Q&A with Allen Berger, PhD

Dr. Allen Berger’s professional career spans over 49 years, since 1971. After returning from a combat tour of duty in Vietnam in 1971, USMC Corporal Berger became a counselor at the Koneohe Marine Corps Air Station – Drug Exemption Program, helping fellow marines who were returning from Vietnam with drug problems discover recovery. 

This experience inspired him to become a clinical psychologist. A daunting task for a high school drop-out. In 1987 his dream came true when he graduated from UC Davis with a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. 

Dr. Berger is a talented and gifted clinician. His clinical acumen was developed and honed by the fantastic clinical training he received from Dr. Walter Kempler, a pioneer in family therapy, and Dr. William C. Rader, a pioneer in addiction psychiatry. 

Currently Dr. Berger divides his time between his private practice, training clinicians, podcasting, writing, and listening to classic rock and roll music. 

Dr. Berger is considered to be a pioneer and one of the foremost authorities on emotional sobriety, and in integrating modern psychotherapy into 12 Step Recovery. 

He has authored seven books and a pamphlet. His first four books on recovery have together sold over 150,000 copies and counting. All four of his books have remained in the top fifty bestsellers on Amazon since their publication date. Three of his books have risen to number one ranking on Amazon bestselling books in recovery. His most recent book, 12 Essential Insights for Emotional Sobriety will be released this summer by Hazelden Publishing. 

Dr. Berger has lectured extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. He is well known for his strong public speaking skills. He thinks well on his feet and has appeared on several TV shows, radio shows and podcasts. Currently he can be found on Apple Podcasts. The show is titled Start Right Here: Conversations About What Matters Most. 

You can learn more about Dr. Berger and his work at www.abphd.com

Q. If you are in recovery, what was your Drug of Choice? and when did you stop using?
A. I have been in recovery since 1971. I was the third Marine admitted to a new program designed to help the Vietnam Veteran who was returning to the States with a drug problem. This past summer I celebrated 49 years of recovery. 

Q. Do you think addiction is an illness, disease, a choice or a wicked twist of fate.
A. Yes I believe addiction is a medical disease. It is the result of the dynamic interaction of biological, psychological, sociological and spiritual forces. If I look at the function of addiction in our lives, I see it as an attempt to achieve emotional freedom. It’s the easier softer way, but at the time the only way. Recovery is about achieving emotional freedom or achieving a true independence of spirit. 

Q. Do you log on to ZOOM 12-step meetings? How often? Do you share?
A. Yes I do, and speak often. In fact I started an Emotional Sobriety Anonymous meeting as a community service. It has become quite popular. We are currently discussing each of the 12 Steps of AA and how they operate to achieve emotional sobriety. It is on Thursday evenings from 7 – 8 pm PST. Zoom ID: 330-149-513. PW: 375-986: 

Q. Have you added anything to your Tool-kit to help keep you sober during the pandemic?
A. Yes I have applied the principles of emotional sobriety. The problem isn’t the problem it is how we cope that creates the problem. I’ve accepted that this is what it is, and have focused on making the best of it. 

Q. Where did you grow up?
A. Chicago, Illinois

Q. From what school or teacher did you learn the most?
A. I would say that my best teachers have been outside of formal education. My sponsor Tom M., my mentors Drs. William Rader and Walter Kempler. 

Q. If you had an extra million dollars, which charity would you donate it to?
A. I’d split it between AA and Na. 

Q. Do you have any children?
A. Yes, four children, 36, 34, 7 and 2. 

Q . Have you started any new projects because of the quarantine?
A. Yes I have started a podcast with Thom Ruttledge titled Start Right Here: Conversations about What Matters Most. I have written a new book for Hazelden on emotional sobriety that will be released in the summer of this year, 12 Essential Insights for Emotional Sobriety. I’ve also started the Emotional Sobriety Meeting and have recorded 12 videos on how to cope with COVID with Thom that can be found on Vimeo. I also completed another book with Dan Griffin, What We Men Would Tell You if We Weren’t Busy Watching TV. 

Q. If you ever retire would you prefer to live by the ocean, lake, river, mountaintop or penthouse?
A. I love the ocean or the mountains. Either would be fine. 

Q. What is your favorite hotel or resort?
A. Disneyland

Q. What is your biggest or littlest pet peeve?
A. The over focus on meeting attendance as “working a program.”

Q. Who has had the biggest influence on you throughout your life?
A. My sponsor Tom and Dr. Walter Kempler, my mentor and friend. 

Q. If you were giving a dinner party for your 3 favorite authors, living or dead, who would they be? (choose 4 if you think one might be too drunk or stoned to attend.)
A.Earnie Larsen, Karen Horney, Nataniel Branden and Fritz Perls.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A. Destination Joy by Earnie Larsen and The Organism by Kurt Goldstein. 

Q. What book(s) have you read more than once?
A. 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Neurosis and Human Growth, Gestalt Is, and Stage II Recovery. 

Q. Who is your favorite poet?
A. Rumi or Coleman Barks. 

Q. What is your FAVORITE Radio show, news show, podcast?
A. The Rachel Maddow Show. 

Q. What is your FAVORITE APP?
A. Venmo

Q. Which film have you watched the most?
A. Billy Jack

Q. Who is your FAVORITE Director?
A. Steven Speilberg

Q. Who is your favorite sober celebrity?
A. Robert Downey or Russell Brand

Q. What/Who is your FAVORITE Band/composer/musical artist?
A. Van Morrison

Q. What is your FAVORITE Broadway musical/play?
A. Phantom of the Opera

Q. What is your FAVORITE City?
A. New York

Q. What is your FAVORITE Museum?
A. Natural History Museum of Chicago

Q. What is your FAVORITE Restaurant?
A. Tuscany in Westlake Village, CA

Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Do not let other people’s limited perceptions of you, define you. 

Q. What is the best piece of advice YOU’VE given?
A. Stop taking things personally, to be more personal and intimate with your partner,  you have to stop taking what they do personally. 

Q. What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?
A. Walking from Hill 55 outside of Danang to Danang to see the film Woodstock. 

Q. What is your biggest regret?
A. Not appreciating the genius of Dr. Kempler. 

Q. Have you ever been arrested and if so, for what?
A. Drunk and disorderly. 

Q. What is the proudest moment in your life?
A. Receiving my doctorate in clinical psychology from UC Davis in 1987.

Q. Do you believe in God or a Higher Power?
A. Yes I believe in a life force that I call my Higher Power. 

Q. If you were putting together a time capsule from 2020 what 5 things would you put in it?
A. 1. A reflection on how fragile our Democracy really is. 2. How Zoom has opened up our ability to connect with people all over the world who are in recovery. 3. A Mask.  The election results showing a landslide victory for Biden and Harris. 5. Toilet paper.