Renaissance Ranch

Why Faith-Based Treatment Can Sometimes Fail

Jul 11, 2023

Religion represents a mighty tool for positive change, especially in addiction recovery treatment. When misapplied, however, the results can devastate the person seeking help. And while research shows that religious programming is effective in an overwhelming majority of faith-based treatment centers, finding a facility with the right combination of accountability, grace, and support is critical to have the best chance at recovery.

“Religion can be a two-edged sword,” explained Preston Dixon, COO of Renaissance Ranch, a collection of rehabs for men in Utah and Idaho. “Our faith in God is our greatest strength during recovery, but we don’t always see it like that. We’re often too busy blaming and shaming ourselves for being horrible Christians to recognize how much He loves us despite our disease,” he continued.

Most of the time, but not always, faith-based drug rehabs seek to reinforce the fact that God loves us unconditionally. In some cases, however, religion-oriented treatment staff can lose sight of that message in favor of a more “Hellfire and brimstone” approach. This leads us to our first reason why some Christian-based rehabilitation centers fail:

Faith-Based Treatment Can Sometimes Fail

(Patrick Fore/unsplash)

Unfair Spiritual Expectations

Just because you selected Christ-centered treatment doesn’t necessarily mean you have a solid religious background. There are many good reasons to choose a faith-based drug rehab, including:

  • The hope for a better life through Christ
  • A strong sense of community and fellowship
  • Access to unique resources, like retreat centers, support networks, and religious counselors
  • A more holistic approach to recovery

That said, some addiction recovery centers believe that offering a spiritual or religious foundation equates to everybody in their treatment program having one, too. Faith-trained addiction professionals should meet each patient wherever they are on their recovery journey and not expect to push or convert them to a specific level of spirituality.

For instance, mandating religious service attendance or scripture reading as part of treatment can, and often does, backfire. Instead, look at facilities where they offer opportunities to worship and join in prayer, but don’t force them on you.

In addition, recovery is not linear. It’s full of ups and downs and moments where everything goes sideways. As representatives of Christ, your faith-based recovery team should accept, engage, and inspire you at every point in your journey. It’s essential for you and them to understand that faith-based treatment is not performance-based treatment. God will never modulate His love for you according to how long you stay sober or how often you relapse.

Accountability Over Grace

Another reason why some Christian rehabs falter is that staff members and clinicians do not extend grace. When there is little to no grace for relapse and other mistakes, you eliminate the basic premise of a faith-based treatment model – Redemption.

In the Bible, we learn that Jesus chose to spend His time with sinners, publicans, Samaritans, and others who would usually be rejected by good Jewish society. He was universally merciful and never condemned the sinner, only the sin. And if a person fell back into sinful behavior, Jesus taught us to show mercy and repeatedly forgive.

Some faith-based rehabilitation centers are so focused on keeping their patients accountable for their actions that they forget about showing mercy and dismiss people from the program when they relapse. This course of action can destroy any hope of getting back to sobriety, which is the antithesis of what Christ-centered treatment is all about.

Relapse happens to be a regular part of addiction recovery. Not that we anticipate it, but instead, we accept that our journey will be bumpy and there are times when we will fail. Our reaction to relapse is more important than our actual relapse – do we give ourselves up as a lost cause because we had a setback or two (or three or four)? Or do we accept grace for our efforts and try again, having learned valuable lessons about what triggered us and how we can avoid those situations in the future? Relapse is a critical moment where extending mercy and inspiring the person to stick with it can keep them in recovery.

Clinical and Spiritual Treatment Can’t Coexist

Finally, Christ-centered rehabs miss the mark when they don’t make room for secular solutions. In their limited view, you should only need to rely on worship, prayer, and experiencing a spiritual awakening to conquer cravings and stay sober.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “Addiction [is] a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.”

Consider another chronic disease – asthma. You wouldn’t expect an asthmatic who is having an attack to pray for things to get better without simultaneously using an inhaler, would you? Of course not. Addiction is similar in that substance misuse has created neurological and biological changes that can only be fixed or improved by applying professional medical and therapeutic techniques.

Similarly, substance abuse has also bruised our spirits and robbed us of the hope and faith we need to want to become sober and healthy. Prayer and worship help us regain that hope for spiritual healing and encourages us not to give up when the road is challenging.

For more information on what to expect when you check in to a Christian treatment center, call us at (855) 736-7262.