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Friday, December 16, 2011

What Constitutes Effective Counseling?

As I mentioned in the previous posting, Orthodox clergy can and do have a role in helping alcoholics.  However, unless a clergyman is an addict himself, he probably will not be able to grasp how disorganized the addicted mind is.  Even addictions professionals often drop the ball on this, which is a contributing factor in the failure of secular counseling to help alcoholics.

Clergy can and must engage in the difficult work of providing the addict with hope.  The Orthodox faith is about hope: hope for healing, hope for God's assistance, hope for forgiveness, hope for rescue from sorrow.  This hope is absolutely essential for the addict.  Without this hope that things can change and be better, the addict will have no incentive to quit.

Getting the addict to believe that there is hope is a different story.  As they say, 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.'  So, you can explain the hope we have in Christ to an addict, but you can't make him believe it.  There are no magic words.  This is, as they say, an 'inside job.'  Once the clergyman delivers the Gospel, the good news of God's love and mercy, his job is pretty much over with.

Addicts are notoriously stubborn (in fact, most people are reproof-proof), and so trying to talk the addict into willingness is almost always an impossible task.  This is where counseling becomes ineffective.  There are techniques such as 'motivational interviewing' and other schemes, but their weakness is that they are  rational approaches to an irrational disease.  Addiction does not make sense, and so what makes sense to a rational person is irrational to the addict.

The good news about the Gospel is that forgiveness and mercy are, by worldly standards, completely irrational.  These Divine gifts are what the world tells us not to do.  So, we have an advantage: our message itself is so radically different from the other messages an addict gets, he might actually accept it.

Too often, however, our clergy end up delivering the worldly message: anger, disappointment, shame, consternation, grief, etc.  They forget joy and hope and instead focus on finger-wagging.  Sure, there are occasional times to wag fingers, but that should be reserved for certain times when absolutely necessary.  If it is your primary weapon, eventually people will tune you out.

Inside the addict, there is nothing but regret and perpetual finger-wagging.  More is not necessary.  The addict needs an exit sign, and that's what a clergyman can provide if the addict will receive it.  Sometimes, this offer of hope will take months or years to 'sink in,' and so we must be patient.

Once the message is delivered, counseling really begins when the addict decides he wants to investigate the possibility of hope.  It is here that the clergyman is the most effective counselor.  He can share more information with the addict and hear from him his doubts about God and the possibility of hope.  If he can help the addict overcome his fears and doubts about God, then he will truly help the addict get sober.

That's effective counseling.

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