by Robert Robison L.M.F.T
Note: This article has been written to provide information and support for religious leaders handling confession from a member who is struggling with pornography or sexual addiction issues. The information in this article is based on thousands of hours spent with clients who have experienced confession. It is not easy to confess sins, and it requires a personal humility to do so. From the countless stories I have heard, there seem to be some things that are more useful than others. The purpose of this article is to share those with you. If it can be helpful to you, our aim has been served.
Handling Confession – Suggestions for Bishops and Stake Presidents and Other Ecclesiastical Leaders
Handling a confession of one who struggles with pornography addiction or sexual addiction issue is a very sensitive and challenging matter for many religious leaders. The very nature of addiction involves continued attempts at sobriety with lapses in between.
Continous relapse can become incredibly frustrating, but such individuals need continued support and encouragement.
It is the “lapses in-between” that causes ecclesiastical leaders the most frustration and concern. Slips, lapses, and relapses don’t seem to fit into the part of repentance that has to do with forsaking the sin.
Forsaking ProcessHandling Confession
Unfortunately in recovery work with addicts the forsaking of the sin is a process rather than an event. The very term addiction means that you take a stand only to cross the line then, time and time again.
The first thing to remember is that anyone who comes in on their free will to confess what they feel inside is sinful behavior needs to be respected. It is not an easy thing to do, and the intent behind the confession is almost always due to the desire to change and to get themselves right with God again.
It is an honorable person who has the courage to seek help in the first place.
Communication or Shutdown
The way in which a leader responds and communicates can make it either more or less likely that a person will feel safe enough to talk about what is going on with them.
Treat the individual with dignity, understanding, sensitivity, and respect, they are more likely to leave your office feeling uplifted and hopeful about the future. It is vital to remember that when anyone comes in to confess they are already feeling pretty poorly about themselves. Viewing pornography creates deep levels of inner turmoil and shame.
I’ve yet to have a client report to me that they have felt good about a slip or relapse. The response is always the same; frustration, disappointment in themselves and sometimes despair.
Confrontational Counseling Less Effective
When counseling those with addiction problems, I believe it is helpful to understand what research has verified over and over again. Confrontational counseling is associated with high dropout rates and poor outcomes. Many begin the confession process by testing the waters by making a partial confession as to the extent of the problem.
If a person picks up that the leader is responding in a harsh and critical way, it is likely that they may shut down. I have had many clients report to me that this is what they did because they didn’t feel safe. They began the confession process but then quickly shut down because they picked up how disappointed, shocked or disgusted their leader was with them.
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We work a lot with LDS Family Services and receive a lot of referrals from LDS Family Services when it comes to more challenging cases dealing with addiction, depression, anxiety, and OCD.