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‘If people are given options, they do better:’ Discussing widening of the scope of addiction therapy

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On Thursday, St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh will discuss an addiction treatment system alternate to a 12-step program.

The words “Alcoholics Anonymous” are synonymous with addiction treatment, but the people behind an alternative therapy hope that those dealing with addiction know there are other forms of treatment out there.

Arthur Shenker, a St. Louis-based facilitator who was at one time addicted to cocaine, and Dr. Joseph Gerstein, the founder and president of SMART Recovery, joined St. Louis on the Air on Thursday to discuss their program’s approach to treating addiction with cognitive behavioral therapy.

SMART Recovery, a non-profit, is a non-12 step therapy used to treat people with drug, substance, alcohol and myriad other types of addiction.

The approach has been around since 1994 and there are 2,034 meetings around the world happening on a weekly basis, Gerstein said.

“SMART Recovery doesn’t mean the program is smarter than any other, it is an acronym standing for Self-Management Addiction Recovery Training,” Gerstein said. “It is primarily a self-empowerment program. The underlying thought is that people have it within themselves to overcome severe addiction. The program is science-based. It is what we call an abstinence-oriented program. We realize a lot of people with addictions who aren’t ready to take that pledge and they are welcome to come to our meetings.”

The program, which is free, meets in groups, much like AA, but is not founded in spiritual practice.

Shenker said that the program teaches methods like cost-benefit analysis to help people with addictions conquer those addictions.


“We have a four-point program,” Shenker said. “The first point is building and maintaining motivation, the second is coping with urges and cravings, the third is managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors and the fourth is living a balanced life. Instead of using 30-, 60-, 90-days, we use stages of change. The sixth stage is an exit stage: this is not a program you’re in for a life sentence. You can live free of the behavior. You’re welcome to come back, but you don’t have to.”

SMART Recovery could be used in conjunction with AA or apart from it, Gerstein said.

“If people are given options and able to choose the type of program they want, they do better,” Gerstein said. “There are legal, clinical and ethical reasons why people should have options.”

Listen as Gerstein and Shenker discuss how the program works:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.