Spirituality and recovery

Martin Nicolaus notices a not yet published study on the impact of spiritual guidance as part of treatment. There was no impact. In fact, the group with spiritual guidance by certified spiritual directors had worse outcomes on measures of depression and anxiety, though a group receiving spiritual guidance from their counselor did just as well as the other groups.

What’s especially interesting about this study is that Bill Miller, the lead author, is very friendly to spirituality as an tool for facilitating change. He seems stumped but isn’t questioning the study itself.

There is reason for confidence in the findings of this study. Outcome variables were carefully measured by independent interviewers, fidelity of interventions was good, and 82% of all possible follow-up interviews were completed. The studies were powered to detect a medium between-group effect size that would be sufficiently large to be of clinical interest ([Cohen, 1988] and Miller and Manuel (in press) Miller, W. R., and Manuel, J. K. (in press). How large must a treatment effect be before it matters to practitioners? An estimation method and demonstration. Drug and Alcohol Review.Miller and Manuel (in press)). Null findings were replicated across two study designs, and the direction of differences was, in many cases, opposite to prediction. We thus found no evidence for a beneficial effect of this spiritual counseling approach during the acute phase of addiction treatment. Different and more intensive spiritual counseling might increase daily spiritual practices, spiritual experience, and meaning and thereby influence substance use outcomes. Given the magnitude of changes that occur in early recovery, however, we believe that a more promising approach is to focus on spiritual development after a period of stabilization in which other basic needs have been addressed. Within a long-term care perspective, spiritual direction may fit better in later recovery, with a goal of maintaining and broadening the initial gains of sobriety.

It would be interesting to see more research on spirituality and recovery. I’m inclined to believe that spirituality can be a useful therapeutic tool. If nothing else, for people when enter treatment with spiritual beliefs, it might be used to increase engagement and participation in treatment. It might also be used as a long term source of support for change. (We do value a holistic approach, right?)

Along the lines of a stage dependent model, as Miller suggests, Project SAFE reported that many of the African American women in the study initiated their recovery in 12 step groups and sustained their recovery in churches.

The study said nothing of the participants’ predisposition to spirituality. That seems important to me.

Other questions that might be interesting include:

  • What forms of spirituality are helpful or unhelpful? Some clearly emphasize a stronger internal locus of control while others emphasize an external locus of control.
  • Can helpful elements of the helpful forms of spirituality be unbundled?
  • What are the non-spiritual paths to those helpful elements?
  • There is a persistent assumption that all clients will benefit from spirituality. Is this true? Are these some who might benefit, others who are unaffected and some whose treatment outcomes are harmed?
  • Along the lines of Miller’s thinking, to what degree are these responses stage dependent?

DF employees – let me know if you want a copy of the study.