A pair of studies were published last month to little fanfare and which seem to be contradictory in nature. Both papers involve 12-step programs and focus on the role of the counselor in delivering Twelve-Step Facilitation (TSF), a SAMHSA-recognized evidence-based practice. Published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, the studies come to the following conclusions: Therapist familiarity and personal experience with twelve-step programs (TSPs) improves their credibility among clients and, in turn, therapeutic alliance; yet therapists who viewed TSPs favorably and who described themselves as being in recovery tended to do a poorer job at maintaining fidelity and adherence to TSF in a large, multi-site trial.
In the first paper, researchers at the State University of New York administered surveys to clients and counselors at a host of treatment programs in and around Albany. Clients (n=180) rated counselors on their perceived familiarity with TSPs, the amount of time in-session devoted to discussion of TSPs, and the credibility of each counselor, as rated in a 12-point questionnaire. In addition, counselors (n=30) answered a demographic questionnaire, reporting such information as education level, recovery status, and months of experience in the field. As hypothesized, counselors who were perceived to be in recovery and more personally-familiar with TSPs received higher ratings of credibility from their clients, presumably resulting in better therapeutic alliances and, therefore, better outcomes.
In the second paper, researchers in Oregon and California sought to determine the characteristics associated with fidelity and TSF adherence among therapists participating in a large trial of the EBP. Notably, the authors found that 1) "Therapists reporting more positive attitudes toward 12-step groups had lower adherence ratings;" 2) "Being in recovery was associated with lower fidelity in univariate tests, but higher adherence in multivariate analysis;" and 3), "Fidelity was higher for therapists reporting self-efficacy in basic counseling skills" (as well as for therapists with a graduate degree) "and lower for self-efficacy in addiction-specific counseling skills."
The "juxtaposition" of the two outcomes, as Yale's Steve Martino puts it, leads the reader to believe that the ideal therapist in this setting can't possibly exist, or ar the very least is exceedingly rare. Someone who is very familiar with 12-step principles is likely to report a positive attitude toward them, and counselors in recovery are likely to rate themselves as possessing strong addiction-specific counseling skills. So, what is the moral to the story, if one exists? Where do we focus workforce development energy with mixed messages like these? It would be interesting to hear from readers who fall on either side (or both sides) of this issue...