Bringing Faith and Science Together for Recovery

By The Fix staff 01/28/19
“I love looking at problems from two different lenses: is this a faith issue or mental health issue?” Davis said. “Sometimes the answer is yes to both questions. I help navigate that.”
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Two young men discussing the bible, Christian faith and recovery

When Austin Davis was working as a minister in the church he often helped people in his congregations confront their problems. However, he soon realized that in addition to spiritual guidance, many of the people he saw could also benefit from clinical counseling.

“I’d think ‘look you don’t have a God problem, you have a depression problem. This isn’t a sin or faith issue, you have mental health stuff happening,’” Davis explained.

In order to better serve the people he was working with, Davis returned to school, earning a master’s degree in clinical counseling and becoming a licensed professional counselor-supervisor in Texas. He was drawn to the clinical world, but felt that many people would be best served by a combination of faith and clinical counseling strategies.

“I love looking at problems from two different lenses: is this a faith issue or mental health issue?” Davis said. “Sometimes the answer is yes to both questions. I help navigate that.”

Davis worked in public psychiatric hospitals and also continued to work with individuals through his church. In order to bring both of his approaches together, Davis founded Clearfork Academy, which provides residential treatment for teen boys ages 13 to 18. At Clearfork, Davis and the other healthcare providers take a Christ-centered approach to delivering the best clinical care to patients struggling with substance use disorder and mental health diagnoses.

“From my education I can articulate the tenets of faith and also talk about therapy from a good, clinical basis until I’m blue in the face,” Davis said. “There are competencies in both approaches, and our clinicians are functional in both sides.”

Although an approach that combines science and religion isn’t common, Davis says that it is a powerful way to facilitate healing. But before any therapy can begin, Davis focuses on building a rapport with the boys that he works with.

“I say more than anything else: Meet the clients where they are. That’s a counseling rule of thumb, but it’s also found in scripture. Jesus meets the women at the well, goes to the people, he eats with the sinners,” Davis said. “If they come in ready to talk about mental health, we start there. If they want to talk about God, we can do that. You have to have rapport to have either conversation.”

Davis said that often there is mistrust and misunderstanding from clinical and religious counselors toward one another.

“I would love to see the two sides talk to one another, for the clinical not be so judgmental about faith and for the faith community to not be judgmental about clinical.”

Often, each camp thinks that they can provide healing without help from the other, but that’s just not realistic for many clients, who have a strong spiritual life and also want the best medical care. When he was practicing in secular counseling sessions, Davis often had clients bring up God and their religious beliefs. Allowing both religion and clinical doctrine into the conversation can help establish a holistic approach to recovery, he said.

“It’s about education and awareness,” Davis said. “In large part the faith community does not validate the necessity for clinical intervention. Many issues are looked at as sin problems that can be eradicated though bible reading, prayer and behavioral modification within the church. On the other hand, the clinical community sees faith and church as hocus pocus or leaning on crutches.”

This is shortsighted on both accounts, Davis said. 

“It’s not just one or the other, there’s a lot of overlap,” he said.

Even the tenets of the 12 steps show the need for bringing faith into recovery, Davis said.

Davis pointed out that incorporating practices from eastern religions has become more mainstream, but incorporating Christian teachings remains taboo for many clinicians.

“Eastern religions are ego-centric, about developing and evolving the self. That’s very palatable, to think that we’re in control,” Davis said. “But, a lot like step one, Christianity requires surrender, which is totally opposite of what we want in humanity.”

Because of the element of surrender, Davis says many people fear that they will lose themselves if they become involved with Christianity. However, that doesn’t have to be the case, he said. 

At Clearfork Academy, Davis and his clinicians ride the ups and downs of recovery with their clients, with extra guidance along the way.

“As a therapist your job is to ride that wave with the client,” Davis explained. “My opinion is there’s a third person on this ride with us, and that’s God. We deliver clinical and faith healing, alongside Him.”

By pairing a clinical approach with faith-based, Christ-centered guidance, Davis and his team are able to help guide their clients find a life of mental and spiritual wellness.

Clearfork Academy offers residential treatment for boys ages 13-18 in Fort Worth, Texas. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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