Alternative Support for Recovery at Next Steps for Women
An interview with Shelley Richanbach by Cathy Taughinbaugh

Please meet my friend Shelley Richanbach who I met through a mutual friend. I was intrigued by Shelley’s unique supportive program for women in recovery, and wanted to learn more about Next Steps for Women as well as share her concept.

Please introduce yourself to the reader.

I’m Shelley Richanbach and I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years now. I’m originally from Carter Lake, Iowa but met my husband, a bay area native, by sheer coincidence in the Kansas City airport, 1980. My six-word bio is, “Missed my flight; changed my life.”

Because I didn’t have a “career” it really made sense for me to be a “stay at home” Mom and raise our 3 children. I was very involved as a volunteer in our kids’ elementary, middle and high schools as well as with Peninsula Girl Scout Day Camp. When my youngest entered high school I knew I was ready to explore my career options – I wanted to contribute to the world in some way in the next season of my life. Little did I know exactly how.

My love of writing, drawing and creative movement prompted me to study movement-based expressive arts therapy. It was during a 4-month immersion program at The Tamalpa Institute as I explored the question, “who am I now?” that I found the secret I had hidden from my self. My body held the answer that changed my life! I found sobriety and recovery from alcohol in 2004.

Tell us about Next Steps for Women and why you started it.

Next Steps For Women is an accessible and safe private studio that I’ve created for women of any age who want support in their exploration around substance abuse, support in early sobriety, as well as support for lifelong recovery from alcohol, drugs, codependency or any addictive behaviors.
I started Next Steps For Women because I was once that woman who yearned for a positive accepting place outside of the traditional programs. There are few choices especially for gender specific support. I was initially completely turned off by AA and couldn’t find Women for Sobriety close by or anything that resembled it.

What are Women’s Circles?

When women sit in a circle a sacred space is created to work and create together, listen, learn and share with one another—to get support from one other.

Each Women’s Circle has a different focus that is dependent on the curriculum. For example to name three Women’s Circles, I use Stephanie Covington’s work, A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps and A Woman’s Journal, Helping Women Recover, and Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan—a system for monitoring, reducing and eliminating uncomfortable or dangerous physical and emotional difficulties. A circle will meet once a week for 8 to 12-weeks. At each session the circle of women check-in from 4 levels of awareness: how am I physically, emotionally, imaginally and spiritually in the present moment? We then move in and out of the circle space and use the studio like a moveable feast: to write, draw, move, relax or practice mindfulness, all of which inform and support the particular curriculum they’ve chosen to explore.

What inspired you to start the program?

I wanted to offer alternative creative resources for women outside of a treatment program, traditional 12-step programs and as an extension to after care. My intention is to offer programs that compliment life, psychotherapy and 12-step programs.

At this stage, what are the top 3 things you’ve learned about alcoholism and /or drug addiction?

Can I name 5?

1) That any addiction is best described by the Biopsychosocial model: biological, psychological (which entails thoughts, emotions, and behaviors), and social factors all play a significant role in human functioning in the context of disease or illness.

This model recognizes that there are multiple pathways to addiction and that the significance of these individual pathways depends on the individual. It also recognizes the importance of treating the whole person, not just the addiction.

2) One’s brain chemistry is forever changed once one crosses into the disease of addiction.

3) Relapse happens. Just like it does for the asthma or hypertension sufferer, the diabetic, etc. The idea is to acknowledge the relapse for what it is, forgive one’s self and get back into sobriety as soon as possible. The work is to then learn one’s personal triggers and to create action plans to deal with them in healthy ways. Of course the work is easier with support. I’m a firm believer that Hope, Personal Responsibility, Education, Self Advocacy & Support are the 5 Keys to optimal health and wellness.

4) Genetics plays a large role in ones propensity to addiction

5) Trauma, especially early childhood trauma, plays a significant role in one’s choice to abuse substances.

What advice do you have for parents of drug addicts/alcoholics who are just coming to terms with the diagnosis or suspicion of their son or daughter’s substance abuse?

Substance abuse can turn to addiction. It can happen to you and your family. Your child and your family are not exempt. Don’t ignore it and don’t wait to guide your child towards help.

A counselor, therapist and / or doctor certified in alcohol and drug abuse studies is optimum. Most MDs, nurses, MFTs and LCSWs only have 3 hours of AOD training in their entire course of studies!

Addiction is a disease with adolescent origins. According to the June 29, 2011 national study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) 9 out of 10 Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking or using other drugs, including marijuana before 18.

AND….marijuana is proven to be addictive! Humans naturally have the neurotransmitter for THC. This is new science. Don’t believe that if your son or daughter is “just getting high on pot” that it’s okay. It’s changing your child’s brain chemistry.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love to dance, take walks with my husband and our dog, practice yoga and meditation, read, bake, and entertain family and friends in our home.

Where Women Support Women


Next Steps for Women
wellness | recovery | expressive arts

"The best mind-altering drug is the truth."

– Lily Tomlin


Now offering Telehealth and House Calls!

Upcoming Women's Circles

Contact Shelley about Women's Circles that interest you. Classes can be arranged on a personalized schedule.

Descriptions of Women's Circles

Contact Shelley by calling 650.558.1156 or by email.



Recovery Happens Everyday with Voices of Recovery San Mateo County
Celebrate the people who recover and those who support them. I'm helping them spread the word that prevention works, treatment is effective and recovery is possible.
Find events through the month at

She Recovers LA 2nd Annual Conference
September 14 – 15
Part celebration, part reunion and an important first foray into the land of sober sisterhood offers the opportunity to celebrate your wellness efforts and successes and pick up tools and ideas to aid in your recoovery journey. Register online:

Rock Sober Fest Weekend – San Geronimo Valley Community Center
SATURDAY, SUNDAY September 15 – 16
A special opportunity to celebrate life surrounded by a community of substance-free music fans.

October, November, December

WATCH FOR A POP UP CIRCLE HYBRID in the coming months! Email ASAP if you are interested in expressing yourself simply and creatively in nurturing surroundings.


Women For Sobriety (WFS)
75 Minutes MONDAYS 12:30 – 1:45 pm at Redwood Shores Branch Library