16 Steps of Discovery and Empowerment


 The 16 Steps

Recommended Reading

Suggested Group Guidelines

Other Resources

This site is dedicated to presenting information and resources about the 16 Steps of Discovery and Empowerment developed by Charlotte Kasl, PHD. These Steps are featured in her book "Many Roads, One Journey - Moving Beyond the 12 Steps" .

Read a quick overview of Dr. Kasl's approach to recovery in this article - keeping in mind that these 16 Steps are not gender specific - featured in "Counselor Magazine".

Much of the information presented here is summarized from an article entitled 'Recovery's Next Step' by Mark G. Judge printed in the Jan/Feb 1994 issue of "Common Boundary" on the 60th birthday of AA. This article presented the opinions of various people in the addiction/recovery field on whether the 12 Steps of AA are outdated and irrelevant or the doorway to new forms of spirituality and social change. I will be focusing on the part of the article dealing with Dr. Charlotte Kasl and the 16 Steps. You can get a back issue of "Common Boundary" by calling 1-800-548-8737 or by sending $5.00 to Common Boundary, 5272 River Rd., Suite 650, Bethesda, MD 20816. It is an excellent article - perhaps your local library has it.

DISCLAIMER: While the focus of Charlotte's works that I've chosen to highlight appear to be predominantly pro-feminist views, the 16 Step model is holistic and humanistic and for everybody regardless of gender.  I've presented the material *as I understand it* which may or may not be exactly as Dr. Kasl intended. Reading her materials yourself would be best to get a fuller view.

Charlotte states from working with many women and minorities, that the 12 Steps, while they are helpful, are also anachronistic, sexist, and mired in fundamentalist Christian dogma. She feels that AA's message of ego deflation is not the ONLY path to recovery and that most women she has worked with had very little ego strength; that many are battered, in bad relationships, are incest survivors and the 12 Steps had them constantly looking to their faults and taking blame for things.  Dr. Kasl insists that to be successful, recovery must incorporate a criticism of the political and patriarchal system that fosters addiction. Her version of the steps encourage addicts and people with dependency issues to "take charge of their lives and examine beliefs, addictions and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture".

Dr. Kasl believes that alcoholism has a genetic base, but feels that codependency, drug addiction, and 'process addictions' such as shopping result from our capitalist culture which "creates addiction because it rests on making people feel insecure, unlovable, and ashamed in order to have them purchase all kinds of things - allegedly - to make them feel attractive, powerful and lovable."

Continued in right column above...

Charlotte also re-frames the label of 'codependency' from its current pathologized view, stating that the traits cited are women's basic programming in this society... "It is oppressive programming and we need to look at the source." She takes issue with traditional codependency literature such as "One Day at a Time" in Al-Anon, or the chapter "To Wives" in "Alcoholics Anonymous" where "we see a multitude of blame-the-victim statements in many guises and forms....The chapter "To Wives" written by Bill W. sounds like popular women's magazines telling women how to navigate in a man's world, keeping "him" comfortable and maintaining peace at tremendous cost to self. Nowhere does it say: Be honest, Be yourself, Be true, Find your power, Don't be abused, or Abuse is not your fault." Dr. Kasl suggests the Internalized Oppression concept versus the term codependency.

"Internalized oppression is not the cause of our mistreatment, it is the result of our mistreatment. It would not exist without the real external oppression that forms the social climate in which we exist. Once oppression has been internalized, little force is needed to keep us submissive. We harbour inside ourselves the pain and the memories, the fears and the confusions, the negative self-images and the low expectations, turning them into weapons with which to re-injure ourselves, every day of our lives."

When a person feels bad about themselves, and wishes to be like someone else, it is very common to also feel bad about the group one belongs to, and to try to merge into the group which is perceived as superior in the hope that the difference will be become invisible. This is the other phenomena of internalize oppression,...Micheline Mason.

An excellent article on internalized oppression: Healing from the Effects of Internalized Oppression.

Kasl emphasizes that her criticism of AA is tempered with the knowledge that Bill Wilson was a product of his time - Depression Era America - and she appreciates his 'open-mindedness, creativity, flexibility, and willingness to change' but by contrast, many AA loyalists offer pat answers, closed minds, and dreary rhetoric. She says that AA is based on a sin-and-redemption philosophy: "You're a sinner and you have to make up for that for the rest of your life. There's nothing about love and trust, there's nothing about validating your strengths, about celebration, about joy".

Author and psychologist Jane Middleton-Moz, who has been treating Native Americans and other 'minorities' from addictions for 25 years says, "For people who have been oppressed for years and years - generations, actually - to say, "I am powerless" or "Turn it over" is to say something they have felt their whole lives."

In contrast the 16 Steps are a positive, flexible and holistic self-support alternative that offer support for a wide variety of quality of life issues, such as addiction, codependency, abuse, self-esteem, personal empowerment, and more. 16 Step groups encourage us to... "...celebrate our personal strengths, have choices, stand up for ourselves, heal our physical bodies, express our love for each other, and see ourselves as part of the entire community, not just the recovery community."


