Addiction, Family, & Healing

Pastoral Counseling at Franciscan University of SteubenvilleWhen it comes to issues that would highly benefit from pastoral counseling, helping the families of addicts is near the top of the list. I subscribe to the following definition of addiction, which is the disease model that I learned in Prof. Mikita’s substance abuse course: addiction is a primary (not caused by a previous disease, injury, event), progressive (it will worsen), chronic (it is not curable), and fatal (if left untreated) disease. The disease model takes into account that there are genetic dispositions, neurochemical changes, and biological, psychological, and spiritual components when it comes to addiction. Other models, such as behavioral, social, medical, and moral models, each leave out certain components that perhaps are involved in the etiology, progression, and effects of the disease.

The only treatment available for addiction is abstinence, which should be coupled with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA: the 12 steps) and a therapeutic program. Recovery from addiction is a process of humility. After addicts admit that they are powerless over alcohol (step 1), step 2 states that they “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This step helps addicts acknowledge that the process has begun and they need something greater than themselves to overcome addiction.

Many addicts believe that they are the masters of their own universe and in control of their lives. For most addicts, either they themselves or alcohol itself is their higher power. Step 2 is the acknowledgement that they are in fact not in control and this has usually been proven time after time when their own power has not been able to keep them from drinking. These failed attempts to quit represent the insanity in their lives (“doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results”). It is “unnatural” for addicts to give up things that are so integral to being a human, such as food, shelter, parenting, work, and sex. Because this dysfunctional behavior goes against our human nature, nothing “natural” is going to save them; they must tap into the supernatural for the graces necessary to overcome their disease.

Pastoral Counseling: What is it and how does it compare to clinical counseling?

Pastoral Counseling at Franciscan University of SteubenvilleAs a student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program, I have learned to do assessments, diagnose, create treatment plans, and use techniques and skills to help my clients attain their goals. Many of my classes involve thorough discussions about ethics, legal issues, and boundaries (document everything!). Clinical counseling has a pretty systematic approach; for those of you who have been in more than one counselor’s office (no judgment), you know that counseling can look different from one counselor to the next, but the basic setup is there. Plus, they are all abiding by the same code of ethics and within the same boundaries—which is, hopefully, VERY apparent. The goal of psychotherapy is to help our clients modify problematic behaviors and process troubling emotions and traumas that get in the way of normal and healthy daily functioning. This process requires using counseling techniques and forming a strong therapeutic alliance.