Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Step Studies: How To's?

There have been some issues about how the step study is being conducted at one of the meetings I regularly attend.  There has been a lot of cross talk, some snippy comments, and some focus on personalities and not principles. Last night at the study meeting, there was general disarray in which cross talk prevailed, people who walked in 10 minutes before the meeting was to close and who were there for the regular meeting were asked to participate in the step meeting, and no chair was present.  At the group conscience, we decided to try to come up with some guidelines on how a good study group would work. 

I have attended well run step studies in the past.  I think the thing that has been important with those was that whoever chaired the study meeting had worked the 12 steps and was basically walking the walk. I couldn't find anything on line about how to put together a study meeting in Al-Anon, so I came up with some thoughts based on my own experience.
  • If the meeting is approved by WSO, then only conference approved literature may be used.  The Bible and the Big Book of AA are not conference approved for Al-Anon.  But there is a wealth of CAL from Al-Anon. The first step meeting I ever attended was one in which we read How Al-Anon Works.  It was a great introduction to the program and to the steps and traditions.  There are a number of other good CAL books such as the newly published Discovering Our Choices.
  • I think that one of the first things to do is to decide what kind of meeting this should be: a step study or an Al-Anon book study. It could simply be called a "Study Meeting" which would enable attendees to not only read and discuss the steps, traditions, and concepts but to also read from other books such as How Al-Anon Works, Discovering Our Choices, and other CAL.
  • There needs to be a decision as to who will be there each week to "lead" the meeting.  Having a back up person available would also be a good idea. It would be ideal to have someone who has worked the steps be there.  The "leaders" are simply there to maintain continuity not to lecture or to dominate. Since this will likely be a reading group, a suggested approach is to have a person read a few paragraphs and then briefly discuss the material. Avoidance of cross talk is highly recommended because it tends to slow things down. 
  • The "lead" is willing to conduct the meeting according to the format. This person is obligated to uphold the group conscience from the chair; and be willing to explain the group's function and goals to newcomers and visitors before, during, and after the meeting. This person must be willing to interrupt an individual who is off the step and remind them of the purpose of the meeting.
  • It's important to have a group preamble or group conscience statement which lays out the framework for the meeting. It defines our mission, the way we carry our message to others. It defines the ground rules of the meeting. It could, for example, make it clear that sharing at a step study meeting depends upon whether a person has direct experience with the 12 steps. The chair would also make certain that no cross talk occurs. There needs to be agreement on the meeting "rules"--e.g. no cross talk, sharing briefly and not going on and on, limit the group to those who arrived at the start of the meeting and not at the end.  It might be advisable to find a smaller room to have the study group so that individuals who come in for the regular open meeting don't disrupt the group. 
  • The chairperson needs to keep the meeting focused.  At each meeting, the chairperson would announce the step or reading and the pages that will be covered. The chair would then ask people to read a few paragraphs and then discuss what resonated with each as they read.   A study meeting needs to stay on topic and not wander off into other directions.  This weakens the group and can also be frustrating. 
Study groups work!   They work by being very structured and specific. They work by putting the principles of Al-Anon ahead of our own (and other people's) personalities, and by keeping one aim above all else: carrying the message of the program to others who want it.  It isn't particularly productive to try to pass on to others something that you haven't got.

This just points out my experience.  I personally think that study groups, whether step or CAL book studies, are beneficial to recovery as long as they have some structure and leadership. 

Sorry for the long post.  I just had to get these thoughts down.  Maybe some of you on here will have some thoughts on how to improve this so that it will be useful as a guideline for the next group conscience meeting.  Please let me have your E, S, and H on this.


  1. if a meeting doesn't have a meeting leader, how do you have a meeting? in NA the groups have formats and elect meeting leaders at their group conscious's or business meetings and those leaders are committed to one year. it helps us stay clean and learn to be accountable for ourselves. we have topic meetings or book studies. i have never had the honor of an actual 'step study'.
    as far as cross talk when we open the meeting there is usually a little blurb we read about we ask that there be no cross talk and also no chanting during the readings. and to turn off cell phones and wait until after the meeting to smoke. our meetings here are only an hour long. one thing we like to say is 'don't leave before the miracle happens'

    some groups allow chanting during the readings and it bothers me but i respect the groups decisions, i do not have to attend meetings i don't like i am blessed with a lot of NA here.
    if a meeting leader does not show up we can call the group service representative to come and sit in or another trusted servant.
    your right there is a wealth of information for our fellowships out there and we don't need to re-invent the wheel every time we have a meeting.

