Self-help group teaches how God's grace allows 'no-fault learning'

(Published: Saturday, May 20, 2000)

   Nancy Dulinsky was thrilled with the progress she was making in her support group, Changing Attitudes in Recovery Self-Help.

   After struggling with isolation and depression following a painful divorce, she found friendship and encouragement in the group. The program, created by Modesto psychologist Jim Henman, helped her correct years of low self-esteem.

   But something was missing. The support group talked about seeking help from a nondescript "higher power." Dulinsky wanted to talk about her Christian faith.

   She approached Henman about creating a Christ-centered group that church people could feel comfortable attending. Henman, a Christian for more than 20 years, agreed and added a new support group, CAIRing Grace.

   Henman said both groups are based on the same Christian principles -- the latter just explicitly includes the Scriptural references.

   "The model of change presented in the Christian gospel is just a good model of change."

   Both CAIR support groups help anybody who wants to make a change, regardless of the problems he or she faces. Those problems may include chemical dependency, eating disorders, co-dependency, anxiety problems, depression, low self-esteem and relationship disorders.

   The basic idea is to get people to honestly

   assess themselves where they are without beating themselves up or succumbing to paralyzing guilt.

   CAIR Self Help, formed in 1990, does this from a secular perspective. It teaches "no-fault learning" -- allowing yourself to fail and learn from your mistakes. CAIRing Grace, formed in 1998, does this by teaching about God's grace.

   "Grace allows us to start where we are starting in the present," Henman wrote in an introduction that is read at the start of every CAIRing Grace meeting. "We will keep our eyes on the Lord and continue relaxing into the Holy Spirit as we are transformed in His Nature. We call this growing process recovery."

   Both groups study Henman's 1990 book, "Changing Attitudes in Recovery -- A Handbook on Self Esteem." The emphasis is on learning a "new program," defined in the book as "a set of attitudes, beliefs and principles that help us live a more recovering life." Some of the steps the groups urge include being nonjudgmental, letting go of shame, dropping generalizations and distinguishing between a person and his or her actions.

   Henman said the program is successful because it focuses on solutions rather than problems people are facing.

   "It gives people the tools and principles for how to approach the process of change," he said.

   Dulinsky said the CAIRing Grace support groups are a great way to get more Christians involved. Many Christians are skeptical about psychology and support groups because they fear that it conflicts with their faith. But that is untrue, Dulinsky said.

   "Much of what Jesus taught is good psychology," she said. "I know God used (CAIR support groups) mightily, mightily in my life."

   Linda Sanders, a Turlock resident who has participated in both CAIR groups, said Christians often believe they have to be perfect. "People are afraid of not being a good representative of Christ," she said.

   CAIRing Grace gives Christians a safe place to discuss their shortcomings with other believers, Sanders said.

   Henman said he'd like to see more people involved in both support groups in the future. So far, most groups are in Stanislaus County or greater Northern California, but a few have sprung up across the country and overseas. "God's model of change works," he said.

   CAIR Self-Help will celebrate its 10th anniversary and CAIRing Grace will celebrate its second anniversary.