A Proper Response to Complaint About 12- Step Coercion

Here’s an actual helpful message from an LCSW in response to my complaints about 12-Step coercion in therapy.

Hi Tom, I’ve been a practicing LCSW for @ 30 years. I stumbled on your Facebook page. I “wandered” around reading your document recounting your experiences w Samaritan. Obviously there is much I don’t know but I was deeply saddened by your experience. Although I do not specialize in addiction I have worked in rehab programs and seen individuals for therapy dealing w addiction related issues. I remember hearing in a graduate course I took on addictions that the stubborn endorsement of 12 step programs as the “only” solution is an attitude that is uniquely American. That, in fact, in Europe there are other highly regarded therapies. I am not familiar w the alternatives but am intrigued by other options that you mention. As a therapist I tell my clients that it is not my job to give them solutions but to help them arrive at solutions that work for them. As part of that commitment I consider it my responsibility to educate myself about alternatives. Although I have been in practice for a long time I view every new counseling experience as an opportunity to learn something new or see things from a different perspective. I wonder if the therapists with whom you tried to work were threatened by your intelligence and your desire to look at therapies with which they were not familiar.

Anyway, none of this changes anything but I wanted to say that I apologize on behalf of others who may through their own insecurities have in fact made your journey more difficult. Reading your information has challenged me to begin to educate myself in alternatives to 12 step programs.

Good luck,

Now, compare this to Samaritan Counseling’s response (a termination letter):

“Lastly, it has come to our attention that multiple copies of your letters were received by the center. One of which was not by the use of the US Postal Service or any other third party delivery system [note: the therapist’s office was closer to me than the post office, just a few blocks away from my home.]. It was apparent that the letter had been hand-delivered to our satellite office in Delmar, NY. As a result, this letter is also being written to inform you that under no circumstances will any further personal contact with the center, its satellites or its personnel be allowable.” – David Olsen Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, and Jenness Clairmont, former Clinical Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, and board member of the NYS Department of Education Office of Professions (licensing board)

Now, that sounds rather cultish. (More importantly, it made me feel like some kind of criminal for trying to give them some honest feedback.)

This video describes how the powerlessness concept of Alcoholics Anonymous just doesn’t suit many people at all. It also describes a situation similar to mine where a man had been making good progress with a therapist, and then was terminated because he wouldn’t go to AA. He also explains why he thinks it’s malpractice to continue to bludgeon people into AA.

But it’s not just that AA is a bad modality for some people. There is more to the picture about why AA and organizations like Samaritan Counseling suppress information and negative feedback, mainly big money being made in the rehab industry:

Excellent Description of the Cult Coercion/Extortion Experience

Full blog post: “Help”

“We sacrificed our financial well being and enjoyment for the sake of speaking the truth to others about the malpractice and fraud of the 12 step cult and its business arm, the 12 step rehab industry. We discovered that the cult had tinkered with regulatory policy, the media, and law, to secure its dominance over substance abuse treatment and absolve any liability for its errancy. We found an evil that we never knew existed.”

“…we were not powerless over alcohol but that we had become powerless over our tormentors and quite by their design.”

“We asked our government: why was this was allowed to persist, unregulated and opaque, devoid of meaningful opposition and scrutiny? We contacted attorneys and the media, only to have the door slammed in our faces. Only then, we realized that the power to overcome our substance abuse was within us always, and that it was our tormentors who had attempted to take this away for the service of their own ideologies and for their own financial beneficence.

We told our tormentors that: mental servitude to a system of irrational and logically circuitous beliefs was not ‘help’, that this exacerbated our recovery, and was grossly and medically inappropriate.

Having had this ‘awakening’ we left Alcoholics Anonymous. We chewed our limbs off to free ourselves from the 12 step cult and the well designed, insidious, psychological steel trap in which we had become ensnared.

We told our tormentors: “you did nothing to help us” and…

we left AA”

Letter to David Olsen Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling

Thanks to a friend who is trying to contact Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region on my behalf about this serious issue (as I am forbidden to). Samaritan Counseling is not responding.


The therapists currently employed/supervised by David C. Olsen PhD, who will effectively be directing your treatment, are listed below. You can expect similar treatment from any one of them.

Christina Harrington-Stutzman
Dan Kulzer
David C. Olsen
Emily Wallsh
Erin Belanger
Jim Fenimore
Katina Saxton
Kay-Leigh Stacy
Maria Catalfamo
Nicole Johns
Oona Edmands
Patrick Sheehan
Emily Szelest
Celine Katz
Rob Hawthorne
Virginia Hemmerle
Lindsy Mateo
Windy Wyczawski

Alcoholics Anonymous Coercion in Therapy

This kind of ‘treatment’ should be illegal. I created this movie after a couple of months of wondering what to do if Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region was not willing to acknowledge the content of my complaint about AA coercion. (They acknowledged the letter and said nothing about its content, only that I had sent one copy without a stamp and therefore ‘under no circumstances’ was I to have any further personal contact with anyone at Samaritan Counseling, as if delivering a complaint incorrectly was breaking some kind of boundary I was unaware of.)

