Pastoral Care with Addicted Families -- By: F.J. Stalfa, Jr.

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 09:2 (Spring 1992)
Article: Pastoral Care with Addicted Families
Author: F.J. Stalfa, Jr.


Pastoral Care with Addicted Families

F.J. Stalfa, Jr.

Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
Lancaster Theological Seminary, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Help without love is condescension; love without help
is sentimentality.—-Paul Tillich

Pastors and others working within the congregational community are called upon to provide spiritual and therapeutic services for all types of human problems. The variety of situations in which pastors must respond as primary care givers is as diverse as the human family itself. Often, the pastor’s own personality and values, as they are known or perceived by the community, will make it more likely that certain types of problems will become the focus of pastoral attention. And people seem to know on an almost instinctive level where to turn for help. They will rarely risk rejection or disapproval, especially after they have overcome the normal resistance to seeking help for problems which so often carry significant social stigma.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the pastoral care of addicted persons and their families. For this reason, the pastor’s real or perceived attitude toward alcohol, drugs and addiction will be the single most determinative factor in whether or not therapeutic pastoral care will be sought or offered. Such an attitude will decisively influence the pastoral balance between love and help and keep us from the twin vices of condescension and sentimentality. In this spirit, I will attempt to delineate some of these attitudes, describe the basic dynamics of the addicted family system and suggest some practical approaches for care best suited to the pastoral context. Since our attitudes are influenced by the conceptual models we bring to our work, I will begin by mentioning several of the most influential approaches to understanding addiction.

An Overview of Attitudes and Values

Addiction is one of those human dilemmas fully intended, it seems, to exasperate our best efforts to help. By the time it comes to pastoral attention, it has usually done severe damage to the addicted person and his or her family system. At this point there is a typical polarization process in which denial and blaming reach an intense peak as everyone in the family develops special needs that demand attention. It is in this type of crisis situation that people often turn to clergy for help.1

Here is the initial opportunity for therapeutic pastoral intervention, and the point at which it is either completely lost or fully utilized. Much, of course, will depend on how the pastor understands the nature of addiction and how it affects and is

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