My Favorite Job as a Group Counselor Ruined Me for 12 Step Groups

I was a single parent for my daughter while she was ages 5-16. Then we hit a rough patch. Her father was in the military and I knew they would be good together. So I suggested they try living together. All agreed and then I went into a deep mourning as they instantly bonded and decided to become a family of 2 although I had worked for years to stay a family of 3. Very painful but the Universe gave me a job that saved me.

I became a group couselor–joining several others in the same job–at a teenage treatment center. It was designed to include school. But the major difference in this treatment center was that the young people went home on the weekends–to the homes of other group members.

Then 2 times weekly all residents and their families came together for large group therapy. One family at each session was in the center of the group and we therapists led them through their troubles. Wow! And I do mean Wow! What an easy way to see yourself and what you are dealing with. The family in the center was a mirror for all in attendance.

This taught me the value of cross talk–that dreaded enemy of 12 step groups. Most of everything I know about myself I learned from comments about me made by others.

I loved being there and was privileged to lead a sibling group where we explored addiction, etc. My heart was so full that I gave up feeling sorry for myself and poured my energy into these beautiful young people.

Effective group therapy requires small groups who have been taught how group therapy works. I believe this is the most powerful agent for personal change. I would love to figure out how to do it online. Wouldn’t be as effective as in person but I love to teach the techniques. Another of my daydreams.

I was reminded of all this by an article in The Altantic magazine–

How to Stop Living in ‘Infinite Browsing Mode’:

A woman where I live runs a Facebook group that coordinates care for stray cats. A couple weeks ago, a skittish short-hair that roams our neighborhood got a nasty lesion on his face; my girlfriend and I notified the woman, who promptly showed up with a humane trap rigged with sardines. The cat took the bait, and she whisked him off to the vet, paying the bill with funds she had raised. It probably wasn’t her only stop that day.

I have a feeling that Pete Davis would like this woman. Davis, the author of the new book Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing, would probably admire her contributions to the community, even if she isn’t regarded as a local hero in the way that a star athlete or prominent businessperson might be. His book is an attempt to illuminate the uncelebrated dividends—both individual and communal—of pouring yourself into a cause, place, craft, or group, whether that means looking out for local cats, or something else.

Dedicated emerged from a commencement speech Davis gave a few years ago, in which he articulated the perils of what he calls “infinite browsing mode,” the state of hopping from job to job or relationship to relationship in the same indecisive way that one peruses Netflix. This is not a bad problem to have—compared with a century ago, people today have far more agency over what they do, what they learn, where they live, and whom they marry—but when weighing all the options, holding out for some better imagined alternative can deny people the pleasures of long-term, committed immersion.

To make his case, Davis interviewed various “long-haul heroes,” including a Jesuit priest, a Chicagoan who pushed to shut down coal-fueled power plants in her neighborhood, and a man who has for 50 years kept score at sports games at a small Florida college. Recently, I spoke with Davis about what he learned from those conversations and how cultural and economic forces steer people away from making all-in commitments. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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