Friday, March 08, 2013

Faith Works 3-9-13

Faith Works 3-9-13

Jeff Gill


There is help, there is hope



Anton Chekhov once said "Any idiot can face a crisis; it's this day-to-day living that wears you out."


He's not a pastor, nor a mental health professional, but both categories are likely to nod with recognition.


This is the third of three columns I said I wanted to write on faith and faith communities, and their relationship to mental health & recovery in Licking County. I've long been concerned that while only a very small number of mental health professionals see religion as a form of mental illness, and few churches see psychology as an evil, these kinds of stereotypes have clouded and complicated the relationships between people of good will in both communities . . . which, I might add, have more than a fair bit of overlap, even if quietly so.


Nowhere is the clash more evident, I think, than in addiction and recovery. There are no measures, no statistics that I can find to prove or blessedly disprove that more tension and conflict is present between church and counselors when it comes to alcohol and drug treatment, but I strongly suspect it's so.


Even when clergy & church leaders are completely understanding of the idea, for instance, that depression isn't something you "pull up your bootstraps, pray a little harder, and get over it," they are still somewhat more likely to be skeptical of rehab and group work and even AA.


Likewise, social workers and clinical counselors who are open to faith as a positive factor in clients' lives may have a strong negative reaction to someone saying "I'm not going to try rehab again, I'm going to work with a prayer group at my church that is going to give me an accountability check every day and lay hands on me."


Here's the toughest part, from my awkward perch at the intersection of all these streams: we don't have enough help to go 'round, and what we have works . . . somewhat.


Don't get me wrong, there are methods of care and treatment and recovery that have more research and data than others. But even some of the most "official" and "credentialed" looking programs are using approaches that were outdated thirty years ago. And it's hard to get into even those.


In-patient rehab for drug and alcohol addicted persons is plagued with long waiting lists, high costs depending on your insurance status and income (making some money is worse than making little or none in many cases, and making lots of money may mean you face a truly crippling bill *if* you get in, although it probably is still less than the cost of your addiction, it must be said).


And it often doesn't work. Seven times through rehab is often stated as an average, and we all know what average means, right? Some lower, some higher.


Let me say this next part very carefully, aware of minefields on both sides of the road – people often overcome addictions without inpatient rehab. But I have never known anyone who beat a drug or booze habit without supports, without a team around them of SOME sort. Pure willpower is NOT the solution, and the times I've been told by someone that's what they did, further conversation reveals they did so after three trips through in-patient programs, leading me to suspect that seeds were planted which blossomed only after much watering and a little more manure.


And for those who go into a program, outpatient or inpatient, some do make the decision and fulfill their plan to end the hold a substance has over them while in care, and the follow-up from that staff is largely credited with helping them hold the course. But those same staff would be the first to say: it happened because that person came to a firm resolve themselves that NOW is the time.


We have a very proud history in Licking County with incredible places like Shepherd Hill and Courage & Spencer House. We need ten of what we have right now, and it's not likely to happen. So we need to find ways to build those communities of support, of care, of love with clarity, of hope, around people who have gotten used to thinking there's no hope for them.


I think churches can be a great place to do that. We can't pretend we do or should operate alone, and faith communities need to educate themselves on the resources available (211 & 522-1234 are good places to start).


But treatment does work, and recovery does happen. God bless all who walk that road.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's on the board of Mental Health & Recovery of Licking/Knox Counties. Tell him where you've found hope enough to change your life at or @Knapsack on Twitter.

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