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Interview with Irene Kotter from Chateau Recovery about SMART Recovery

When I visited Chateau Recovery I was struck by my conversation with one of your current clients, who was talking about why he chose Chateau.  He said he was interested in the different approaches to recovery that were offered and for him, it was SMART Recovery.  I realized, I need to talk to you more about this approach and why Chateau uses SMART Recovery.  

I had known SMART as a well-respected model for substance abuse and addiction recovery by some heavy hitting organizations like American Academy of Family Physicians, the Center for Health Care Evaluation, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), US Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.  My visit, and my interveiw with Irene, taught me about putting “rubber to the road”, and the day to day details of making the SMART Recovery model a powerful component in an active recovery program.

So let’s start at the beginning, why did you choose SMART Recovery as one of the approaches for Chateau Recovery?

Tom Horvath, President of SMART Recovery said “there are as many paths to recovery as there are individuals.”  We echo Tom and know that there isn’t just one path to recovery for all people.  We believe that the journey of individual wellness and recovery starts with personal choice.  Understanding and nurturing all aspects of personal development creates empathy, honesty, lasting motivation, and opportunities to live life outside of addiction.


We chose SMART Recovery as an approach for many reasons.  See a few key reasons listed here:

Client Empowerment Model and Self Management Tools: Teaches self-empowerment, self-reliance, and techniques for self-directed change.  
Stages of Change
Cost/Benefit Analysis which looks at their decision making process of the client
REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) for Urge Coping
REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) for Emotional Upsets
DISARM (Destructive Images and Self-talk Awareness & Refusal Method)
Hierarchy of Values
Role-playing and Rehearsing
USA (Unconditional Self-Acceptance)

Nick Rajacic defines this further, “I accept myself because I’m alive and have the capacity to enjoy my existence. I am not my behavior. I can rate my traits and my behavior, but it is impossible to rate something as complex as my ‘self.’

The goal is for the clients to gain and apply the following

Living a Balanced Life: Understanding and nurturing all aspects of personal development creates empathy, honesty, lasting motivation, and opportunities to live life outside of addiction.

Motivational Interviewing taught and practiced is strong and different from a traditional model. The goal of Motivational Interviewing is to move  individuals to resolve their ambivalence about changing their behavior, without evoking their resistance to change. It is focused and goal oriented, by helping resolve ambivalence by increasing the discrepancy between current behaviors and desired goals.

Thoughtful & Usable – for multiple ages – We have a wide range of clients 18 and older which makes SMART accessible for a wide range.

12 Step Resistant Clients Respond to SMART- Some of the clients struggle with spiritual elements of other recovery approaches. SMART is a scientific approach, not a twelve-step program. It is based on modern cognitive/behavioral methods, particularly Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). We think a person’s religious or spiritual convictions are a personal matter that can be helpful, but are not essential to recovery.

We believe that the power to change addictive behaviors resides within each individual and does not depend upon adherence to any spiritual viewpoint. The use of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices in recovery is a personal choice and not a part of our program.

Abstinence based model: We believe a permanent abstinence decision is the most rational, easiest, hassle-free solution but clients get to determine what they will abstain from and we support them in this process.  With the right tools and skills, most people can quit and make it stick, without life-long struggle or substitute dependency on the group. We view sobriety as a personal choice and relapse as a learning opportunity.  This is not to say relapse is expected — more that it can be part of a client’s journey.


Everyone knows Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – there are meetings in every community around the globe nightly. Do some clients use both approaches to recovery or is it exclusive?

Some clients choose SMART Recovery, some choose AA and some choose both.  We give them opportunities for both while they are at Chateau.  There are less support groups around the world for SMART than there are for AA/NA however there is online support 24 hours a day should they need support and are not able to get to a SMART meeting.  When clients are unable to attend a live SMART group they often choose AA/NA support groups and have said that the principles they learn and practice there help them on their path of lasting recovery.

I was a History major is college and always find myself looking for when or where something originated.  SMART Recovery formally started in 1994, but has roots in the Rational Recovery movement that started in the mid 80’s. It is interesting to think about what was going on in the 80’s that created the catalyst for this new approach.

Yes, that is interesting to think about the REBT movement in the 80s which later developed into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  While REBT focuses on changing core beliefs, CT focuses on changing a negative thought.  We practice both of these models and also incorporate psychological flexibility.  In other words, clients gain awareness of their relationships with their thoughts.  They learn how to be present and accept their thoughts.  This is especially helpful for anyone who wants to avoid or numb any negative thought or belief about themselves.  Clients learn to accept what is and develop positive coping strategies through SMART’s 4 point program.

Point 1: Building and Maintaining Motivation

Point 2: Coping with Urges

Point 3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors

Point 4: Living a Balanced Life


Here is a link for your readers to read about– Is SMART Recovery® as effective as AA?


It seems that SMART meetings are becoming more common around the country. Where you do you direct the men and women in your program, post treatment?

There are many meetings starting around the country.  You can find a listing here:

If a meeting is not available to a client post treatment we will help provide local support to them and through SMART’s facilitator training, they can start a SMART group.

Chateau is not listed as a SMART Recovery Program, are you in process with that? Where is Chateau Recovery in the process of getting the Facilitator Trainings done?

Chateau Recovery is a SMART Facilitator program. It is a process of joining SMART and becoming a Facilitator.    Please find more information about how you or your program can become a Facilitator too.  (


The path of sobriety is gray for many of clients, they will struggle and do not have to count days but learn skills on how their thinking patterns work.  

I recently spoke with an alumni who had been to 3 other traditional inpatient programs prior to Chateau Recovery.  When asked how he responded to SMART Recovery he thoughtfully expressed, “It was the first time in over 30 years that I felt like I could breathe again.  I felt like a huge burden was lifted off of my chest and breathed in deeply. I felt like there was hope.”  

For the first time when a struggle happened for this client, all is not lost. Instead growing and evolving — relapse does not means failure.


About the Author
Irene Kotter is the Director of Business Development at Chateau Recovery (UT).  She has spent the last 11 years working with children, adolescents, young adults, and adults in private residential and transitional living settings.  She has worked in Residential Staff/Supervisor positions to admissions director and strategic marketing positions.