When is a Client Truly Ready to Move On?

client-300x225-GI am convinced that our goal in any recovery program is to “work ourselves out of a job.” Or to say it another way, we ought always to be helping program people to become stable and growing believers who can experience God’s power and guidance for themselves. This is the exact opposite “missionizing people” — the rescue mission version of institutionalization. I am referring to the problem of teaching people how to live in the confines of the mission, but not equipping them for life outside. This is usually the case when program people seem to doing fine but end up crashing and burning a day after they leave the program. We’ve taught them to live in our little protected world and not prepared them for life out there.

Here’s a few principles to keep in mind:

A. The program is a “greenhouse” — My perspective is that a mission program is a lot like a greenhouse where troubled people begin to experience a little new sprout of new life within. A well-functioning residential program provides a protective nurturing environment for that little shoot. Our job as staff members is to nurture it and grow it. Then finally it becomes strong enough that we take it out of the greenhouse and plant it in some good soil out here where it can grow and mature and bear fruit.

B. Aftercare Planning is Essential — It’s essential that the mission program be the sort of nurturing environment where new life can gain ground and put down some roots. We also need to be thinking carefully about where the “good soil” is out here and how to transplant program graduates out there without tearing all the roots out, or planting it in soil that’s not going to allow it, the growth to continue. No one should ever graduate from a rescue mission long-term program without a solid, detailed written aftercare plan in place. The plan should include information about housing, employment, church involvement, participation in additional counseling and support groups, as well as some specific information about the services offered by the mission that will still be available to them. To do this well, the mission program must develop a comprehensive list of community resources. Additionally, mission staff members must take time to assist graduating residents to access those outside services that they will need.

C. Make Sure A Solid Relational Network is in Place — Besides doing all they can to heal past relationships, all mission clients also need to establish healthy relationships within the church and the recovery community. This process should begin while in the program. Until these are in place, a person is simply not ready to graduate.

D. Lay the Foundation for Recovery — The word for “recovery” is the theological term “sanctification.” While the term means an initial “setting apart for godly purposes,” it is generally used to refer to our life-long journey toward become more Christ-like. . It’s a process. I really believe honestly that in our work with our clients, we need to realize that we are starting them off on a process of recovery and that ideally our real job at a rescue mission is to lay a foundation for a lifetime of recovery.

The best way to lay the foundation is through a providing a very organized process that involves specific verifiable goals and objectives that a participant will accomplish while in the long-term program. These should include both general goals, objectives, and activities that will be expected of everyone in the program, as well as, very specific, personalized goals and objectives that address the special issues of individual participants. As I have previously discussed, when considering the time for graduating, effective rescue mission programs worry less about the calendar and focus more on determining whether a participant has made significant progress on their written goals and objectives (or recovery plan).

So, how do we know if a person is truly ready to graduate from our program? We’re not going to take somebody and fix them 100%. As a matter of fact, we’re going to send them out of our doors as struggling baby Christians. I might add, we send them out as struggling baby Christians who know how to access the help they need from both God and other people.

The healing environment of the recovery program combined with the spiritual and material resources we provide are the essential elements of providing them with a foundation in the Word of God. Life skills we impart will equip them to succeed when they leave our protective environment. The new supportive relationships they developed before leaving the program will become more important than ever.

Winning the Battle Over Addiction Conference Talks

michael“All in the Family” was the theme for the 2013 Winning the Battle Over Addiction Conference held on May 10th at Palm Beach Atlantic University and sponsored by the Road Less Traveled. I shared two talks with several hundred Christian workers and professional counselors to help them better understand addiction in the context of family systems.

Session One: “How Addiction Affects the Family”

The first session is an overview of the impact of addiction on individuals and their family members. I share some person reflections of my own journey in recovery along with some basic principles intended to help Christian workers better understand the issues faced by recovering addicts and their families.

Download PowerPoint for this Talk  

Session Two: “Healthy Boundaries in People Helping”

The second talk was aimed at people who work with alcoholics and their families. Most of the principles shared focus on ways that recovery workers and friends can avoid becoming overly involved with addicted and dysfunctional people and how to become more effective in our their people helping efforts.

Download PowerPoint for this Talk


Motivating Addiction Recovery Program Participants (Part 3)

1groupI am firmly convinced that we must help people newly recovering addict to get integrated into two vital communities – the Church and the recovery community. There is life after the residential recovery program and if we don’t spend enough time and energy preparing our clients for it, we have done them a great injustice. If we are truly successful, program graduates leave recovery as newly sober, struggling baby Christians. We must be sure that these new believers know where to find help when they experience struggles in the future, no matter where they live.

A. Imparting skills for developing healthy relationships – There is a lot going on at recovery programs in the areas of life skills, employment, literacy and education, etc. But, an often-neglected aspect of preparation for life after the program is helping our residents to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Getting involved with the wrong people is a major contributor to relapse. Many experience tremendous stress those clients with inadequate relationship skills experience as they try to live with others. The truth is, most addicts come from dysfunctional families. They already struggle with codependency long before their first use of drugs or alcohol. Getting high, for many, provides a temporary release from their lack of self-confidence and toxic shame issues that handicap them in their relationships with others. Guess what? Just because they stop using alcohol and drugs, all of this doesn’t automatically go away. Sobriety gives them a chance to finally begin to work on these issues. If they don’t, their chances of success are greatly diminished.

A number of resources that help in this area. One of the best is a workbook called, “The Twelve Steps – A Spiritual Journey”. It walks people through an exploration of these issues and provides many real and workable Christ-centered solutions to overcoming problems that keep them from experiencing healthy relationships with others. The Church certainly offers a lot to recovering people by providing both spiritual and social support. SRI Gallup’s 1992 survey of recovery from homelessness concluded that spirituality (a growing relationship with Christ) was the number one factor that contributed to the success of those they studied. They noted, “This spirituality seems to not only strengthen a person individually, it also seems to be the basis for commonality in building relationships with other people.”

B   Getting involved in the right church – We must be intentional about connecting mission program participants to a solid, healthy relationship with the Body of Christ, which is often one of the most difficult challenges we face in mission programs. The solution lies in identifying those fellowships in our community that are most “mission client-friendly” and to cultivate relationships with them. This could involve personal visits with their leaders, luncheon meetings and tours at the mission, and training programs specifically geared toward helping both pastors and lay people to understand and support our people as they become involved in their congregations.

C. Connecting with Christian recovery groups – There is still another extremely valuable resource out there that has yet to be fully understood and utilized – the Christian who is himself in recovery! There is a wonderful phenomenon afoot that has been loosely called the “Christian Recovery Movement”. It has been manifested by literally thousands of support groups springing up in churches around the globe where Christ is the “Higher Power.” These groups are to be found in practically any major city of North America, and in some overseas – Overcomers Outreach, Alcoholics for Christ, Alcoholics Victorious, Celebrate Recovery, etc.

There are no better people to serve as a “bridge” between the mission and the Church than believers who are themselves overcoming addiction. They can relate in a very special way to the struggles of mission clients, because they’ve been through many of them. We must find these people by visiting support groups ourselves, contacting large churches in our cities to see if they have such programs, and in some cases sponsoring such groups ourselves. (see the database of Christian support groups). Like churches, support groups vary significantly, one from another.

I encourage addiction program personnel to never send people to groups we have not personally visited. And, it’s important to meet with the leaders of these groups to get to know them personally and help them to become familiar with the mission and its recovery program.