Theory behind the ASCA model

The reality is that recovery from childhood abuse is more complicated than recovery from substance abuse.

Dr. Patrick Gannon

In this 3.5-minute video, the author of the book Soul Survivors and co-founder of ASCA introduces the theoretical foundation of ASCA, including psychology, the meeting structure, the steps, the interventions, and the Big Book. Transcript included.


▶️ 00:00

I want to shift a little bit to the theoretical underpinnings of the ASCA model.

▶️ 00:08

It is a psychological model based on trauma theory, developmental theory, attachment theory, and ego strengthening. So, it is not a spiritual program. People can have their own spiritual beliefs, but it is not like A.A., which is essentially a spiritual program.

▶️ 00:26

But the meeting format, the structure, has been heavily influenced by the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step program, in addition to medical self-help.

▶️ 00:37

Here in the California San Francisco Bay Area, David Spiegel, who’s a well-known psychiatrist at Stanford, he developed medical self-help groups, basically for breast cancer survivors. And he’s done research to show that these medical self-help groups are tremendously helpful for people that are surviving mastectomies and other types of medical issues. So, we borrowed a little bit from that literature as well, as well as other psychoeducational groups.

▶️ 01:05

For example, my wife and I, who’s also a psychologist, for many years here in San Francisco we provided a group for engaged and newly-wed couples. And we were using psychoeducational skills to build people’s ability to be effective in their marriage. So, skill-based groups are also part of the theme here.

▶️ 01:29

So what we evolved was this three-stage, 21-step recovery model that identifies key tasks, strategies, and values to guide personal recovery. And that may sound like a lot—21 steps—but originally I thought that it would take 36 steps. And I remember when I was talking to my editor at Prentice Hall about this book—way back in ’87, I believe it was—they thought that 21 steps was far too much. They wanted a lower number. They wanted me to make it a twelve-step program. “How about relying on 12 steps?” And of course, we didn’t want to be too identified with the A.A. model.

▶️ 02:17

The reality is that recovery from childhood abuse is more complicated than recovery from substance abuse. Many of the people that come into our program have substance abuse issues, and we urge them to deal with that at first—preferably—or at least concurrently. But there are a lot more steps. The long-term effects of childhood abuse on personality formation, identity formation, functionality is significantly more complicated, and we needed a more robust program.

▶️ 02:51

That’s what we were hearing from people—survivors who are going to A.A. because they had no other place to go. It wasn’t meeting their needs because it wasn’t comprehensive enough. So we tried to build a comprehensive program.

▶️ 03:03

In fact, what we’re doing is we’re integrating. It’s an integrated change model based on self-help and professional help intervention. And in the Soul Survivors book, there’s a chapter for self-help and there’s a chapter for professional help. And we encourage people to use both interventions. And we think that it is complementary to be in an ASCA self-help group and in psychotherapy at the same time.

▶️ 03:28

And then the Soul Survivors book has functioned as essentially the ASCA Big Book, similar to the A.A. Big Book.

▶️ 03:35


Dr. J. Patrick Gannon

Video excerpt from a presentation with Haruv USA
April 2021

Video by
The Morris Center for Healing from Child Abuse, 2024