SMART Recovery and the Life Process Program: Major Differences and Welcome Similarities
12-step groups like AA are largely ineffective at curbing drug and alcohol addiction. Happily, SMART Recovery (Self Management and Recovery Training) is another lay-led support group and that honors the principles of personal agency and development that we talk so much about—so it works! Of course, the Life Process Program is another 12-step alternative and we’re often compared to SMART.
The comparison is welcome, but LPP and SMART Recovery are different in meaningful ways.
SMART is a nonprofessional CBT (it uses Albert Ellis’s REBT) support group for addictive problems, particularly alcohol (although SMART’s long-time President, Tom Horvath, has emphasized the variety of addictive disorders).
Although SMART is definitively non-12-step, and thus provides a valuable alternative to AA worldwide, it is less resolved on a number of other issues that LPP decisively addresses. It also differs from LPP in the comprehensiveness of the help it provides.
Let me review the differences between LPP and SMART:
- Although SMART has a specific approach, the program provides only generic support as a way of dealing with addictions. LPP, on the other hand, is a complete program, administered in a systematic sequence. There is a “process” to LPP, a series of topics and issues in the individual’s thinking and life that LPP deals with in order.
- SMART’s focus (like AA’s) is on their group meeting dynamic and trains its group facilitators (unlike AA) but it is not a professionally administered program. LPP differs in that professionals offer ongoing and individualized support to its clients.
- SMART is unclear on some basic principles, unlike LPP. That is, although SMART is non-12-step, it does not declare its opposition to the disease view of addiction. LPP, on the other hand, directly opposes the disease view that addiction is permanent, inbred, indelibly marked in a person’s brain, neurology, and soul, and, finally, that addiction is irreversible, with only the possibility that it will worsen without help, support or treatment.
LPP is a natural-development, client-directed, skills-training, environmentally-oriented program. SMART shares these characteristics, more or less. That is:
- LPP believes every individual has the power and capacity to change through their own agency. SMART shares this perspective partly, in that both LPP and SMART recognize personal efficacy and self-direction as core elements in change. But these are more fundamentally built into LPP.
- As a support group, SMART recognizes that people must work through their lives in the real world in order to change. LPP takes this need for independent, external development further, by examining with clients each and every area of their lives to build on and improve.
- SMART and LPP likewise both reject that idea of “addict” or “alcoholic” as a permanent identity. An important strength of SMART is therefore that, unlike AA, it believes people should ultimately become independent and free, and not be wedded to the group for life.
- A critical drawback to SMART is that it is an abstinence, not a harm reduction, group. While SMART may be more tolerant of use than AA, it does not provide help for reduced, controlled, or moderate use. LPP is a harm reduction program. Abstinence is certainly one alternative, but, but not the dictated, or preferred one, as it is in SMART
- Finally, although SMART claims to be prepared to deal with non-substance-use issues, it finds it difficult to apply its abstinence fixation to food, love and sex, and the variety of alternative compulsions (e.g., exercise, shopping) with which LPP deals.
Thus, although all of us at LPP love, admire and support SMART, we also think SMART is an incomplete transition to a new, humane and effective approach to the growing addictive problems our society, and individuals, face.