Counseling service links spirituality with recovery - Catholic Courier

Counseling service links spirituality with recovery

ROCHESTER — In the early 1980s, Deacon Gregory Doyle sought to establish a counseling service with a key departure from traditional therapy: less focus on the mind and more on the soul.

"What we saw missing was the spiritual component of 12-step recovery. You can go to therapy, which is scientific and psychological — or us, which is spiritual and philosophical," Deacon Doyle said.

With an emphasis on God as the guiding force in recovery, Matt Talbot Ministries has thrived for 27 years by following a 12-step program closely linked with the one offered by Alcoholics Anonymous. The service, which handled mostly alcohol-related cases in its early years, has come to assist a growing number of people affected by drug abuse and gambling.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of potentially addictive attractions or behaviors, according to Deacon Doyle. He also lists among such attractions and behaviors perfectionism, caretaking, sex, relationships, spending, religion, compulsiveness, impulsiveness, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, work, television, the Internet, reading, withdrawal, avoidance, control, laziness, manipulation, performing, stealing, lying, prescription drugs and food.

Several of these actions could be considered parts of a normal daily lifestyle. Does that mean we’re all addicts? Not necessarily: The fine line from habit to addiction is crossed "if any of these things make your life unmanageable," said Lauren Doyle, Deacon Doyle’s daughter-in-law who is executive director of Matt Talbot Ministries.

Yet Deacon Doyle, the service’s spiritual director, said many folks are slow to admit they have an addiction or are affected by addictive behavior. He noted the four "Ds" of powerless people — denial, defense, delusion and dysfunction — but said once the problem is acknowledged and put in God’s hands, Matt Talbot Ministries can be a vital contributor to recovery and a life of serenity. Deacon Doyle also observed that many participants are not addicts themselves, but have close ties with addicts and are thus hampered by anger, depression, confusion, fear and/or tension.

Programs of Matt Talbot Ministries are offered in individual and group settings and include spiritual counseling, weekend retreats, workshops and presentations. Confidentiality is highly observed, although staff members will recommend more concentrated forms of therapy elsewhere or emergency services if they feel the need exists.

Deacon Doyle, 74, founded Matt Talbot Ministries at the former St. Augustine Church, two years before his 1983 ordination to the permanent diaconate. As the ministry grew, it moved in 1986 to St. Ambrose Church and then in 1991 to its current location, 514 Oxford St., in a building owned by and adjacent to Blessed Sacrament Church.

The service is named after Matt Talbot (1856-1925), a chronic alcoholic from Dublin, Ireland, who turned his life around by incorporating many aspects of what became the 12-step program. Talbot’s perseverance and deep spirituality have made him a model for people fighting addictions, as well as a candidate for sainthood. Though Talbot was Catholic, Lauren Doyle said all faith traditions are welcomed at Matt Talbot Ministries.

"We’re nondenominational here. You can be any religion, as long as you believe in a higher power," she said, noting the second step of the 12-step program: coming to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

An estimated 6,000 people have taken part in Matt Talbot Ministries over the years, and Deacon Doyle said 60 to 80 people come to the facility per week There are 28 trained staff members, and only three of them are paid. That’s quite a large operation even though the service refrains from advertising.

"We don’t promote ourselves. We are a lot of word of mouth," Lauren Doyle said. Her father-in-law added that Matt Talbot Ministries is nonprofit and doesn’t issue a set fee for any of its offerings.

"If we’re committed to the spiritual side of help in any way, we can’t charge for it," Deacon Doyle said, adding that the service nonetheless receives a sufficient level of free-will donations.

"As long as the higher power says to stay in business, we’ll do so. And we’ve been here 28 years," he remarked.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To get in touch with Matt Talbot Ministries, call 585-442-1204, 24 hours a day. Those in the Hornell area should call 607-324-5252.

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