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 But even some of the most "official" and "credentialed" looking programs are using approaches that were outdated thirty years ago.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.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Knapsack 3-7

Notes From My Knapsack 3-7-13

Jeff Gill


Education and its discontents



Recently a high school teacher wrote a compelling essay in the Washington Post about what he sees as the decline of the cultural & verbal skills of the best students heading into college. He wrote it as an apology to college professors.


I think he made some good points (it's easy enough to find online), but overall, I'm not sure an apology is really what's called for.


In this country, we are embarked on a great experiment, whose uncertainty of delivery right now does not undermine the intent behind it. No similar geographic area and breadth of cultural diversity has ever tried to say, as our country is right now, that "we intend to bring 94+% of all children up to a certain minimum standard of educational accomplishment."

Any large landmass that's tried to deliver education this broadly, in a comparable manner, has generally excluded large groups entirely from the process, or ended up delivering quality in most major population centers while leaving most of the hinterlands high and dry. I can tell you that high school students in Rio Arriba County, NM, Greenbrier County, WV, or Licking County, OH have startlingly *similar* academic experiences, and that was not true just thirty years ago. Our urban core schools are hamstrung by a mix of systemic racism and economic implosion that are reinforced in toxicity by a deeply embedded culture that is itself a result of that same racism and economic injustice, and we are still trying to figure out an adequate answer that works for more than 30-40% of the students in that context, but good people are trying hard (including many in union leadership).

American education is a marvel, and the "hoop jumping" some note in terms of increased graduation requirements is a contrast to the possibility not so long ago in many districts to get a HS diploma with minimal effort and little impact on the mind or memory. You are now expected to know something and be able to show ability to go with that knowledge if you get a HS diploma, but expecting each district to reach that benchmark with 90% or more of their students is a NEW challenge, and I can't say that often enough. 50% grad rates, measured by all children (not just by those who began high school), was seen as a good school as recently as the 1980s in much of the country.

All of which is to say: I'm encouraged and hopeful in many ways about the big picture, but the general quality of the best students, say the top 20%/quintile, as measured by their knowledge of social studies, literature, and effective written/verbal communication, is going to be lower for some time into the future, because we not only aren't focusing on those kids the way we used to — not entirely a bad thing! — but in order to do these other things for most/all, we're not doing the humanities & critical thinking & expression parts of learning for almost any. I don't think it's a malign conspiracy to make cattle of us, but there's a real reason to worry, and (to make some lemonade here) an opportunity for church youth groups and service clubs and art studios and many other extra-curricular venues to jump in and pick up some of what's been dropped.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think makes for a good education at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.