Faith-based treatment programs get a pass from regulation in Iowa

In Spencer, Iowa, a 26-year-old man in a faith-based treatment program was talked out of taking medications by two pastors he was friendly with.

But a few days after entering a program, he told one of them that he wasn’t feeling right and that he was suicidal.

Rev. Nick Hanges told him it would pass.

A few days later, Hanges found the man — Alex Jacobsen — in a pool of blood. He had cut his own throat.

“They do not have the medical or psychological training to do what they’re doing,” Dave Jacobsen, Alex’s dad, said. “If the state doesn’t require some sort of oversight, this will happen to other families.”

The incident has prompted a two-part series this week in the Des Moines Register.

His father wants to know how a faith-based program for drug treatment is exempt from an Iowa law that requires licensing of treatment facilities.

“They do not have the medical or psychological training to do what they’re doing,” Dave Jacobsen said. “If the state doesn’t require some sort of oversight, this will happen to other families.”

But, since 1975, faith-based organizations that rely “solely on prayer or other spiritual means for healing” have been given a blanket exemption by the Iowa Legislature, the Register reports.

“If a person is taken off (some drugs) abruptly, it can be life-threatening,” Anne Fletcher, an author who studied research on the effectiveness of drug treatment programs nationally and who works at a Minnesota treatment center, told the paper. She said she doesn’t buy the program’s claim that it has a 90-percent success rate.

“No (treatment program) has rates that high. We’d all be flocking to those programs if they did,” she said.

Unfortunately, the paper didn’t answer Dave Jacobsen’s initial question: How is it that faith-based programs are exempted from closer monitoring?

More treatment: The public scorns the addiction treatment Prince was going to try. They shouldn’t. (Washington Post)

  • PaulJ

    I wonder if faith-based is the correct term (faith being such a abstract concept to apply to such a concrete problem) . It seems like religious-practice based would be a better description.

  • >>How is it that faith-based programs are exempted from closer monitoring?<<

    Because "god."

  • crystals

    This is &*@&#^! criminal.

  • lindblomeagles

    Somebody should tell the faith based organizations that God INTENDED people to become TRAINED doctors, scientists, and therapists, especially when a person’s life is at stake.

  • Angry Jonny

    Faith based treatments are good for faith based problems. That’s it.

  • Mark in Ohio

    We as a society give a lot of deference to faith based institutions. We often seem to hesitate to put any boundaries or restrictions on them, and I’ve seen many churches rail against those boundaries that do exist. Personally, I think we give TOO MUCH deference to them. One person’s religious freedom is another’s discrimination. I’d love to have a calm, civil, rational discussion about the topic, but really doubt that we have the maturity to do it.

  • kennedy

    It’s not uncommon to hear of people avoiding traditional medical treatment. Somehow it seems different when non-traditional practices are applied to mental disorders. Why? Is it because the patients seem more vulnerable to manipulation?

  • JMEG

    One of my family members suffers greatly from depression. She was skeptical of the medical system in the small town where she lives, and feared that she would know the counselor and they would judge/stigmatize her. So she opted to get “faith-based” counseling from her church. To see what has happened has been incredibly sad. She was a vulnerable adult who was manipulated into believing that her church would solve all her problems. Her relationships with her family members has deteriorated significantly because the “counselor” told her that family and medical intervention wasn’t the answer — God was. If a family member questioned the “treatment” she viewed them as not being supportive of her needs. Thankfully, she has not expressed any self-harm tendencies, so we all just hope it will work out eventually.

    I think there is a role that religion/faith can play in the lives of some people. It can be a comforting and joyful space. But the idea that faith can solve all problems has been proven false in many arenas. The fact that people participating in the Iowa faith-based treatment program have to sign a waiver that absolves the center of “any liability whatsoever arising as a result of death, injury or illness” should be a signal to dig a bit deeper before participating. But what do you do when the person is an adult and can legally make their own decisions?