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Addiction and Pastoral Care, by Nicholas Roberts

08 February 2019

Anne Holmes welcomes an approach that asks addicts what they want

THIS useful and accessible handbook is intended to inform Christian pastors professionally involved in the pastoral care of those addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs. The author, a former hospital and mental-health chaplain, has experience as a parish priest and as a consultant in psychological counselling. Having completed a doctoral thesis on the psychology of addiction, Nicholas Roberts is well placed to draw on both his pastoral experience and his psychological and theological insight in this informative book. He addresses one of the most difficult social problems affecting individuals, families, and the wider community.

After an introduction, the book is made up of four main chapters: an examination of the nature of addiction; a review of religious writing about addiction; a theological understanding of desire; and recommendations about the pastoral care of people with addictions. This final chapter includes the author’s own original model for such pastoral care, namely his “aspirational” model, in which an addict is challenged to focus on what he or she wants out of life.

This is not to disparage other approaches that seek the origins of the addiction, but aims at offering some hope for a different future. The model is outlined for the benefit of the reader, who may be anyone professionally involved in the pastoral care of those addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs.

The author is experienced and cautious in his approach. He recommends working collaboratively with other agencies, which could benefit from the particular contribution that the Christian pastoral carer offers. Such collaboration is not routine, even within a hospital context; so the wish to promote such teamwork might also be described as aspirational. What I welcome is the absence of any idea of a sudden, almost magical, change in the addicted person’s behaviour. In contrast, compassion, patience, and the careful timing of any interventions are the hallmark of the author’s approach. The focus is on the person who has an addiction rather than the problem of the addict.

Although the care and safety of the pastor are considered, I missed a clear recommendation for regular supervision, which is increasingly advocated for those who offer pastoral care. Nevertheless, this is a sensible and thoughtful contribution to the library of pastoral care, and I recommend it for those accompanying people who struggle with addiction.

The Revd Dr Anne C. Holmes, a former mental-health chaplain, works as a psychotherapist, practical theologian, and SSM priest in the Oxford diocese.


Addiction and Pastoral Care
Nicholas Roberts
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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