Applying the 12 Step Approach to PTSD Recovery

March 10, 2016 Jami DeLoe

Applying the 12 step approach is one way to enhance posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery. Because many of us who suffer from PTSD have also suffered from drug or alcohol addiction, I think applying the 12 steps to our PTSD recovery only makes sense. If we are finding relief from our addiction by using the 12 steps, which teaches us a new way to live, then we can apply that new way of living to our PTSD recovery as well. Even for PTSD sufferers who don't have a problem with drugs or alcohol, I believe the 12 step approach can be helpful.

Applying the First Three Steps to PTSD Recovery

The first three steps of any 12-step program are about acceptance, surrender, and trust. When applied to PTSD recovery, I would state these steps as follows:

  • Step One - We admitted we were powerless over our trauma and the effects of our trauma, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step Two - Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Step Three - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

At first glance, it may seem like these steps are asking us to give in to our disorder, when what we really want to do is fight it and return to the way we were prior to our trauma. However, when we look at these steps closer, I think the helpfulness of this paradox becomes more clear.

A Closer Look at the First Steps of PTSD Recovery

The first step asks us to admit that we are powerless over our trauma and its aftermath. That's easy--we certainly didn't ask for our trauma to happen to us, and we can't help having the symptoms of PTSD that followed. However, I think that this step asks us to go a little farther and take action. It asks us to accept our situation. This is when we have to stop fighting our past, wishing for a different outcome, and accept that our trauma happened and that we had no control over it. It is only through powerlessness that we can come to acceptance (PTSD Recovery: Accepting Your PTSD Diagnosis).

The 12 step approach to PTSD recovery can be empowering. But steps 2-3 give people second thoughts. Let me talk you through - PTSD recovery is only a step away.

Step two is more complex. It says that we have to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Many people have a difficult time with this step (and step three) because of its religious sounding nature. Some may not believe in God and they stop at this step because it goes against their beliefs. Some, who do believe in God, may not like it because their trauma has caused them to lose faith, or question why God would allow it to happen. The truth about this step is that all you have to be is open-minded and willing to believe that there is something greater than yourself that can help you recover. What that higher power is for you, is your call. It can be something of a spiritual nature, or it can be all of the PTSD sufferers who came before you and have recovered. The key to this step is to realize, or surrender to, the fact that your recovery doesn't happen through you alone.

The third step asks us to turn over our will and our lives to our higher power. This step requires action on our part; it requires that we actively trust that our higher power can take care of things. This is not easy, for sure. It requires letting go of burdens and trusting that God, or our higher power, can handle them. When we are able to let go, we will feel relief--I know this because of my own experience. Most of us in recovery, of any sort, feel like we have to manage it on our own. Step three tells us otherwise. We have to give it up and trust that our higher power has got it under control.

I could write at length about the first three steps of the 12 steps, as they have shown me a new way to live in recovery. I just wanted to give an overview, a surface glance at them for this post. Next week, I'll move on to the next three steps.

Please comment or share your experience with the 12 steps, I would love to hear what you have to say.

Using The 12 Step Approach For PTSD Recovery Series:

  1. Using A 12-Step Approach for PTSD Recovery
  2. You are here: Applying the 12 Step Approach in PTSD Recovery
  3. PTSD Recovery: Steps 4, 5, and 6 of the 12 Step Approach
  4. PTSD Recovery: 12-Step Approach, Steps 7, 8, and 9
  5. PTSD Recovery: Final Steps of the 12 Step Approach



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APA Reference
DeLoe, J. (2016, March 10). Applying the 12 Step Approach to PTSD Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Jami DeLoe

Jami DeLoe is a freelance writer and addiction blogger. She is an advocate for mental health awareness and addiction recovery and is a recovering alcoholic herself. Find Jami DeLoe on her blog, Sober GraceTwitter, and Facebook.

Suzanne Humphreys-Hogg
June, 4 2021 at 11:00 am

I am a domestic abuse survivor. In year 15 of my recovery . Early on I went to Rehab to get off the prescription drugs I had been on to survive the day to day abuse. I was amazed at how the AA program worked for me and I kind of bought into the idea that I must have been an addict. I didn't really understand the severity of the abuse I had endured. I always could feel the physiological changes that occurred during the meetings for me. I didn't relate to the stories of the alcohol abuse I was hearing but I went anyway because It clearly made me feel better and I loved the people. We definitely should start a CPTSR A program !! How do we start ??

Lynn Bass
January, 25 2020 at 8:07 pm

I realized how 12 steps could be helpful recently. Glad you have this here because I plan on applying them. Step one was easy as I know I can't control all the environments and prevent them from happening. I am still letting them go at least the most recent episodes...... I was w0mndering today if there are 12 step groups. It just feels like such a lonely place to have to suffer many do not understand. For me I do not share with others as they have been some who took it to mean I became thier comedy act as they trigger deliberately then laugh when I reacted which made the after affects worse. It would be really help ful to speak to others and work through the steps.... Today I spoke to a 12 step educator about this while it was uncomfportable it was extremely helpful We compare 12 steps alcoholish and drug use with PTSD how similar the diseases are.... As I said it is lonely when I know or see that there really is few that understand PTSD and how it unfolds.

John m
September, 15 2017 at 4:23 am

As a 32 year member of AA and now working with First Responders and Military suffering PTSD, I am exploring this 12 step approach. Your comments have been encouraging and I look forward to exploring this opportunity to assist those who still suffer.

April, 28 2017 at 12:41 pm

My name is Nico and I've been suffering from PTSD for about two years now. In the beginning it was really hard controlling my emotions and my thoughts.
How it happened ? I was in the presence of really really negative people. People who called themselves ''Godless". While being with them it was hard, because I am a very religious person and I new that I didn't belong. It was more a case of getting out the house and show my parents that I can live without them to support me. So, back to the story, it was 11:00 the morning and I watched a horror film with my friend. There was a part in the film where there was a "Jump Scare". I remember that I felt immediately something was wrong with me. I felt as if I was out of my own body. I didn't have control over any of my thoughts. I cried and was so so so scared all the time. At that moment I asked God to help me and tell me what I should do. He said to phone my mother. So i did and she said I should come home. So I climbed in my car and took a 4 hour drive back home, being scared, pulling to the side of the road, becuase of the feeling coming back all the time.
When I got home I felt like a mess. I didn't know what happened. I was unsure. any load noise or car driving pass the house made me crazy. After a week it got better, but never faded since then. I get reminded constantly of this fear that I have. I think its the fear of loosing control over my body. I know its weird, but this I fear. So my daily routine is having a constant fight in my head, telling the voice that whispers to me to f*** off ! I prayed and people prayed for me and it really helped me a lot. The only problem is, I want to be healed, There are times where I really just want God to take it all away, because I'm done living like this every day of my life. I need Him to come and heal me. i think He's busy. But it feels as if I'm stuck in the stage of PTSD where I can't "get over it".
i need help. I just feel that a psychologist will not help me to help me, but help me because they get paid to do it.
so, I just want someone to please just give me a straight answer of what the hell I should do, because I need to get over this.

April, 22 2016 at 5:12 am

Thanks for sharing this post, i'm currently researching PTSD for my writing and learing about the recovery has been eye opening and taught me things I had no idea about. A really interesting read.

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