Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Clincal Psychology)


School of Psychology


Substance use disorders are a significant international health problem. Faithbased organisations are one of the primary treatment options for individuals with substance use problems. Many of these faith-based organisations either incorporate Christian theology into treatment or utilise the spiritually-based Twelve Step philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. Empirical research has shown low to moderate associations between spirituality and recovery from substance use disorders; however, the exact mechanisms by which spirituality operates on recovery are unclear. Forgiveness and purpose in life are central to all major world religions; hence, this thesis explores the relationship between spirituality, forgiveness and purpose in life in the faith-based treatment of substance use disorders.

Study 1 evaluated the perceived importance that faith-based treatment providers place on spiritual and forgiveness-based treatment components in comparison to other secular treatment components of substance abuse. A brief survey was completed by 99 Salvation Army drug and alcohol treatment providers employed within Australian residential rehabilitation programs. Attitudes towards spiritual components of treatment such as Christian education and spiritual development were positive; however, treatment providers rated secular interventions such as relapse prevention and anger management as more important than spiritual components. Treatment providers also conceptualized forgiveness to primarily be a spiritual construct that was as important to treatment as other secular based components. This study provided support for further investigations of forgiveness in the faith-based treatment of substance abuse.

Study 2 is a cross-sectional investigation of spirituality, forgiveness and purpose in life among 277 substance abusers in residential faith-based treatment programs. Several different dimensions of spirituality and forgiveness were assessed. The results found that the daily spiritual experiences (e.g. feeling connected with God) associated with a person’s spirituality predict forgiveness constructs. In turn these forgiveness types negatively predict resentment and positively predict purpose in life. The results emphasise the potential of forgiveness of self and receiving forgiveness from God and from others in the recovery process.

Study 3 is a longitudinal investigation of spirituality, forgiveness and purpose in life among 242 residential faith-based substance abusers. It extends on the results of Study 2 by exploring the relationship between changes in spirituality, forgiveness and purpose in life on substance use. Results found that the development of daily spiritual experiences operated indirectly on substance use via forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and purpose in life; however, purpose in life emerged as being more influential than forgiveness of self or others. The results provide preliminary support for the central theory of this thesis: the cultivation of spirituality can operate on recovery from substance abuse by increasing forgiveness and purpose in life.

The final chapter emphasises the need for ongoing longitudinal research on daily spiritual experiences, self-forgiveness and purpose in life in faith-based substance abuse treatments. The finding that daily spiritual experiences indirectly influence recovery suggests that faith-based treatment providers may maximise the spirituality-recovery relationship by developing interventions that cultivate daily spiritual experiences.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.