AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PSYCHIATRIC SOCIAL WORKERS
(The story of how more than one hundred men have recovered from alcoholism.)
Publishing Company; 400 pages
This review covers the book, a discussion with the authors, and attendance at the meetings of the New York City group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Contact with this group increases one s respect for their work. To the layman, the book is very clear. To the professional person it is as first a bit misleading in that the spiritual aspect gives the impression that this is another revival movement. The book is simply and clearly written. It gives a vivid picture of the emotional predicament of the person suffering from serious alcoholism. It presents the disorder as a disease; a fatal disease in the social and physical sense. People who have benefitted from the treatment tell their story in simple, compelling language. There are excellent descriptions of what happens to the family of an alcoholic. There is a sincerity and enthusiasm about the writing of this work that commands attention.
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS seems to have succeeded in cases where the physician, the clergyman, the psychiatrist, or the social worker have failed. The method works only with the patient who really wants to get well; who is willing to face the truth about himself – his prejudices, his infantilism, his evasions. It effects its most phenomenal results with the patient who has gone so far that unless he does something drastic he will either become insane, kill himself in drink, or commit suicide. The patient must be willing to admit that he has failed, that he has no power over his drinking, that the “wet-nursing” of his family only makes him worse, that he must do this thing alone. In this frame of mind he selects someone to listen to his story but for the first time in his life he is being really honest with himself and admitting that he is responsible for the mess he has made of his life. When he must prove that he is willing to face reality by trying to patch up some of the antagonisms he has created around him. Then he is ready for some deeper reorganization of patterns. It is a sink or swim psychology; there is no pampering by the group and no protection. The group accepts the new-comer as an adult who really wants to get well; they will show him how but they won’t do it for him. Having admitted he has no power over his drinking, he must be willing to allow a higher power to help him. This is no ready made spiritual formula; it is not a church religion. It is a spiritual experience that somehow even extreme atheists seem to have been able to achieve. (One can watch the process of this change at the meetings of the group). The last step in the cure, the part that keeps the patient from slipping back into drink, is that he devotes himself to helping other alcoholics. The movement is kept alive by this type of work.
It is more impressive to the professional person to watch the technique in action than to read the book. The Mew York City group is made up of intelligent people, many college graduates, many professional people. There is no holier-than-thou spirit prevailing, there is good fellowship, gaiety, fun, and a real desire to stay sober.
The work is organized under an Alcoholic Foundation, which prevents and alcoholic from obtaining a salary for doing the work. One or two of the group tried using the approach on a fee basis, but the spiritual aspect which keeps these people sober seemed to have died when the patient tried earning money this way; these few people found themselves drinking again and so returned to the volunteer relationship.
This new resource is developing groups all over the country. Social workers will find them of great help with the extreme cases of alcoholism. The book describes the method in detail – it is a layman s approach, a layman’s book. It needs no explanation for the patient and should certainly be read by every alcoholic.
Lee R Stainer
New York City