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 The 16 Steps of discovery and empowerment

1. We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.

Alternative:  We admit/acknowledge we are out of control with/powerless over _________ yet have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.

2. We come to believe that God/Goddess/Universe/Great Spirit/Higher Power awakens the healing wisdom within us when we open ourselves to that power.

3. We make a decision to become our authentic selves and trust in the healing power of the truth.

4. We examine our beliefs, addictions, and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchal, patriarchal culture.

5. We share with another human being and the Universe all those things inside of us for which we feel shame and guilt.

6. We affirm and enjoy our intelligence, strengths, and creativity, remembering not to hide those qualities from ourselves or others.

7. We become willing to let go of shame, guilt, and any behavior that keeps us from loving ourselves and others.

8. We make a list of people we have harmed and people who have harmed us, and take steps to clear out negative energy by making amends and sharing our grievances in a respectful way.

9. We express love and gratitude to others, and increasingly appreciate the wonder of life and the blessings we do have.

10. We learn to trust our reality and daily affirm that we see what we see, we know what we know, and we feel what we feel.

11. We promptly admit to mistakes and make amends when appropriate, but we do not say we are sorry for things we have not done and we do not cover-up, analyze, or take responsibility for the shortcomings of others.

12. We seek out situations, jobs, and people that affirm our intelligence, perceptions, and self-worth and avoid situations or people who are hurtful, harmful, or demeaning to us.

13. We take steps to heal our physical bodies, organize our lives, reduce stress, and have fun.

14. We seek to find our inward calling and develop the will and wisdom to follow it.

15. We accept the ups and downs of life as natural events that can be used as lessons for our growth.

16. We grow in awareness that we are sacred beings, interrelated with all living things, and we contribute to restoring peace and balance on the planet.

Charlotte Kasl, PhD. copyright 1991 (materials must retain copyright if reproduced) 

Charlotte encourages you to change the wording of any step to suit you.

Thank you for your interest in this powerful, life-affirming, balanced, holistic way to approaching 'uncovery' issues. (To 'recover' is to cover over again.) I started using these Steps in August 1996 in a weekly Women's 16 Step Discovery and Empowerment group that I started and facilitated for two years, on an email list and on an online forum. They have been a powerful tool on my healing journey.

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Recommended Reading


The following books by Charlotte Kasl, PhD are highly recommended and readable. Order them directly from Dr. Kasl's website. Or, purchase decent used copies from Half.com and Amazon.com, too.

MANY ROADS ONE JOURNEY: MOVING BEYOND THE 12 STEPS (Introduction of the 16 Steps, an in-depth look at the 12 Step Tradition pros and cons, a reevaluation of the label of codependency and an examination of the hierarchal patriarchal culture we live in and how it fosters addictions.)

WOMEN, SEX AND ADDICTION: A SEARCH FOR LOVE AND POWER (A powerful book examining women and societal conditioning, relationships, sexual addiction, sexual codependency, with an excellent chapter on codependency sobriety.)

FINDING JOY: 101 WAYS TO FREE YOUR SPIRIT AND DANCE WITH LIFE (A nice alternative to the myriad Daily Meditation type books out there.)

YES, YOU CAN! A GUIDE TO EMPOWERMENT GROUPS (Based on the 16 Steps from MANY ROADS ONE JOURNEY this book is an excellent detailed guide on starting and maintaining an empowerment group and includes guidelines, formats, and exercises on each step and input from successful groups.)

VIDEO TAPE: 16 STEPS FOR DISCOVERY AND EMPOWERMENT (A 90 minute video in which Charlotte Kasl talks about the fundamentals of empowerment and the 16 Steps - a good introduction to the 16 Steps from their creator. My Monday night group used this to kick off the group on it's first night. It's a good resource to have for newcomers.

Related articles and books:

A web page with examples of internalized oppression, blame the victim mentality.

The Incest Survivors' Afteraffects Checklist by E. Susan Blume can also apply to survivors of childhood abuses such as battering, or adult children of families where there is a history of alcoholism. Incest is especially common in alcoholic families, although not all alcohol-involved abuse is attributable to the disease of alcoholism. Incest perpetrators often apply the same defenses to their behavior as those used by alcoholics: denial, minimizing, and projection of blame. Additionally, perpetrators, just like victims, may dissociate the abuse. Still, incest is always the responsibility of the abuser. Although incest perpetrators are often described as 'sick' , for the most part, this behavior is a choice - intentional, planned, and purposefully hidden.

The checklist can also be found in this book Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in Women by E. Sue Blume.

Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and Its Devastation; Revised Edition by Susan Forward and Craig Buck.

The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick J. Carnes.


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Other 16 Step Resources


Email Dr. Kasl at  contact@charlottekasl.com to give her feedback on her books or the 16 Steps model or visit charlottekasl.com .


Adam White's 16 Step web pages include tips on starting a group.