I spent $300 to subscribe to this cartoon making service, and sat down with my records, writing down a transcript of critical experiences in therapy (much of it is verbatim from records or memory). It was somewhat cathartic, because I didn’t know how to explain my experience to other people. Then I was afraid to show it to people; but when I did finally start sharing it, I was happy to see comments from many people who related to what I was trying to express. My view of the situation hasn’t changed much since then, but I have seen that this is not an isolated incident; it’s a pattern of mistreatment by addiction professionals and other professionals who feel afraid or incompetent to question them.

I originally intended this to be an abstract expression of the experience of AA coercion. But after having multiple Yelp reviews removed and Yelp accounts deleted, I decided to put their name on it, so that it shows up in search results for Samaritan Counseling in general. It’s one thing to have gone through something like this; it’s another thing to not get a reasonable response; it’s yet another thing to not have any way to tell other consumers about it because you are being censored by people who feel they need to hide the truth. That’s what’s great about the internet!

True TED Talk by Johann Hari author of Chasing the Scream

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

In response to my letter of concern about 12-step coercion and suppression of informed consent:

“Lastly, it has come to our attention that multiple copies of your letters were received by the center. One of which was not by the use of the US Postal Service or any other third party delivery system. It was apparent that the letter had been hand-delivered to our satellite office in Delmar, NY. As a result, this letter is also being written to inform you that under no circumstances will any further personal contact with the center, its satellites or its personnel be allowable.” – David Olsen Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, and Jenness Clairmont, former Clinical Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, and board member of the NYS Department of Education Office of Professions (licensing board)

Apparently I’m Axis II – For Requesting to Talk about AA Coercion

This is more proof that Samaritan Counseling or Recovery Resource Center of Albany were trying to paint me as insane as I tried to speak out about 12-step coercion and their merry-go-round mind-fuck. Claiming that AA did not save your life is considered a personality disorder.


“Axis II – A classification dimension used with Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which includes personality disorders—paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, dependent, obsessive-compulsive, personality and NOS (not otherwise specified)—and intellectual disorders, including mental retardation.”


Here is the letter that was so offensive (mainly because it didn’t have a stamp on it? The office was closer than the post office) and Axis II to them. I was being kind to Jim Garrett (a 12-step facilitator) at the time, because I thought he would actually allow me to escape his nonsense and he would adhere to his agreement and let me speak to my therapist about the experience. In fact, in my last session with him, he told me to not send my complaint and to ‘trust my higher power':

AA coercion at samaritan

Jim Garrett’s records say such things as:

“recounted AA relationship and how abusive it felt to him because he would not have sex with her” – 3/11/14

“Case discussion with Oona Edmands: agreed that Tom will need to have two months of sobriety and weekly sessions with me before he could see Oona.” – 3/17/14

“Tom Gleason called – ‘I was only doing this so I could get back to see Oona'” – 3/20/14

“See me once a month for ‘trust building’ sessions and get approval to have appointment with Oona Edmands after two months” – 3/26/14

“Sober. Debriefing the ‘betrayal’ from Oona Edmands and his emotional response to not being able to meet with her. wrote complaint to David Olsen; has meeting on Monday with Dr. Olsen and clinical supervisor [NOTE: David Olsen did not attend]; looking at how his drinking damaged the relationship with Oona and how he may never get the opportunity to resolve/bring closure to that relationship; angry that he feels like Oona Edmands is pushing ‘religion’ on him by ‘making’ [NOTE: scare quotes] him go to AA meeetings instead of allowing other alternatives” – 5/30/14

This was shortly before I checked myself into a psychiatric ward for the second time.

12-Step Emotional Extortion and Abuse at Samaritan Counseling Center


I had reached out to my therapist and expressed to her that I had been doing very well for a couple of months until being unexpectedly terminated, and needed to process it better. They refused to talk to me unless I went to an ‘addictions specialist’. I had already voluntarily been through that outpatient rehab and sessions with him for the past six months and told them I didn’t find it necessary and had decided not to continue. After all, I had gone to therapy to find a different kind of help than I was getting in daily AA meetings. They would not listen to me. I became extremely depressed over the course of a month of this and finally called her for another session even though I hadn’t met with the addiction counselor. She thought I had fulfilled the requirement, so she scheduled the appointment with me. But during the session I told her again that I didn’t like the requirement and really just wanted to talk to her. She terminated me much more solidly.

Shortly thereafter, I ended up in a psychiatric ward (over Christmas). My doctor recommended it as a way to get a detox without going through the whole ‘rehab’ thing. My doctor told me to make sure I tell them exactly how depressed I was so that they wouldn’t turn me down. I enjoyed interacting with the patients and staff and having regular meals.

The last day of the psychiatric ward stay, though, I was worried about what to do when I got out. The therapy situation was still on my mind constantly and I was still confused about it. They hadn’t really helped me process it. I just wanted to talk to my therapist as I had done for about 8 months, which was a nearby and convenient session for me which I enjoyed. Without the AA meetings, I no longer had many people to talk to. Samaritan refused to answer my requests.

