Posted by: coachingparents | April 17, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

In the normal course of human development, we grow from dependence to independence to interdependence.  In non-clinical language, we mature from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.  In childhood, we are dependent on others to take care of us, to address our needs, and to protect us so we grow into adolescence.  In adolescence, we begin taking on responsibility for our own care, we practice meeting our own needs, and strengthen our own self-protection skills, thereby allowing us to grow into adulthood.  As adults, we recognize we are unique individuals, fully responsible for our own care, able to address our own basic needs without help, and are self-protective enough to live a long time.

Healthy adults are capable of forming interdependent relationships.  They realize they need the contributions of others in order to thrive in the culture.  They depend at least upon the farmer, transporter, food broker, stock clerk, check-out person (and probably others) in order to eat.  However, they realize they have options and choices regarding whom they directly relate to and whom they don’t.

Too many people remain stuck in the stages of dependence or independence and never emotionally mature enough to participate autonomously in relationships.  When two people, each stuck in the dependent phase of development, form a relationship, we label their relationship “co-dependent.”  When the dependent forms a relationship to a non-living object (e.g. an addictive drug), we label them as “dependent” upon it.

No one can move from dependence to interdependence without having first past through independence.  It is virtually impossible for dependent people to form healthy interdependent relationships without first experiencing functional autonomy.  In non-clinical language: you can’t relate to another in a healthy way until you learn to relate to yourself in a healthy way.

Probably the most effective method for moving grown-ups from dependence and co-dependence into mature interdependence is the “12-Step Programs.”  Some of the benefits of participating in a 12-Step program include:

—Realizing the truth that you cannot resolve the dependency alone; 
—Acceptance of you by others until you learn self-acceptance;
—Learning effective ways to work on yourself;
—Realizing you are not the only one experiencing the same difficulty and you belong to a group;
—Understanding that your problem is bigger than you and you learn to depend on a power greater than yourself, as well as your own strengths, to overcome difficulties;
—Attending meetings keeps you focused and your caring energy flowing;
—You gain encouragement by the success of others and you learn how they “did it;”
—The more time spent in meetings, the less time you spend acting out your dependency;
—You are educated about your addiction/compulsion/problem/dependency so that it has less of an impact on you.

12-step programs facilitate people to mature from dependence through autonomy and empowers them to create healthy interdependent relationships.

As historians look back on the 20th century, I am convinced that they will identify the 12-step program to be the most therapeutic system of the century.  It is a spiritually-centered program.  Cell biologist, psychologist and author, Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., says the reason 12-step programs are so successful is because they “grow the soul.”  Soul-growing is critical to human development.  If you wish to move effectively and efficiently from dependence to interdependence, you might just give 12-step soul-growing a try.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on


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