Religion in alcoholic's treatment sparks complaint

By Motorhead · Mar 9, 2010 · Updated Mar 11, 2010 · ·
  1. Motorhead
    Religion in alcoholic's treatment sparks complaint

    A Winnipeg man who has struggled with alcoholism for decades says he has filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission over the lack of a treatment program that's free of religious or spiritual elements.

    Rob Johnstone said he has battled alcoholism for 40 years and can't find a treatment program that doesn't rely on religion or spirituality as part of the recovery process.

    "I should not be forced to participate in someone else's religious beliefs. I shouldn't have to add to mine," said Johnstone, who added he has been an alcoholic for 40 years.

    "I have my own beliefs and I'm happy with them."

    Johnstone said his faith-neutral stance to his own treatment prompted him to be dismissed from an intense residential 12-step program at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM), a provincially-run rehabilitation initiative.

    He said he was encouraged by the AFM to find strength in God or a higher power in order to recover, but couldn't stomach it and was asked to leave.

    Johnstone said after scouting around for another program that was free of spirituality, he said he couldn't find one — despite a few offering what they describe as "faith-free" options.

    Programs offered by Manitoba's Native Addictions Council and the Behavioural Health Foundation each contained spiritual elements like aboriginal drum ceremonies, Johnstone said.

    And while in treatment at the latter program, he was approached to see if he was interested in attending services at a Christian church in Winnipeg.

    Johnstone said the presence of spiritual elements in rehab programs exploit vulnerable addicts.

    "We get involved in mood-altering substances and mind-altering substances," Johnstone said. "That means the person is very vulnerable when they come in and that person should not be subjected to someone else's religion."

    He's hoping his human rights complaint pushes the province to create a treatment program that's free of spiritual or religious elements. The commission wouldn't comment on the status of his complaint.

    Spiritual element necessary

    However, officials at the AFM remain resolute that recovery relies on at least some element of spiritual — but not necessarily religious — belief. The AFM is not affiliated with any organized faith.

    And just as a person's overall well-being depends on their physical health, it's the same for spiritual considerations, said Laura Goossen, director of the AFM's Winnipeg region.

    "Spirituality … is part and parcel of everyone's life. For some people, their spirituality is more important than others, but it's a dimension of all of our lives as human beings," Goossen said.

    "When they're in … programming, we do want them to go look for a grain of something that will be helpful for them and disregard the rest," Goossen added.

    Other people who work with addicts agree.

    Maj. Karen Hoeft of the Salvation Army in Winnipeg suggested it's nearly impossible to separate addictions treatment from spirituality.

    In many cases, the genesis of treatment programs came from faith-based groups that government later stepped in to help fund, she said.

    "If you talk to the concept of spirituality, most social recovery models have a level of spirituality," Hoeft said. "Really, spirituality is getting in touch with who you are."

    Research shows that the spiritual, holistic-based approach to treatment works, she added.

    Spirituality boosts effectiveness of treatment: Manitoba Health

    A spokeswoman for Manitoba Health echoed the view that spirituality and treatment are inseparable, but said none of the 12 provincially-funded treatment programs requires clients to belong to a specific religion.

    "Some degree of a spiritual component is common as these types of programs are believed to be more effective," the spokeswoman said.

    "It is important to recognize that spirituality is not the same as religion. People in recovery tend to benefit from self-reflection, examining their lives, where they've come from, who they are and where they're going."

    In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the government said it spent more than $22 million on the 12 programs, but would not break the total down into specifics for each program.

    March 08, 2010
    CBC News

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  1. RetroHousewife
    I know there is Rational Recovery, which is a program without any religion. I've that it's been attacked a lot by AA folks though and lots of them point out how the founder relapsed and got a DUI or something. Kind of hypocritical there if you ask me, to do that.

    As for the woman saying that spirituality is part of everyones life, it's not. It's part of mine, yes. But many people are completely athiest. My oldest son is. He respects others beliefs, but doesn't share them.

    I went to rehab once for drinking, and I met a young boy there who was completely athiest as well. He always tried to explain to the group leader that he doesn't believe in any higher power whatsoever, and why would he want to make a doorknob his higher power when one doesn't exist? He said the only thing he believes in is neurons firing and synapses. I suggested that maybe he make those his higher power since that makes more sense than a doorknob, and he agreed, and both of us got a dressing down by the lady. It is way too focused on sprituality, and the AA meetings I have been to were very focused on Protestant Christianity. That may be the area I was in, but I've heard many people tell me that I had to pray this prayer on a card they gave me, etc. I got ticked off at the pushiness and I'm Christian, so I imagine that nonChristians would feel really pissed about it.

    Penn and Teller also did a "Bullshit" episode about AA and religion. It was pretty good, and if I can find a link, should I link it in the documents section?

    Good article and important points to remember for folks wanting to be in recovery but without any spirituality.
  2. Motorhead
    In the video section under Recovery and Addiction Videos or Funny Videos About Drugs.

    I would suggest funny videos about drugs if it is Penn and Teller.

    Swim has never been to AA or any other recovery program, but he thinks that spirituality should be optional when one is battling an addiction. Sure it might work for some, but not everyone.
  3. dyingtomorrow
    There's a big difference between "getting in touch with who you are" and "spirituality." They are just playing word games with this attempt at justification. Self examination and reflection does not have to be intrinsically relating into believing in some kind of invisible force that we don't scientifically understand yet. There is nothing wrong with spirituality, but when the government and legal system get involved, it should not be rammed down anyone's throat, nor should "non spiritual people" have to experience any more hardship than a "spiritual person" when going through government-influenced rehab programs.

    Not to mention, just because someone is spiritual in some sense does not necessarily mean they think they are going to receive any help from the "spirit world" with their addiction, and might be a lot happier tackling things in terms of the "real world."
  4. nate81
    Good for this guy. SWIM was forced into an 28 day AA program and he had no alternative but to go along with the BS to pass the program. AA is a monumental failure and they hide behind words to excuse their religious motives. SWIM was forced by a Judge to do the program, what happened to seperation of church and state?

    AA's failures shouldn't be tolerated. By their own numbers, AA has a 97% failure rate. The worst thing is, there are methodologies that are far more effective that few areas have available because of AA's dominance. People are daily falling through the cracks because everyone assumes AA is the answer when it is not.

    Hell, the guy from AA who had the "spiritual awakening" (absolutely 100% key to the AA program is the spiritual awakening) did so under the effect of LSD. Never hear that when you go to a
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