My sister was able to get a session somehow. In the session, I repeatedly told them that I didn’t think this needed to be about alcohol, and had written a detailed letter about my understanding of transference and attachment and closure issues saying little or nothing about any alcohol problem except that I had appreciated the fact that therapy allowed me to consider and explore alternatives to AA (such getting myself insurance and getting to a doctor, for example).

David Olsen would not acknowledge any of this, and just said that I needed to agree to go to a rehab. I negotiated to do this if I could explore the transference issues with my therapist. She told me that I would be able to resume ‘non-addictions’ therapy with her if I went to rehab and she could be in contact with the addiction treatment providers. It seemed like she was going to work with me as I went through this process again.

Initially, it did seem like it was going to happen. She would start talking to me, and then say she had to check with David Olsen, and then would come back with another requirement before she could meet with me.

After rejecting the $17,000 30-day inpatient rehab that James Garrett (the 12-step counselor I was referred to) recommended, we also considered a less expensive one, but when I found out that the inpatient rehabs were 12-step based, I refused. I ended up agreeing to go back to Saint Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center (SPARC), an outpatient rehab where I spent no more than 1.5 hours per week but was paying out of pocket for a group session, a private talk with an individual counselor (which took place at the same time as the group meeting), and a drug test. After a few weeks of this I was practically suicidal again after paying for 12-step indoctrination, worksheets about powerlessness over alcohol and selfishness being the root of all my problems.

I left messages repeatedly telling her about what I had been learning about SMART and the history of problems with AA. They still would not return my calls or schedule a session to discuss what the SPARC counselor called a ‘frustrating session’ and my termination from rehab. It had been 3 months and still I wasn’t able to connect the providers with my therapist in any meaningful way to be relieved of what was becoming very expensive and depressing for me. I decided to try one more time to fulfill the requirement to be in sessions with Jim Garrett. Instead of having sessions in parallel with therapy, an unknown amount of this ‘treatment’ became necessary. First it was ‘weekly for at least two months’ (records show that David Olsen intended to drag it out 6-8 months) and I asked why should I have to pay $440/month for who knows how long to talk to an AA member to get back into therapy. After demanding that he approve me to speak with my therapist in a session, he told me I could call her for an appointment. She again refused to see me saying I didn’t ‘follow the suggestions’ and hadn’t done enough treatment (treatment that I was literally crying out to be stopped).

The addiction specialist told me that my drinking had damaged the relationship and I may never get any closure on it. This made no sense to me, and just made me feel like shit. That was the serious consequence that I’d have to come to terms with in sessions with him. I told him I wanted to complain about this, and I wanted to have an opportunity to tell her how mad I was at this and hopefully move on from the addiction treatment altogether and be treated like a normal person again. He suggested I write out my complaint and not send it (like a ‘burn your resentments’ kind of thing).

I complained to Samaritan Counseling about religious discrimination, and Executive Director of David Olsen told me ‘A therapist has the right to her preferred mode of treatment’, and I told him, no, this is not legal.

I told Jim Garrett that these ‘trust building’ sessions and being jerked around for 5 months had destroyed all my trust in every one of them. He said ‘Maybe you can trust your higher power?’ with a smile. I immediately became even more depressed. Had he not heard a word I said about being done with AA?

Jenness Clairmont then sat with me to give me my records informed me that I had been accused of harassment way back in December (nobody had ever told me that before, and the therapist’s behavior toward me when it seemed we’d resume work didn’t seem to indicate she was afraid of me) and that I would never get another session with the therapist. She said she’d follow up with me, though. I read through my records and realized I wasn’t crazy. They had been forcing me into AA, quite shamelessly, and had no intention of acknowledging my experience.

I repeatedly asked for a follow up session with the Clinical Director to process my termination, and they again didn’t follow up as I wrote out my interpretation of the records in detail, except with a termination letter telling me under no circumstances was I to have any further contact with anyone at the Center or its affiliates.

I was furious and devastated, and checked back into the psychiatric ward where I apparently belonged. The team on my case was much bigger this time and they told me I’m an alcoholic and that I had violated boundaries with my therapist. I told them I’m not an alcoholic and I don’t need treatment. I was obsessing about the 12-step coercion. They gave me anti-psychotic drugs to ‘help me stop obsessing’. They didn’t explain what boundaries I violated.

Since then, I’ve been traumatized and unable to think about much else other than “Why is this allowed to happen? Is this happening to other people?” and “What really did happen?” There was never any chance to come to an understanding. I was never given a good reason for why nobody at Samaritan could talk to me, with more and more solid barriers the more I directed my complaint at 12-step coercion.

I tried to explain to them in detail what I saw as the pattern and a problem (12-step coercion), and they didn’t seem to appreciate my insight, as I would have expected, as it would help avoid a scenario like this in the future.

Very disturbing and more and more I think it’s not just idiotic, it was cruel and criminal. They do seem intent on reserving the right to do this again.

Initially I just tried to give them a Yelp review. They complained and had my reviews removed for various flimsy reasons.

Calling Out AA in Social Work