Responding to Addiction With Hope

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Zach Diestler and his wife Nicole started a non-profit ministry called the Bay Area Street Church to serve those living on the streets of Oakland. One of Zach’s first encounters was with a man addicted to heroin. After listening to the man’s story, Zach offered to take him to a recovery center that very night. He began to call around to find out what options were available, but by the time he got off the phone, the man had disappeared.

Zach admits this happened with several people he met. He once drove a man two hours to a recovery facility, only to later find out he had walked 10 miles to take a bus back to Oakland. Although Zach was eager to help, he realized he wasn’t being effective at helping addicts make lasting changes.

“I was building relationships over time and would try to find recovery programs for these men, but I didn’t know enough about addiction to really know what would be best for them,” Zach recalls.

This realization led Zach to enroll in Western Seminary’s Addiction Studies Certificate program. The program equips licensed therapists, lay leaders, and pastors to respond to addiction with both clinical competence and a gospel-centered perspective. It was exactly the kind of practical and faith-based training Zach was looking for.

“Addiction is so important for us to study as Christians because the gospel is all about change,” he says. “How ready are we to give up the life we are living and allow Jesus to take control?”

One of Zach’s favorite courses taught him how to allow his clients to dictate where change is coming from. Zach learned that he could roll with resistance in a counseling session, rather than fighting against it. It’s a technique that he has had a chance to practice many times thanks to his internship opportunities.

Addiction is so important for us to study as Christians because the gospel is all about change.

Internships have been a vital part of Zach’s training. He works at a men’s recovery facility, where he gets to lead groups and is exposed to all facets of running an addiction recovery program. He also interns at a community counseling center where he counsels men, couples, and children.

Zach explains how these internships have revealed to him the pervasiveness of addiction in our society.

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“Addiction is such a huge part of most people’s lives. Either the person I am counseling is addicted to something, or someone in their life has dealt with an addiction that has caused trauma for that person.”

Throughout his counseling program, Zach has cherished small class sizes and strong sense of community at Western.

“Faculty and students truly care about you as a person. There is a high standard for academic excellence, but underneath it all is the gospel,” he says. “When you are personally going through something difficult, you don’t have to hide it. You won’t see that kind of grace in secular environments.”

Zach’s experience in the certificate program was so positive he decided to enroll in the full MA in Counseling. His long-term vision is to someday run his own faith-based recovery program where he can incorporate practical techniques with a gospel perspective. He has also seen encouraging signs that his training is making a lasting difference. His friend who had originally taken the bus back to Oakland is now in recovery and living in his own apartment. 

“This is my calling. The recovery world is my passion.”

Learn more about Western's Addiction Studies Certificate.