My mom’s therapist is brainwashing her into AA

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on November 4th, 2010 - Last updated: June 27th, 2019
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Dear Dr. Peele,

Thank you very much for your informative website.

My question concerns a very annoying Al-Anon therapist of whom my mother is a client. What goes on in their therapy sessions is not really my business, nor am I going to say anything to either of them. But my mom has become a slave to the therapist as far as her relationship with me. She randomly came up with ideas like “tough love” when I drank in the past. I quit drinking entirely almost a year ago, but I don’t think that’s such a huge accomplishment simply because my problems with substance use never got out of hand. I do avoid social situations involving alcohol, but that’s out of common sense more than anything else.

Now, my mom tries to cite “addictive behavior” in everything from my college studies to friendly relationships. She also keeps saying, “you really can’t do it alone, and that’s a fact.” If I ask her where this stuff is coming from, inevitably she says “Betty (the therapist) told me all about alcoholism.” Last month I finally joined my mom for a therapy session for the first time. I had never spoken to Betty before, even though she seemed to have a lot to say about me prior to ever meeting me.

The session didn’t go that badly, but I did press one issue; I wanted to know if she belonged to AA or a group of that sort. She was offended, but she did admit that she was a member of Al-Anon and her ex-husband was an alcoholic, which is the reason she joined.

I guess this woman is entitled to give out whatever information she chooses to an extent. But I wondered if her constant suggestions to my mother to attend Al-Anon, and her recitation of Al-Anon principles, might be a violation of professional ethics. She is not a Ph.D. or an MSW, I believe she does have an LCSW though. It almost seems like she wants me to go out drinking so that I would join AA. I know, in all probability, she isn’t really doing anything that violates her rights to professionally conduct psychotherapy. Nor do I take what she says seriously, or blame her for any of my own personal/family problems. I do believe, though, that she is brainwashing my mother, and probably just trying to recruit people to join 12 step groups.

Sorry for such a long note…thanks again for your informative website.


Dear Karen:

What can I say? Your letter is well-written and right on target. You would think it is a professional violation to lay your trip on someone else — but it’s hard to do make this stick. It is true, though, that you need to regard this as a problem between you and your mom (as you indicate). At the same time, I very much admire you for going directly to the source, and confronting this therapist (even though you seemed to keep your cool and participate in a productive interchange). You seem very much together, and you might have to view this as your mother’s idiosyncrasy. Fortunately, it does not seem that your mother had any other power over you than to hector you. In that regard, I hope you had a good reason to stop drinking.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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