A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this essay that Christian Post published today. It is a letter to church leaders and suggests 4 ways they can support positive emotional and spiritual care for their congregants.
If you are looking for learning opportunities or materials to use with your friends or church community, check out some of these links:
- Disaster Response Resources webinar (Trauma Healing Institute). Discusses the Beyond Disaster suite of materials (see below)
- Online Trauma Healing Activities webinar (Trauma Healing Institute). Exploring the opportunities and challenges of leading online trauma healing activities.
- Light in Dark Times: Healing Souls During the Pandemic and Beyond (Upcoming free webinar by Fresh Expressions, April 8, 1 pm EST). To register click here.
Beyond Disaster and COVID related materials for use in small groups
The Trauma Healing Institute has a number of resources you may find helpful. Each one below is found here.
- Beyond Disaster. A small booklet that can be read alone or shared in F2F or online settings.
- Using Beyond Disaster in Small Groups. A guide to use the BD booklet.
- 2 lessons related to the distress of COVID-19, one for adults and one for familys with young school-aged children.
For more materials as well as these materials in other languages, check out http://www.disasterrelief.bible
Today, at 10am EDT, my work
will be hosting a webinar discussing some Bible and trauma informed care for folks during and after a disaster.
You can log in here.
On this national holiday when we remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, we not only remember his courage, valor, and prophetic words but the reason why he was needed in the first place. There is no need for a legacy of Dr. King except for the legacy of slavery, oppression, segregation. If not for our nationwide refusal to treat our brothers and sister of color with the honor and dignity due them as bearers of the image of God, there would not have been a need for fighting for civil rights and there would not have been a martyrdom of Dr. King.
But that was a long time ago…
For some, the end of legalized owing of slaves marked the end of systemic inequality. But what of Jim Crow and sharecropping that continued the subjugation of a people through legal means? For others, desegregation of schools and the Civil Rights act of 1964 marked the end of systemic inequality. But what of the inequities in the justice system and the disproportionate representation of Black men in prison? What of unjust incarceration? Today, many mark these evils by attending a showing of Just Mercy depicting the work of Bryan Stevenson to free innocent men from death row. You cannot watch this movie and not see that a system was designed to keep some from their inalienable rights.
So, should I repent of sins I did not commit?
But are we–who did not participate in buying and owning slaves, did not participate in enacting and enforcing color line laws, did not falsely accuse or discriminate against African Americans in the justice system–held accountable what our family and political forbears have done? Ought we to apologize and repent from institutional and corporate sin we did not actively commit? Ought we to make right what was done wrong to others, or to those who ancestors were wronged?
The argument of some is that we ought only to confess and repent of our own sins. We cannot repent of those sins others committed before us. The basis of this argument is that there are no biblical commands (outside of Lev 26:40) to repent for the sins of others. But this view does not take into consideration two important factors:
- God’s blessing is tied to community righteousness and community care for vulnerable people. The bible, God’s letters to his people are not written just to individuals, but to whole communities
- Consider James 1:27 and the litmus test for true religion
- Consider the warnings throughout the Bible to not tolerate injustice (Hab 1, 1 Cor 5, Rev 2)
- Sins come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, including NOT speaking truth and standing for righteousness.
- Individual sins can com in the form of commission AND omission. The failure to not speak up about past and present injustices is still a failure. (James 4:17)
- Not blessing those in need with something is condemned (1 John 3:17)
The beginning of healing
When we call things as they are, we begin the process of healing. Have you ever experienced someone who publicly acknowledges that a wrong was done to you or to those you love? How did this make you feel? And if that person represented the institution that did the wrong to you, how would that make you feel? It might not resolve all of your pain, but most likely you would feel like you had entered a new path of healing.
So, let us endeavor to speak up about the wrongs done in this country to our African American brothers and sisters–the ones that were done during chattel slavery, the ones during reconstruction and Jim Crow, the ones during segregation, and the ones that continue today. Let us acknowledge and disavow the actions of those who went before us. Let us show our regret for the ongoing negative impact on our entire community. We all suffer when any of us suffers. And let us repent of our own complicity where we see it. Let us especially repent of our fear and hesitation to listen to the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters and our over-concern for the impact this might have on our own well-being.
Next Monday, January 20, 2020, I will be attending a special viewing of Unchained, a documentary about generational trauma and healing. This showing is sponsored by Quest Movement in partnership with the American Bible Society and the Trauma Healing Institute. Featured in the documentary are two Philadelphia pastors and their stories of trauma and healing. Along with the documentary, there will be opportunity for discussion and a presentation of information about Healing the Wounds of Generational Trauma: The Black and White Experience, a bible and mental health based healing group curriculum.
Register here. The link has all of the details about the event but repeated here for your convenience:
Cost: 10 dollars
Locations (I will be at the Hiway location):
- Ritz Theater Company
915 White Horse Pike
Haddon Township, NJ 08107
- Hiway Theater
212 York Rd
Jenkintown, PA 19046
Time: 9am to noon
Many moons ago, when I was a young counselor, documentation of treatment was left up to the therapist. Many kept no records at all. Some had hand written notes but were only for the therapist to remember the content or a insight they wanted to share at a later time. But, whether a therapist kept notes or not, it would be rare for the client to know anything about their documented diagnosis (even if insurance was paying) and even less about treatment goals.
With the advent of managed care, documentation of service rendered became a reality. At first these documents (diagnosis, treatment plan, quarterly summaries, termination note) were completed without client knowledge. Later, best practices required therapists to share, at least verbally, diagnoses and treatment plans with their clients. Hopefully, today’s client is a bit more informed as to this better practice and is in agreement with the goals of therapy.
