Brainwashing Tiger Woods – Failures of Addiction Therapy

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Brainwashing Tiger Woods – Failures of Addiction Therapy

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Tiger Woods made a public statement yesterday – and his choice of words directly reflects the misguided efforts of contemporary addition treatment.  These efforts do not address psychological health – but rather demand conformity to some loosely defined notion of ‘proper society’ or of  ‘Christian values’ or of something called ‘spiritual health’.  This addiction model focuses shame on the client – using shame as a demented behavior modification technique.  The pretense of following Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Programs has been distorted by clinicians who act as if they are the conduit of every Higher Power – whatever that is.

As summarized by the American Psychological Association, the process involves the following:[1]

  • admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion;
  • recognizing a greater power that can give strength;
  • examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
  • making amends for these errors;
  • learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
  • helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.

Let’s look at some of Tiger’s comments in light of 12 Step ideology.

I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you…

I am embarrassed…

For all that I have done, I am so sorry…

I have a lot to atone for…

The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior…

I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in… I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply….

The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me…

I brought this shame on myself…

It’s now up to me to make amends and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I’ve made. It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity…

Character and decency are what really count…

It’s hard to admit that I need help, but I do… But I’ve taken my first steps in the right direction…

I recognize I have brought this on myself, and I know above all I am the one who needs to change…

I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it…

It (Buddhism) teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint…

In therapy, I’ve learned the importance of looking at my spiritual life and keeping in balance with my professional life…


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That also means relying on others for help. I’ve learned to seek support from my peers in therapy, and I hope someday to return that support to others who are seeking help….

If one listened to this confession without knowing any of the details one might think this was the final statement of a mass murderer before his execution.   Tiger’s statement was dripping with shame.  Tiger has been nailed to the cross in the true spirit of misguided addiction treatment.  Similarly indoctrinated people form the basis of support groups – with less interest in psychological health than in maintaining the ‘group think‘ mentality.  If any person in the group challenges the spiritual dialogue they are labeled as being in ‘denial’ or in the beginning states of ‘relapse’.  The essence of this type of support is the denial of an individual’s right to think for themselves.  The cohesiveness of the group is more important than the creativity or imagination of the individual.  Individual psychological health is defined as being consistent with group.

Many addiction treatment centers confuse humility with humiliation.  Shameful humiliation is a primary tool employed ostensibly to break the cycle of denial.  Every client is forced into a mold consistent with an ‘addictive personality’.  Extreme confrontation is the method of choice.  The United States Department of Health and Human Services noted in 1999 that denial, addictive personality, and confrontation as method are all myths employed by treatment professionals.  Denial is not more robust in addicts.  Addicts have the same diverse personality traits as the general population.  And confrontation does not work as a therapeutic method.

Character and decency, right and wrong, boundaries, spiritual life, restraint, mistakes, steps in the right direction, atonement, and bitter disappointment are all defined by particular cultures.  Tiger broke no laws.  His violations of ‘character and decency’ are entirely defined by societal norms.  Does any violation of some ill-defined Christian culture constitute mental illness – requiring extensive therapy?  12 Step programs are not supposed to promote any particular faith over another – but the reality is not so.  12 Step programs are essentially Christian in nature – with the value system being defined by Pauline Theology.  Any other faith is measured against these values.  Tiger is allowed his faith in Buddhism – as long as the values are consistent with broad Christian principles.

Tiger Woods has been duped.  Like many professional people Tiger is expert at his craft – but like many professional people, Tiger has limited knowledge of psychology, addiction, theology, the humanities, and spirituality.  Tiger was easily misled – any person in the throngs of emotional crisis can be easily misled.  Deep in trouble with family or employers and desperate for redemption, people admit to psychological phenomena indiscriminately defined as spiritual deprivation.  In the case of ‘sexual addiction‘ there is little agreement in the professional mental health community.

