In Therapy, AA Is Important But It’s Not What You Might Think!

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What is the point of therapy unless there is a goal for change? And who should drive that change in therapy? As therapists, are we hoping that endless navel-gazing and a non-directive approach will bring client awareness as a matter of course? Should therapists be more directive and be ’coach’ like when helping clients? Specifically, with codependency, are we risking switching that codependency from one place to another by being more involved?

These for me, are crucial questions in the therapist/client relationship and I firmly believe that the relationship is key to anything that can be deemed as success. But what is success in therapy? That you solve issues? you feel better? your relationship improves? you can make decisions? All true and it is different for different people but a general framework can be applied to most cases. We cannot always get it right and things sometimes dont work out the way they should.

Codependency is something that is being dealt with more and more these days. Some therapists don’t, won’t or can’t deal with it and some doubt its existence. In my opinion, it is the dominant force in relationships in our modern times and there is no recovery from it. There is however, management that can bring relief and a sense of Self. Codependents need to learn who they really are and define their lives based on their own individuality but they are only one thought and relationship away from relapse. It is a case of being mindful and countering the urges.

Codependents are not sick. Consequently, a disease model that is often applied to conditions such as alcoholism and drug addiction by AA and NA won’t work. Codependents are traumatised adult children suffering from the effects of ineffective, abusive and neglectful parenting. A disease model that relies on the brain being sick will not work with codependency. Codependency is a behavioural issue that has its roots in developmental and relational trauma and as such is learned or mirrored behaviour through a given childhood blueprint. As we all know, behaviour can be unlearnt if the will and the awareness is there. So, I support AA….AWARENESS AND ACTION!

How do we come to awareness? This for me is the major part of the therapeutic process. How a client got to where they are, how and with who and when. This is valuable information and tells a lot about the story so far. This can be done with such methods as inner child or IFS and the more information that can be gleaned the better. This is often a time of making sense of fragments of memory and coming to terms with things that were avoided. This can take time but there should always be a point where action is taken. It can also be a stage where therapy often gets bogged down as new details (and a few surprises) are revealed and have to be processed. It is about the client revealing as much as they can about their life, thoughts, issues and feelings so to create a full picture.

I always feel there comes a point where taking action on the awareness gained has to come. It is not always easy to put this into operation. Some clients are very willing to try out the concepts learnt in therapy, others are full of fear and trepidation, where a revisit to some awareness might be needed. In this stage, I feel therapists can allow themselves to be more directive with clients if it moves the process forward and helps.

As humans, we are used to making excuses, taking the easy way out and procrastinating things we know need doing. With so much technology available these days at our fingertips, we can always find a way to distract ourselves from the main thing. It is part of our make-up and is hard to shrug off, especially when we are constantly listening to the voices that promote such thinking. However, as humans, we are also resilient and intelligent enough to know that there is usually a decent payoff from taking the road less traveled by facing our fears and doing the “right” thing. We just choose not to do it. It is too difficult and we don’t like difficult. We want easy.

Part of this problem lies with the ingrained elements of our personality that protect us from facing difficult issues. Formed in childhood as defence mechanisms, they become a part of us as we give them more credence and strength and become the critical voices in our thinking. They get stronger every time we do what they say and before we know it, they are our first port of call for advice. They come in all shapes and forms and appear when we are triggered and flood our head with all kind of dysfunctional input. The objective is to protect us, as they have since childhood, from their idea of risk and danger. This usually means shaming, avoiding or escaping responsibility.

Powerful as these voices are and at times, they can be very strong, it is essential to loosen their grip if we are to move forward, even if that means leaving our “easy-life” comfort zone. They will only release control when you can convince them (in reality… yourself) that you can take over and take definitive action to solve an issue. Anyone who has trained dogs will know that the more powerful breeds will become the “leader of the pack” if they are not given clear, consistent direction. When this is not forthcoming, they will see the opportunity to take over and run the show. This will lead to pulling on the lead, trying to direct the owner and dominant behaviour. So it is with the “protectors”. Give them an inch, they will take a mile and take a lead role and expect you to be submissive.

Many people give a lot of energy to trying to keep these voices alive and kicking and are very happy to listen to them. In therapy, we spend a lot of time with clients making them aware of the consequences of listening too much, negotiating release of control and what that might look like. There comes a time when action is the only way forward….the best remedy for this is to step forward and make this choice . That means in reality, facing the very thing you are avoiding and solving it. This is also the best booster of self-esteem that I personally know. Getting through things and consistently. So next time you are experiencing an internal conflict where you can feel the influence of the “protectors”, take charge, be solution-focussed and go for it!


Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Great article! “As humans, we are used to making excuses, taking the easy way out and procrastinating things we know need doing. . .” boy don’t we. AA is needed, action and awareness. Great spin.

