SAMHSA Releases Guide for Clergy
By Sarah Priestman and Rebecca Clay
SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) is helping
to break through the "wall of silence" that isolates clergy
from discussing substance abuse problems with their congregants.
A new CSAT report, Core Competencies for Clergy and Other Pastoral
Ministers in Addressing Alcohol and Drug Dependence and the Impact
on Family Members, summarizes the basic knowledge, skills,
and attitudes that ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, and other
religious leaders need to help addicted individuals and their families.
Developed in partnership with the National Association for Children
of Alcoholics (NACoA) and the Johnson Institute, the report outlines
a dozen key steps.
"These core competencies will give clergy an effective tool
to help address drug abuse and alcoholism before individuals and
families are in crisis," said CSAT Director H. Westley Clark,
M.D., J.D., M.P.H.
Congregational leaders have many opportunities to provide information,
guidance, and comfort to congregants and family members affected
by alcohol and drug dependence. But all too often, those opportunities
"Every week, religious leaders of different faiths look out
into their congregations and see people who are dealing with substance
abuse issues," said NACoA Executive Director Sis Wenger. "Many
of them, however, don't recognize the symptoms of substance abuse
or the fear and confusion felt by the children of persons with substance
use disorders. As a result, they don't offer their support."
A big part of the problem is that clergy simply aren't trained
to recognize or address such problems. In fact, a panel of experts
convened by SAMHSA in 2001 found that few clergy training programs
specifically address the topic of addiction or its effects on children
and families. To fill that gap, the panel recommended the development
of a set of core competencies clergy members should have.
Determining what those competencies should be was the goal of
a 2-day meeting convened by SAMHSA in 2003. Congregational leaders,
researchers, physicians, academicians in both secular and religious
institutions, and others representing diverse religious perspectives
and congregations came together to reach a consensus on ways to
address this pervasive problem.
Designed to provide a general framework that religious leaders
can apply to diverse situations, the core competencies reflect the
typical clergy member's multiple roles. Several competencies, for
example, address the clerical role of providing comfort and support
to parishioners. To fulfill that role with substance-abusing individuals
and their families, clergy members should learn to recognize signs
of dependence, understand addiction's effect on individuals and
their families, and know the characteristics of each stage of recovery.
But getting congregants the help they need means more than just
making referrals, the report emphasizes. "While referrals may
be appropriate," the report notes, "alone they are insufficient."
Well-prepared clergy should know how treatment can benefit addicted
individuals and their families, be familiar with 12-step groups
and other community resources that can help them, and be able to
express concern, caring, and hope. Children need special attention,
the report stresses, because substance abuse affects the whole family.
Clergy and other pastoral ministers can connect them with appropriate
support services and act as safe, reliable confidants.
After establishing a list of core competencies, the panel assembled
suggestions for dissemination. A public education campaign using
what the report calls "an interdenominational voice" was
one suggestion for reaching religious, professional, and lay audiences.
Even more important, the participants offered recommendations
for integrating the core competencies into both seminary and post-ordination
training programs for clergy.
"These core competencies establish the base for possibly
the biggest cross-denominational educational effort of its kind,"
said Johnny W. Allem, president of the Johnson Institute. "They
pave the way for community-based pastoral counseling training centers
and 185 accredited American seminaries to have a common approach
to bring both faith and science to bear on this disease."
| (Photo by Erin J. Pond)
The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) is partnering
with NACoA and the Johnson Institute to include the core competencies
in its pastoral counseling and credentialing programs. According
to Douglas Ronsheim, D.Min., AAPC Executive Director, "Congregational
leaders are responding to issues of substance abuse and affected
family members at increasing rates." At the same time, they
are hesitant to counsel in areas outside their expertise. The core
competencies will increase the clergy's capacity to respond more
effectively to the needs of their congregational members.
The report suggests the development of several educational tools
based on the competencies, including a continuing education curriculum,
a preaching and teaching guide with sample sermons, and a bibliography
of resources on addiction and spirituality.
Clergy members' influence can extend beyond their own congregations,
the report points out. By reshaping congregational attitudes and
norms, the clergy helps to reshape wider community norms.
"The people whom SAMHSA serves are the very same people who
turn to clergy every day," said SAMHSA Administrator Charles
G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W. "This report is the beginning of a
long process that will result in educational segments being incorporated
into seminary courses that will help train clergy and pastoral ministers
across denominations to deal with substance abuse issues."
Also Related ContentCore Competencies for Clergy »
Back to Top