ADDICTION AND PASTORAL CARE
ADDICTION AND PASTORAL CARE. By Sonia E. Waters. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019. 226 pages. $17.99.
Sonia Waters has written a book that explores the intersection of addiction and pastoral care. This is a massive undertaking as both “addiction” and “pastoral care” are broad fields of study in their own right and from two different disciplines (psychology and theology). The book spends about 75% of its time on the psychology side and 25% on the theology side. In this regard, the book serves a primer on addiction for pastors who are unlikely to have had any formal education on the matter at all.
The seven chapters of the book are developed thematically from a psychological perspective (with one exception). The first chapter asks the question “What is Addiction?” and explores briefly the history of addiction in America. The second chapter looks at what addiction does to the brain. The third chapter looks at addiction, attachment, and trauma. The fourth chapter looks at the effect addiction has on social relationships. The fifth chapter is a bit of an exception in that it focuses more on the theology than the psychology. The sixth and seventh chapters explore the practical models and processes that pastoral caregivers can undertake to help people suffering in addiction (specifically an in-depth look at Motivational Interviewing, and evaluating the five stages of recovery). Through these seven chapters Waters uses the story of the Gerasene demoniac from Mark 5:1–20 as the primary theological lens through which pastors can faithfully assess and address the matter of addiction among their flock.
This is the first book that I’ve ever read about addiction. Other than a Psych 101 course in college and a “Pastor as Counselor” course at the seminary, I don’t have any formal training in matters of psychology. I cannot speak to the veracity of Sonia Waters comments or conclusions drawn from psychological research and study. However, I am a keen observer of the human condition and that which Waters says rings true. Her theological evaluation of addiction is also helpful.
I learned a lot from this book and I am much better equipped as a pastoral care-giver on account of it. It is heavy reading though. Each page is full of text with minimal paragraphs. I had to work up the energy to tackle each chapter, and I needed to set aside 60–75 minutes to get through each one. It was worth the investment in time, but it was a lot of work, too.
This book helped me dispel some misconceptions I had about addiction and recovery. I had a caricature in my mind of addicts that was quickly jettisoned when I read these helpful sentences, “For many addicts, recovery is not about removing a single action. It is about managing a way of being that has infiltrated body, mind, and soul. I know that addiction is a problem, but I have been seeking to adjust the caregiver’s vision about this condition so that we can approach it with more respect. I want to suggest that there is something starkly beautiful about our attempts to survive our lives” (79).
If you’re a pastor and want to know how to approach addicts under your care, this book will help you. Here are some brief takeaways from my reading of it: (1) Addicts are managing suffering, not chasing pleasure, proceed accordingly. (2) Addiction has become a way of life, which means recovery will feel like dying. (3) The road to recovery for addicts is almost always a long road, be in it for the long haul. (4) You cannot argue someone into recovery. (5) You are not God. Working with addicts will humble you because you cannot control what they do.
A few theological observations: First, conservative protestants will immediately recognize a theologically liberal slant to the book. A single example from the book will showcase my point. When writing about Genesis 1, Waters writes, “We commonly focus on the assumed gender of that Genesis account, but perhaps we should return to a more fundamental message” (57). Second, this book says nothing about the sacraments and never stresses our baptismal identity. However, proper administration of the sacraments is something that pastors of my own church body are quite adept at, so it’s probably to the conservative reader’s advantage that Waters focuses on something we’re not as well-versed in; namely, addiction. Third, the use of the Gerasene demoniac as a theological lens through which to view addiction is brilliantly done and worthy of every theologian’s consideration.
Addiction is a chaotic mess. There are multiple factors to keep in mind. For this reason, helping those suffering from addiction is hard work. It takes a community, of which the pastor is just one part. It is unhelpful and unwise for the pastor to take on responsibilities that are not his. Waters writes, “Pastoral caregivers should not be the addict’s primary addiction counselor, unless they are trained and certified for that role. I strongly advise referring the addict to some kind of professional care” (166). Though this book is dense and does not lend itself to speedy reading, the investment of time will save you hours on the other end when you find yourself providing pastoral care to those suffering from addiction.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Milbank, SD.