Explaining the Roles of Sponsor and Sponsee
Therapy and/or medications could help to ease the urge to use and abuse drugs, but 12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can have a deep impact too. Much of that impact comes through the relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee.
For example, in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, researchers found that inmates who participated in a 12-Step program had a higher sense of coherence and meaning in life, when compared to those who did not go through a 12-Step program. These inmates felt connected to their peers, and they felt as if the work they did meant something important. The 12-Step program brought that to them.
For many people, that sense of meaning and importance can be directly tied to the work they do as a sponsor and/or a sponsee. For some, that work is the cornerstone of the 12-Step movement.
This is a comparison of the roles of sponsors and sponsees.
What Is a Sponsor?
A sponsor is a person familiar with the 12-Step philosophy who is ready to help another person to move along the recovery journey. This is a person who has personal and profound experience with addiction and who has worked hard to overcome that addiction. This person can share those stories and help to inspire a similar recovery in someone else.
The Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Conference reports that almost anyone could be a sponsor. There are no tests to complete and pass, no licenses to apply for, nor any fees to pay. Anyone with a personal connection to the recovery process who is willing to share with someone else can be a sponsor.
What Is a Sponsee
Anyone who is moving along a journey of recovery from an addiction could be a sponsee. Sometimes, a sponsee is new to sobriety and the 12-Step movement, and needs a little guidance from a mentor in order to understand the challenges and expectations of the recovery process. Sometimes, a sponsee is an experienced member of the 12-Step movement who would like to brush up on lessons with someone else. Anyone who spends time in the movement can be a sponsee.
Becoming a sponsee is relatively easy. People who wish to do so are not required to sit for an exam, pay a fee, or go through a cumbersome matchmaking process. They simply express a wish to learn from someone else in recovery. That willingness to learn is all that is required for the relationship to begin and develop.
There are few formal rules that go along with participation in the 12-Step movement. The only hard-and-fast rule involves a willingness to change behavior in some way. But there are informal rules that support the mission of sobriety, and working as a sponsor is one such rule, according to the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Conference.
The 12-Step movement is founded on the idea that people can help one another to heal. Alone, it is very hard to pull together meaningful change. With the help of others, even difficult shifts seem easier to make. One of the final steps in the 12-Step plan involves spreading the word of AA to people in need. Sponsorship is a quick and easy way to do just that.
So people may not be technically required to work as a sponsor, but they might be very strongly encouraged to do so. They might even feel pressure to do so, if they choose to follow the steps to the letter.
While the 12-Step rules do seem to imply that all participants should spread the word of AA, and while informal AA rules suggest that all people should do their part to be a sponsor, there are no similar suggestions about working as a sponsee. However, there might be subtle pressure from within the community that could push some people to take on a sponsee role.
In a study of 182 people who had participated in Alcoholics Anonymous, published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers found that most people were strongly encouraged to find a sponsor. If that result is to be believed, almost everyone who participates in the 12-Step movement becomes a sponsee at some point. It is something that seems to be expected of active members.
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In an overview of the AA program, written by Behavioral Medicine Associates, researchers say that sponsorship is highly individualized, and the time involved with sponsorship can vary accordingly. Some people speak with their sponsees every single day. Some speak with them just once or twice per week. Some make themselves available around the clock for questions and support. Others have “working hours” in which they will accept calls. Some hold reading sessions for sponsees during off hours; some do not.
In general, the time involved should not be burdensome. After all, sponsors are also in recovery, and they need to attend to their own health and healing. They may not be able to support their own recovery if they are devoting excessive amounts of time to the healing process of others. That being said, it is reasonable to assume that the time involved is measured in hours, not minutes.
A sponsor can be a guide to the 12-Step culture. In that relationship, a sponsee might meet with a sponsor either before or after a meeting, in order to learn about expectations and responsibilities. A sponsee might also have sponsor-assigned tasks to complete, such as checking in via phone periodically or reading chapters of the Big Book and reporting back with key findings to discuss.
But again, these are tasks that are defined by a sponsor. A sponsee who feels overwhelmed with the work can terminate the relationship at any time and switch to a new sponsor. A sponsee who feels as though the support is sparse and weak can also request a new helper and move to a more rigorous program.
As a sponsee, the sponsor is there to help with success. The sponsee should not feel as though there is some sort of set time commitment to fill. Instead, the sponsee should feel as though the sponsor spends enough time with the sponsee to make the healing process a little more likely.
What Are Your Duties?
In a study in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, researchers found that sponsors had attended meetings, on average, for 9.5 years. They felt they had three very distinct jobs to perform as sponsors. They needed to encourage sponsees to work the 12 Steps of sobriety, and they felt obligated to provide ongoing support to sponsees. They also felt that they should share their own personal experiences of AA, to help boost the chances of a sponsee’s recovery.
This may seem like a short to-do list, but there is quite a bit involved. A sponsor might be required to provide around-the-clock crisis support for sponsees, so those people have someone to call when they are in the midst of a sobriety challenge. A sponsor might also feel compelled to understand and work the steps even harder on a personal level, so it will be easier to provide instruction for someone in need.
A sponsee is a student, hoping to learn more about sobriety with the help of a mentor. The program really does work. In a study of efficacy in the journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 42.3 percent of participants found the program helpful. But those who found it helpful were more likely to have been deeply involved in AA.
That means AA seems to have a dose-dependent effect. The more a person takes advantage of the help, the more likely the person is to find the program helpful. A sponsee’s job, in this scheme, is to attend meetings and listen to a sponsor. The person is asked to put personality, rules, and opinions behind, and focus on what has worked for other people. The sponsee’s job is to listen, learn, and take the program in.
How to Take Advantage
Support group meetings are not hard to find. In fact, in an overview article in the journal Recent Developments in Alcoholism, researchers report that urban areas often have 12-Step meetings available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Anyone who wants to attend a meeting can certainly do so.
Those who want to take on a sponsee or become a sponsee need to do little more than ask. These communities are open, welcoming, and made for everyone. Most people who attend really want to help others, and they are willing to work with anyone who asks for help. People who want to get involved can simply state that preference, and the group is likely to help make the right match. It really is that easy, and it really can work.