Pastoral Counseling For The Addicted Person -- By: Stephen E. Sumerel

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 09:2 (Spring 1992)
Article: Pastoral Counseling For The Addicted Person
Author: Stephen E. Sumerel


Pastoral Counseling For The Addicted Person

Rev. Stephen E. Sumerel, M.Div., M.A.

Burlington, North Carolina

To busy pastors who are already called upon to be experts in everything from theology to business administration, the world of chemical dependency can be especially complicated and, at times, contradictory. For example, pastors are becoming more acquainted with the clinical model of alcoholism and drug addiction that defines the condition as a disease. At the same time, however, pastors are aware of the success of Alcoholics Anonymous and the spiritual foundations upon which it rests. It is difficult for pastors to be ready with solutions when the definitions of the problem seem so vague and ever changing. Many questions are raised: Is alcohol a drug? Is drug use always abuse? When does abuse become dependency? Is the term “addiction” limited to denoting a physical need for a chemical or does the term refer to behaviors such as gambling and “workalaolism?” The proliferation of self-help groups begs the pastor to ask questions on trends versus fads in the recovery field. With so many questions, is it any wonder that many pastors choose not to deal with addiction at all?

Pastors are in unique positions to offer early and significant intervention in the chemical dependency process. Proper referral to treatment facilities for chemical dependency is always an important option. However, pastors must not underestimate what they can do in their pastoral role. Even if referral to a chemical dependency treatment facility becomes the appropriate intervention, early work done with the addict in preparation for treatment can be a significant component in the outcome of treatment. Therefore, working from an essentially theological foundation, this article will explore specific issues in early recovery and possible pastoral responses.

A Relational Disease

Understanding complex processes can be facilitated by the use of models which help illuminate important aspects of the process. To facilitate a study of the pastoral care of addicts, therefore, the author will use models of addiction, recovery, and pastoral care which stress similar aspects of these complex and interrelated processes.

Addiction can be understood as a biological disease, in which case the focus is on a genetic predisposition to dependency. Although this is an important and valid component in understanding the complexity of chemical dependency, this article will focus on the psychosocial element of addiction. The psychosocial component

involves the ways in which one’s psychological development interacts with one’s social or relational environment. Specifically,...

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