  2. We don't call it a study group, but my Tuesday Al-Anon meeting is basically just that, a study of the book, "Opening our Hearts, Transforming our Losses".

    This is CAL and we run it pretty much the way you described. Someone leads the meeting and someone else brings the topic. They choose a section of the book or some of the Questions for Reflection at the end of each chapter to read and the discussion follows from there.

    The chair keeps things on track. It is usually very well run. In fact, it is a great meeting. There are a good number of long timers there who have worked the steps and I think that helps insure a productive meeting.


  3. I haven't attended these types of meetings very often but did happen to go to one last Thursday. It was a step study where we read from the tan book, Paths to Recovery. The book was passed and we read paragraphs on Step 3. It was a good meeting in that people shared in between paragraphs on how they have worked that step, etc. I think your outline sounds very similar to how this meeting operated. I plan to attend again and often. Good luck with yours.

  4. i only ever attended step 'meetings' meaning a regular aa meeting which was about a step. or step and tradition. it started with a 'chair' spekaing for 20 mins or so, and then the meeting was open for sharing from the floor, and people were asked to try to focus on the step when they shared.
    so normal meetings really. i only tried one step study thing in my first year. it was not nearly as simple or effective as the version of steps i heard explained in the step meetings that I attended weekly, so I didnt use the methods they suggested.

    so i dont really have experience of step 'studies', as I have not attended them. I found I had more than enough education as to how to do the steps from step meetings.
    perhaps what u call a step study is what i call a step meeting. not sure. I don't really know what a step 'study' is to be honest..

  5. The step studies we have participated in were all structured and there was a leader who was at every meeting and kept things on track. It was all decided at the very first meeting and then the study began at the second meeting. When there are so many people in one place there needs to be a pattern and a plan and some rules agreed upon up front.

  6. At my home group we do something different each week. The first week they are studying the Transforming Our Losses Book. The second week is open share, the third week is a step and tradition study using the Paths To Recovery Book and we study whatever step/tradition matches the month we are in. The 4th week is a birthday meeting and the birthday person shares their story and picks a topic and then we all have a chance to share as we celebrate with the birthday person. We have a "secretary" who leads the meeting by assigning various readings like the 12 steps and traditions, the preamble, the newcomers welcome, etc. There is no cross talk. One time in the almost 6 years that I have been attending have I seen the secretary have to stop someone and explain that we don't allow cross talk because he was going on and on giving advice in the middle of the meeting....he just didn't understand the no cross talk rule. Anyway, our meetings are really orderly but very full of life. We laugh a lot, but there is a lot of encouragement and recovery there. I used to think the rules were too rigid and made the atmosphere almost unfriendly. However NOW, I see that there is a lot of safety in doing things the same way that has been pre-arranged and agreed upon. It really does create a safe meeting without someone taking off based on their emotions or mood and liking someone or not liking someone. It is predictable and sane....where a lot of times everywhere else in our world isn't.

    That is just my experience...

  7. I always find it truly amazing how connected I feel to this blogging community. My Alanon meeting does not have step classes and I have been wondering what to do other than try and read and do it on my own, which isn't really working. I went to an AA meeting last night and was thinking even more about what to do. Your post makes so much sense and it is inspiring to me. I may talk with someone at an AA meeting to see if I can go to the step meetings, see how they run them and if it will help me. Funny how I can be thinking about something, and someone in this community writes about it...thanks Syd for the awesome information and wisdom.

  8. Structure & Format.
    Structure & Format.

  9. get them down. i'm sure they help more people than you realise.

  10. I can so relate and I think you summarized the important Alanon principals well. One of my home groups does the month's step the first meeting then it is chairperson's choice the rest of the month. We have a lot of newcomers so we often end up having a beginner's meeting which is great for us all but we always stick to the Steps at the first meeting of the month. Safety in Structure..I like what she said!


  11. I think you pretty much nailed it with your blog outline. I like the concept of "Study Group." Gives some wiggle room in the event of a pressing need to deviate from the Steps.

    Every community with 12 Step programs needs a Study Meeting.

  12. I like the ideas you have contemplated here, all seem very rational; I have a hard time with cross-talk and "let me fix you specifically" answers in meetings. I am able to understand better when someone shares their experience from their heart and lets everyone receive what they can through their spiritual connection to the steps and the people.

    The How Al-Anon works is a great start!

    A boat without a captain to steer it will run adrift and in fact the captain is just a part of the team, it takes the whole crew participating in unison to sail steady and true.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.