“The project of recovery is a project of reconnection.”
By Alexandra Pecci
For many people, “spirituality” is a loaded word. It’s a concept that’s comforting to some, and alienating to others. But according to Reverend Jack Abel, director of spiritual care at the Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers, spirituality really more about connectedness to self, others, nature, and universality, rather than to a particular religion. And at Caron, it’s an essential part of recovery.
“In addiction, the addictive person and their families become disconnected. The addict becomes more isolated,” Abel says. “The project of recovery is a project of reconnection. The sad fact of addiction is that it’s a false connection.”
Rebuilding those connections—to self, others, nature, and “God” (which Abel says is simply an easy name for a connection to something universal)—is a central part of the overall clinical treatment plan at Caron, where each guest receives integrated spiritual care from Master’s Degree-level spiritual care staff members.
Not only is Caron’s spiritual care not faith specific, it’s appropriate for people who don’t practice any religion at all.
“The spiritual care focus is on building supportive relationships, and you can’t be sober without it,” Abel says. “If you can’t connect, then you can’t be helped in other ways.”
Guests at Caron have at least one therapeutic spiritual planning session that takes into account their case history, and those personalized interventions are integrated in their treatment plans. The spiritual care counselors meet with people one-on-one and facilitate special group discussions on topics like grief and loss. The counselors also practice a “ministry of presence,” in which they simply hang out with, connect with, and “be present” with patients during their downtime in order to build a rapport. This “ministry of presence” is especially important for people who are so deeply disconnected that their darkness and despair are “frightening, terrifying,” Abel says. Those people are met with silence at first, and the “ministry of presence” is very literal: “just going and being with the person.”
This individualized treatment extends to patients’ own beliefs, too. The spiritual care staff members work to support each individual patient on their own spiritual journey, rather than subscribing to a single, rigid spiritual rubric that all patients have to fit into. But it’s not always easy.
For instance, Abel says there are two groups of people that tend to have the most anxiety about the concept of spiritual care: Patients who are atheists or agnostics with a very strong scientific training or background, and patients who have very strong religious beliefs and training.
But these patients can also be the most touching to work with. For instance, Abel says they recently worked with two people who were seemingly on opposite sides of the spiritual spectrum: A physicist and a Jehovah’s Witness. Yet both of these people found their own path to spirituality and reconnection in recovery, and both have reached out post-treatment to their spiritual care counselors to touch base and share their progress.
“We approach them the same,” Abel says. “Neither position is right or wrong, but both people had become disconnected.”
To read more of this story, see the Winter issue of Renew.