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A lot of my therapeutic work of late has centered around addiction recovery. I’ve worked with clients with many different types of addiction–chemical, food, sexual, etc. Learning the steps to help individuals extricate themselves from addictive patterns and the shame that fuels addictive behavior has really opened my eyes to the help people sometimes need in overcoming these types of snares.
Recently my cousin and I were talking about addiction. He was asking how I advise people who are sexually addicted, and after I shared a few of the things I help clients do in order to heal, he said “yes, but what about the Atonement? Can’t it heal addiction?”
Having never struggled with addiction himself, he was asking an interesting question. It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve been trying to understand the far-reaching effects of the Atonement. Its enabling power. It’s power to heal. It’s power to change things for the better.
In the case of an addict, I think the answer gets muddy. There is a useful comparison when you juxtapose it to a physical ailment or injury. If your child was in a car accident, a mis-directed soul could argue “well, Christ has the power to heal all things. Thus, you don’t need a doctor to heal your child’s broken body. If you just believe and pray and read your scriptures, your child will be healed.” However, most people in our culture recognize that far more than simply believing and hoping and praying is necessary to heal that child. Most people recognize that even though it is through the power of Christ the child will be healed, it is not instead of proper care by those trained in the healing of human bodies, but instead in tandem with those actions.
The same idea can perhaps be applied to someone overcoming addiction. Yes the power of Christ to heal is infinite, but is it not also coupled with agency and the resources available to any individual? And just as a child won’t be miraculously healed from a car accident solely by the power of Christ when there is a hospital filled with doctors down the street, likewise can we not assume that a soul racked with addiction cannot be healed without first utilizing the capable professional care available to him or her in counselors and other professionals trained to help?
I have a very deep and personal knowledge of the power of the Atonement, and that although I don’t understand it perfectly, I can see its effects in my life in very clear ways. I want to understand it more deeply–it’s been a theme for me of late, which is where this post came from.
Here is the question I pose, and I’d love to hear people’s responses. If I have a client who is not LDS come to my office, I supply them with the materials and techniques that science has derived in order for him to recover from his addiction. Often times, when those tools are used, that man does recover. Without “closeness to the spirit” or praying or any such thing. Just diligent practice of certain techniques, and he finds recovery possible. Often this requires belief in a higher power, but even atheists I have worked with have found recovery in this way. Their marriages are healed. They recover. No ecclesiastical guidance. No scripture reading. No prayer. No interaction with a clergyman of any kind.
Given this phenomenon, what role does the Atonement have in the recovery from sexual addiction? Is the Atonement necessary for recovery from sexual addiction? If so, where does it begin, and the help from trained professionals end? And when and how is the Atonement activated in this process? And to what end?
I would really love to hear your thoughts.