  2. Little Scorpion

    This is a very good brief summary of what my life has been like. I’ve only just discovered this blog and it is helpful in condensing and sharing some of the awful things I’ve been dealing with. But that’s exactly what it is. A very general scratch on the tip of the monstrous iceberg lurking under the black ice water. I’ve known all my life there was something wrong, but didn’t understand. Well, back in the day, mid sixties to eighties, we didn’t know this stuff. It was never discussed.
    Labelled intelligent but not reaching potential. Lazy. Unfocussed(true), not saying what she knows in Class(true, bullied if revealed depth of understanding). Doesn’t make effort in subject x when brilliant and enthusiastic in subject c,(true, x was of no interest and I literally could not engage at all. COULD NOT engage, not would not). People pleaser. Anything for approval. Looking for consistency of love in wrong places. Just repeated childhood up to date of leaving home. Rinse and repeat. See, we didn’t know about ADHD in the 60s and 70s. And girls didn’t get it until it was found they did, somewhere in mid nineties upward. Females present completely differently but I’m an adult by now. Why is everything so hard? Why is my partner so horrible to me in private but magnanimous and charismatic when people present?What am I doing wrong ?Mental abuse not acknowledged. Children don’t get depression, they’re children! Diagnosed ADHD at 58 3rd marriage. Worst yet. Beautiful child to protect from him. But very sick. ME. Depression. Whiplash. Further somatic symptoms each more serious. Misdiagnosed with narcolepsy.
    Found Anna Runkle. Then Jordan Peterson,Richard Grannon, Patrick Teahan,Sam Vaknin. Many local councilors, non of whom could alleviate my deep despair even all the above offered only temporary distraction but on deeper examination, I was just unable to make the necessary changes. Nervous breakdown . Someone change ssri to bupropion. Blam! Woke up. Half anyway. Diagnosed ADHD 2020@58. I KNEW there had been something going on! Then real unhappiness now awake enough to see. Prev close daughter turns into monster, while I’m hospitalized with epidural abscess due to stress compromising immune system.5 months in/out hosp. Daughter outright cruel. Then learn husb covert narc. Then learn co dependant. Then learn daughter damaged. Then complete breakdown, memories of rape emerged. Finally left to sleep in car, he’d offered the dog bed in garage and I nearly agreed. That’s when I left. 10 months of near suicide. Then discover parental alienation. 3 weeks ago. Bingo!
    Long journey. 60 soon. Financially deeply insecure. But finally, it’s not my fault! Have very short window to deprogram beautiful,talented intelligent daughter who is now so lacking in self esteem, gets embarrassed when I attracted attention of waiter in restaurant. Ripped shreds off me! Conflicted by his ridiculous lies. But subconsciously trying to fight them. Going away with her fr Christmas to home town for 4weeks. Her request. Wish me luck. Going to study psychology and philosophy, probably sociology and art history too(artist). The paradigms have to change. I’m so very, very tired. My psychologist, paid by state, is awesome. I’m starting a long period of education with real mental difficulties. But this has to change. It’s abuse. And now for me, Abuse by Proxy, Parental alienation. Profound child abuse and profound and often fatal psychological abuse of alienated parent. So many amazing helpful apps out there. ‘ The Fabulous’ , in particular. But they all forget something vital. The patient is already DAMAGED. And often unaware of why. And often they are NEURODIVERSE. The hints and tips just don’t apply because ADHD obstructs everything starting with complete paralysis of executive function.
    The piecemeal remedies must stop and the entire being treated as a whole. The paradigms must change. It will be years. At least a year before I’m recovered enough to do serious study . I am seriously dysregulated still. And what , 6-8 years before I graduate? Then try to publish peer reviewed work? I’m sowing seeds as I go. I don’t expect to see the result of this attempt. It will be three generations in the making. But I can make a start….we all should make a start now. Starting with asking your child if they are ok- and mean it. And watch their friends- are their friends ok? Mean it. Offer a safe place for the friends to come and be teenagers. Be the parent they need. Help them stretch. Help them learn to cook, use washing machine, mow lawn, keep accounts in order. Teach them how to drink alcohol! Yes that’s what I said. Start with watered wine at dinner, gradually educate them so they don’t go and give themselves alcohol poisoning when they turn 18. It’s a social skill and needs to be learned in a safe space in an appropriate setting and the damned honest facts, not a load of lies and propaganda.
    I’m still very fragile and now exhausted. I’ll try to sleep, and just be here when I’m needed.
    I’m nearly 60 and I’ve only just learned that I actually might be quite a good woman, damaged though I am.
    And I’m a good enough mother. That’s been the hardest. I’m good enough. Not perfect. Good enough.
    And I think that might be ok in the end.