‘If we're not putting someone's trauma experience first, then the chances of them actually progressing and moving forward may be slimmer.’
Debi Hake is a licensed professional counselor with the Marriage and Family Counseling Center, and one of our specialty areas is spiritual abuse and religious trauma.
She spoke about how religious trauma can make navigating substance use disorder recovery spaces difficult.
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Debi Hake: You know, AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and NA [Narcotics Anonymous] have existed for a long time, and there are a lot of people that had benefited directly from programs like those that are typically abstinence-based.
And I don't negate that there are some good work that comes out of those kinds of spaces – and I also think for people that have experienced religious trauma in their background, a system that has a religious component can be retraumatizing again or compound the types of trauma that an individual has experienced.
So, it might look different, but I would say that some of the effects may actually be traumatizing in and have their own way.
“For people that have experienced religious trauma in their background, a system that has a religious component can be retraumatizing again or compound the types of trauma that an individual has experienced.”Debi Hake
I think there's a lot of ways that we can look at how trauma impacts us, and if we look at what people who've experienced religious trauma carry with them and you look at some of the components of one of the more religious or faith-based programs – there's an automatic sense of shame and guilt that you're either not enough or not doing enough, or complete and utter dependence upon a system because you can't possibly do it on your own.
Well, that directly mimics some of the language that you hear in religious faces, right?
So, we don't do anything to foster a sense of agency, and actually empower the individual, we just stick them back in another system that says, “But see, you really aren't good enough to do this on your own and you need our help, you need the community's help you need these rules and this rigidity and structure. Otherwise, you're never going to be able to get clean or get sober.”
And that's, I, I just can't get behind a system that doesn't use empowering and equipping individuals as a primary and tends to focus only on an abstinence-based or behavior modification.
I think it creates a lot of confusion, and I think it creates potentially a space where individuals instead of progressing and moving forward in recovery may actually relapse. I don't know that I necessarily have statistics on that, but I would say that I think the research is shifting behind trauma-informed approaches to substance recovery.
And in that research, I think it would line up with that kind of a thought process – that if we're not putting someone's trauma experience first, then the chances of them actually progressing and moving forward may be slimmer than if we were to shift how we look at:
A - Why a person is experiencing substance or some other type of addiction that needs recovery in the first place, right?
And B – what's behind that? What's the driving force? Are there traumas that we need to be addressing first and equipping a person to deal with first? And then maybe look at – well, what does the rest of the substance use program look like?”