Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Role of Spirituality in the Recovery Process

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Role of Spirituality in the Recovery Process

Article excerpt

Though innovative approaches to working with substance-abusing parents of maltreated children have emerged within the last few years, child welfare agencies continue to be challenged by the chronic nature of addictive diseases. This article discusses the often ignored element of spirituality as a critical component of recovery for parents. It also highlights how the regulation of spirituality by parents has a significant influence on their ability to responsibly care for their children.

Spirituality is one of the essential foundations for the remediation of an addictive disease, but it is the one that child welfare professionals understand the least. Many addiction treatment counselors believe that when individuals are reconnected to a positive spiritual momentum, they are more likely to take control of their lives. These addictions counselors believe that the classic treatment models that ignore spiritually have had limited success. They advocate instead for a more holistic approach, which integrates the spiritual, the physiological (biological), and the psychosocial components of a person's life. In fact, evidence exists that individuals in recovery who have participated in spiritually based programs have made the most significant progress in their recovery from addiction [Green et al. 1998]. Based on the belief that addictive diseases consume every aspect of an individual's life, successful recovery is also more likely to be developmental in scope. By underestimating or totally ignoring the spiritual dimensions of an addicted parent's recovery, child welfare caseworkers are likely to remain frustrated in their attempts to provide a safe and stable environment for children.

This article highlights the descriptive characteristics of spirituality and the losses experienced by people, particularly women, living an active addiction. The addict's physical and emotional deterioration can lead to a distortion of the spiritual self and contributes to the inability of the parent to act responsibly or in a caring, nurturing manner. Caseworkers can play an important role in assisting clients who are trying to find their way back to a spiritual balance and to a nurturing parenthood.

Defining Spirituality

In the past, many social workers, including child welfare professionals, avoided any discussion of spirituality because they confuse the concept with religion [Bullis 1996]. Since the profession of social work encourages a nonjudgmental and nondirective approach, such avoidance is understandable. Nonetheless, a significant difference exists between religion (a discrete value system and set of traditions) and spirituality.

Addiction treatment professionals and recovering individuals describe spirituality in a variety of ways. Several themes, however, are common to these descriptions. One addictions counselor describes spirituality as "the very essence of who we are ... the total of ... mental, emotional and physical well-being..." [Booth 2000]. Others who have focused on spiritual aspects of recovery offer additional insight into what spirituality is, and how it translates into daily life, even if unrecognized by the name spirituality. Twerski [1997] points out that the spiritual life of an individual includes the ability of the person to be responsible, to be trusting, to achieve deeper levels of intimacy, and to realize his or her potential for growth. What constitutes our spirit is our ability to contemplate the purpose of our existence, ways to better ourselves, to delay our gratification, and to think about the longterm consequences of our actions. It is the spirit that enhances the individual's capacity to make moral decisions. Twerski also feels that it is possible to be spiritual without being religious, since there appears to be no innate human imperative to practice religion. Alexander [1997], who has studied Buddhism in addition to working with people in recovery, quotes the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his description of mindfulness (spirituality) as "keeping our appointment with life. …

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