality.Claims that the Twelve Steps are religious and claims that they are not religious are shown by the data to be equally inadequate.
A new language of postmodern ‘negotiated’ spirituality must be found. Participants in the project all speak about a personal journey, in which they make their own sense of twelve step literature, the language of the fellowships and Higher Power in negotiation with their pre-existing world views and influences from literature, popular culture, abstinent friends and other significant individuals.
The Twelve Steps
There are many different addiction treatment methods, and not all under-stand the problem in this way. However, the 12-Step programme is based on the premise that the individual addict becomes personally powerless over their addiction and needs outside help to stop using drink, drugs or addictive behaviours.
Addiction is seen as a complex condition with several components:
- Physical – an inability or powerlessness to stop drinking/using
- Mental – an overwhelming obsession/compulsion/craving to use/drink
- Spiritual – the loss of a sense of connection and ability to relate to others
- Emotional – the inability to manage emotions coupled with feelings of desperation and hopelessness
- Understand the nature of the addiction and its consequences
- Recognise that, with outside help, there is a solution and commit to the recovery programme
- Come to terms with the reality of their behaviour and its consequences for others
- Seek help to change themselves and their behaviour towards others
- Make amends for harm done to others
- Continue to develop (spiritually) by using a daily discipline and helping others
The 12-Step programme is abstinence based and individuals are initially supported by experienced members of the Anonymous Fellowships or professionals/support workers in Treatment Centres. Those that choose to continue to attend Fellowship meetings and work with others have a lower probability of relapse. (Humphreys, 2006)