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Sitting on a Three Legged Stool

Imagine trying to sit on a three-legged stool.  Eventually, if you are unlike me, you may be able to pull it off and balance for a little while.  However, with any slight movement you will fall. It is inevitable. Successful addiction treatment needs to ensure that fourth leg is a vital component of the program.

The treatment community has finally embraced the traditional three-legged approach of physical, mental, and emotional treatment, yet continues to lack the fourth leg, spirituality. The physical level of self involves what we do; the mental – what we think and believe; the emotional – what we feel; and the spiritual – who we truly are.   Without spirituality in recovery, treatment is incomplete and our we will wobble and fall with only the slightest movement.

here are some ideas that can create an opening for a supportive, recovery-based conversation about developing spiritual competencies:

  • A good place to start is just listening to what people have to say about spiritual issues. As simple as this may sound, it’s a step many of us haven’t yet taken since we have not been open to having this conversation.

  • We can ask how people understand the words “spirituality” and “religion,” and if they view them as distinct. Listen deeply to what they say.

  We can ask what gives their lives purpose and meaning. For example, the following questions were developed for use by physicians: “What do you hold on to during difficult times?” “What sustains you and keeps you going?” “What aspects of your spirituality or spiritual practices do you find most helpful to you personally?” “Is there anything I can do to help you access the resources that usually help you?”2

  If people express interest in gaining spiritual competencies, we can describe some practices that many others have found helpful, such as: prayer, meditation, contemplation, reading inspirational books, journal writing, spending time in nature, taking part in religious services, or volunteering services to others.

  We can show interest in and provide support for their spiritual findings and encourage them to stay with practices that support their recovery, and to let go of those that don’t.

Spirituality is different from religion. It has less to do with organized approaches and is more individualized. There are several national polls reliably indicate what our society says and feels about spirituality. They say that spirituality is an important facet in the lives of the vast majority of Americans.

Why would we assume that people with who suffer from addiction are any different? Anything that can support the resiliency of the people we serve should definitely be our business. We must move beyond our ambivalence about including spirituality in treatment programs if we intend to provide holistic, culturally competent, and recovery-oriented services.

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