 Suggested Guidelines For Using The 16 Steps in Groups:

Following are some sample guidelines that could be used in an online group. These guidelines were developed to protect boundaries. Take what you like or modify them to suit your needs and group's circumstances.

Our intent for the forum is to provide a safe, cathartic place to examine, discuss and use the 16 Steps of Discovery and Empowerment as a tool in our daily lives. We welcome all adults who are willing to grow, be conscious and aware, and have the courage and strength to "examine their beliefs, addictions, and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture". 

This forum is a powerful tool that can bring to the surface many insights and core issues. There are no professionals, authority figures, or 16 Step 'experts' guiding or moderating this forum. All members are equal adults who have valuable insights and life experience to share. If you are a mental health or other professional, kindly take off your "work hat" when participating in posting. While it may be human nature to want to speed up the healing process and get on with one's life, some things require time to process and cannot be rushed. Please go easy on yourself (and others) and pace yourself. Be aware that list members are from all areas of 'uncovery' with no one specific addiction/issue/behavior being addressed. 

Some members are new to uncovery/discovery/empowerment and are raw and vulnerable. Therefore, detailed descriptions of addictive behavior that are insensitive, provocative, or thoughtless can trigger some people to engage in acting out or to withdraw due to discomfort. Sexually suggestive/explicit postings or cyber-stalking is not appropriate here. Postings like this will be deleted. It is generally not a good idea for couples to share this forum.

1. Members try to stay focused on discovery and solutions to empowerment issues with the main focus using the 16 Steps. There are no 16 Step 'experts' or gurus here. Everyone is learning in his/her own way how to best use these steps as a life tool. And while we do not discourage exploring the negativity in our lives (we all have our ups and downs), we also encourage list members to share their strengths, skills, insights, successes and their hopes, dreams and life wisdom. At any time, feel free to start a discussion on a topic that you are interested in exploring/processing/sharing. Many members use this forum for journaling what is going on in their lives and within themselves and are simply looking for a safe place to do so. Feedback may or may not be welcomed. This is a good place to learn how to clearly ask for what you want and need from the group and how to respect other member's boundaries. (See #2 & 3)

2. This is the single most important guideline that is observed in this group. How we post and share on this forum is different than other groups and may take some time and practice getting used to. We avoid giving pat statements, unsolicited advice, and rationalizations and we do not try to fix or rescue people. When giving feedback, use "I" statements that best reflect your own personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. In other words, Keep The Focus On Yourself. "You" statements that focus on what you think someone should do are inappropriate in this forum and deny people their boundaries, innate wisdom and unique processes to finding their own truths and power. Similarly, making blanket "We" statements that make generalizations that assume everyone thinks alike is presumptive.

3. If you are feeling judgmental or critical of another's posting, please refrain from commenting immediately and focus instead on what it is about the issues being presented (not the personalities or specific details per se) that triggers this response from you. If after this self-examination you want to express an opinion, keep your comments focused on yourself ( see #2) and what insights you have uncovered/learned/discovered.

4. Each of us comes from different and unique experiences and places. We all have different views, opinions, and lifestyles. Hopefully, exposure to these differences will help us learn and grow in tolerance. We don't need to agree with one another, but we do need to be respectful of each other for who and where we are right now in our healing journeys. Therefore, no name-calling (aka Flaming), patronizing, sarcastic, shaming, superior or condescending comments. No one should feel the need to defend or explain themselves unless they want to for further clarity and depth. We practice respectful conflict resolution on this forum and give other's the benefit of the doubt.  Apologies for mistakes are welcomed.

5. Many people who are drawn to this forum like the wording of Step 2: "We come to believe that God/Goddess/Universe/Great Spirit/Higher Power/etc. awakens the healing wisdom within us when we open ourselves to that power." Members come from various religious and spiritual backgrounds and beliefs OR do not subscribe to any. These beliefs are an individual matter AND this is a nondenominationally spiritual forum, not a religious one. Everyone is welcome to explore their sources of spiritual inspiration on the forum as they pertain to 16 step discussions, however, when sharing your own personal sources of spiritual inspiration or beliefs/truths do not use "We language" that assumes that everyone else embraces/believes your particular source. Do not proselytize (attempt to convert others to a particular religious belief or sect) on this forum.

6. All feelings are OK to express - positive as well as 'negative', dark as well as light - assuming insight is sought and can be gained from the sharing. This allows for a safe, non-judgmental, cathartic place to process anger and other shame-based feelings.

7. Remember the forum is for everybody, regardless of gender or other program affiliations, so please do not engage in gender or 12 Step bashing. This forum is for using the 16 Steps and is not for making comparisons with the 12 Step Program model. There are numerous 12 Step forums in cyberspace where the 12 Steps are discussed -  do it there.

Additional ideas for group guidelines can be found in "Yes, You Can! A Guide to Empowerment Groups "
by Charlotte Kasl, PhD.

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Updated 04 March 2009

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