Future psychologists will look back on this era of addiction treatment in much the same manner that they presently look back on 19th century mental asylums.  The real sadness is that progressives in the present mental health community already recognize the deplorably foolish tactics of many addiction treatment centers.  The problem is that most of the people working in these centers have invested their lives in protocols which do not work – but which they must defend in order to justify their own self-interest.

Tiger Woods will one day regret his public display of humiliation as prescribed by the fixed wing aircraft of outdated addiction therapy.

(Post Script): We should never pass an opportunity for some humor:

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There Are 6 Responses So Far. »

  1. Thank God, someone else sees the 12 step programs as a brainwashing group. (I wanted to say cult, but the author might not like to be painted into the corner with me)

    I am a therapist and I’ve never, ever shamed a patient or humiliated one.

    Confrontational practices do not work with addictions. I know.

  2. The original ideas of Alcoholics Anonymous have been distorted by by overzealous clinicians. AA and NA and other support groups have been populated with people coming out of these ‘treatment centers’. Thus the overwhelming majority of people in the present day support groups practice the treatment model of demeaning newcomers.

  3. Interesting post.

    My experience with 12-step programs is that it’s been more about finding the ways that you are already motivating yourself with shame, and removing shame’s power over you. But then, most of my experience is on the Al-Anon/ACoA side of things, so the emphasis may well be different.

    But I definitely agree that there is danger when you start using an *addiction* model to treat *compulsions*, because they aren’t the same thing. You really need to start by looking at the function the compulsion is serving before you try to figure out a way to help them overcome it — especially if the compulsion involves something that shouldn’t be cut out of one’s life completely, like food or sex or risk-taking. I had a partner who was a compulsive overeater, and OA was tremendously helpful in giving her tools to understand what her issues were, but not so good at helping her manage her food on an ongoing basis. For some people it works great — but only when it addresses the issues they actually have. One size never fits all.

    As for Tiger Woods — maybe his psyche is such that his compulsions are best treated with an addiction model. And maybe not. My experience is that it’s usually not, but for his sake, I hope the treatment he’s getting is appropriate.

  4. Just how I disagree with absolutists at 12 step meetings, I disagree with some comments as strongly worded as yours. Just as with all things in life, I seek balance. So while you make some valid points, other points of yours are extreme. I take what I like from AA and I leave the rest. For me, it works in combination with other aspects of my recovery program, including:
    -finding new activities in which to build interest (painting, playing a musical instrument, reading)
    -volunteering (doesn’t have to be related to helping another addict overcome addiction…)
    -and exercise (cycling, going for walks, playing basketball with friends)

    Obviously some jerk “old timer” at my local AA group is gonna say “It ain’t in the book to do that stuff,” but I think for myself. I realize that Bill Wilson didn’t have all the answers. A lot of my younger buddies (who attend AA meetings) have shared similar beliefs; just how we’ve never liked Bible beaters, we’ve also never liked AA Book beaters. But that doesn’t mean I won’t reap the benefits that that program offers.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this article.

  5. Jack – thank you for your insight. You have appropriately overcome the pressure of the Big Book Beaters – my point is that treatment centers do not allow individuality.

    Three Myths:

    Denial
    Addictive personality
    Confrontation as an effective therapy tool.

  6. Many are not ALLOWED to “think for themselves” in AA/NA, however. Many are coerced into attendance (with the full knowledge and support of AA)and are compelled by various courts, employee assistance programs, licensing boards, Children’s Services agencies, etc to not only attend but to get a sponsor whose name must be provided to the agency, to get signatures documenting attendance, and to have sponsors fill out “sponsor reports” on how they feel the person is adapting to “the program”. Many are made to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, followed by a minimum of 3-4 meetings a week–effectively shutting off a person who works from any other social or family life to speak of (i.e., get home at 6, bolt down dinner and race off to the 7pm meeting, followed by the “meeting after the meeting” at the local coffee shop, which they had better attend lest their sponsor report badly against them), and opening even strong minded individuals up to their brainwashing tactics and thought stopping slogans.

    Individuals who “take what they need and leave the rest” are widely viewed as “dry drunks” who are not “working a good program” and are treated as such.

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