But even when agreement exists as to the high level goal, counselors can find themselves working towards goals the client does not want, or, can be working a different path to a shared goal that doesn’t seem to fit the client.
Setting client goals is an easy thing?
While documentation of goals and objectives is relatively new in psychotherapy, setting goals is not. Client comes in, discusses presenting problem, therapist and client explore desired outcomes. As therapy progresses, goals may change due to circumstances or new learnings. Easy, right? Not so fast.
Shared goal, disagreement about the path
Let’s say I go to therapy to work on a phobia I have to flying. We agree on the larger goal and begin to work. Along the way the therapist wants me to try exposure to flying by getting on a high speed train to simulate the sensation of movement and loss of control. I resist because I do not feel ready. The therapist wants me to push through. I resist more. The therapist can continue to press, whether gently or forcefully, but this disagreement will hinder therapy if we do not get on the same page.
Disagreement about the way forward is commonplace in therapy. Sometimes, we therapists believe that our wisdom and insight is best. And, it may be due to the many other clients we have treated with the same challenges. But what the counselor does with resistance tells you a lot about that counselor and their capacity for “withness.” Do they,
- Check in with the client to see what they are feeling when they resist? (Resistance can be about confusion, disagreement, need for encouragement, concern for consequences, etc)
- Brainstorm about alternative objectives that might be possible? Sometimes small changes in steps make all the difference.
- Pontificate about how the chosen path is the best? When we therapists feel defensive we can easily fall back on our expertise as a weapon to convince another that we know best.
- Ask pointed questions that leave the client feeling shamed? “You do want to get better don’t you?”
From time to time both therapist and client can work toward an unspoken goal, a shadow goal. Since we are focusing here on counselor failures, let’s consider what kind of shadow goals counselors might begin to pursue. Shadow goals are those that are not verbalized and yet have a controlling influence over the therapist’s words and stance in a session. Here are some examples:
- Client comes for help with grief over a lost relationship but the therapist wants client to see how she is the cause of the lost relationship
- Client comes for help in leaving an abusive marriage but the therapist is committed to helping the client stay in the marriage
- Client presents with a mood disorder but therapist wants client to leave his dysfunctional church
- Client want to become less dependent on others but therapist wants client to continue to need her help
- Client seeks treatment for PTSD but therapist wants client to stop being needy or to terminate therapy.
Shadow goals are best addressed in supervision where therapists talk about their clients–and yes, talk about how they feel about clients. As therapists explore their feelings, shadow goals come to the surface and can be acknowledged and addressed. Their presence is not a sign of counselor failure or weakness. They are normal and part of what it means to be human. The only danger is these goals remain hidden and active. As long as they stay hidden (for lack of insight or because of shame), shadow goals will exert control and create confusion on the part of the client and the therapist.
I recently passed my 29th year anniversary of mental health practice and 18th year as a psychologist. I’m not quite old but also have a few years under my belt. When I first began counseling as a counselor in my very early twenties I was fairly committed to proving my value. I wanted to diagnose problems and offer wise solutions. I’m embarrassed to say that I often thought I could do so in the first 15 minutes of a session. Sometimes I was right, but I can say for sure I hadn’t earned the right to speak. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly helpful in those early sessions. Thankfully, I learned that if I was going to be helpful I needed to stop worrying about whether I sounded smart and had something valuable to say and instead spend my energy entirely on the work of listening and understanding the person in front of me.
Not listening to clients might be the first and most common failure counselors make. It can happen throughout a session or for just thirty seconds during a momentary lapse of concentration. While beginner counselors may struggle to listen well, seasoned therapists can lose their edge without even recognizing it.
Not listening can happen by means of trying to dictate goals. It can happen when we therapists talk about ourselves. It can happen when we misdiagnose a client. It can happen when we are bored, or irritated, or caught up in our own world of pain.
This little series is dedicated to therapist failures. We’d rather believe that our mistakes are really client resistance or family interference. But as we own our mistakes, we acknowledge that counseling is a human interaction that requires our willingness to evaluate our end of that interaction. While this series is written for mental health practitioners, I suspect clients will also benefit from this look inside, if for no other reason than to identify when they are not feeling heard.
Some related thoughts previously written
I’ve written a couple of blogs recently on related topics. The first is embedded in my last blog,
I’m going to skip over the large problem of counselors pressing for any change whatsoever. (Suffice it to say that pressing a client for forgiveness, confession, reconciliation, or any other action rarely works and more often causes harm. You cannot heal a trauma caused by misuse of power with more force–even if your goal is good.)https://philipmonroe.com/2019/11/24/some-thoughts-on-when-restoration-hurts/
I will write more on the problem of choosing the wrong goals for counselees–or the problem of choosing goals in the first place. A few months ago I wrote about the problem of choosing reconciliation as a goal.
Some years ago, I wrote this list of common mistakes made by novice counselors.
Come back for the first post exploring the setting of goals in counseling and how not listening leads to the likelihood of failure.
In case you haven’t seen it, Christianity Today recently published an essay entitled, “When Restoration Hurts: Christian counselors grapple with how to encourage reconciliation while protecting victims.” Not quite an expose, it does detail some of the damage done by biblical counselors pressing victims for forgiveness of and reconciliation with those who abused them.
The essay details some of the experience “Amanda” had, both when looking for help as a 17 year old after sexual abuse by her father had come to light and then later when she brought a complaint against the organization that had certified the counselor. The writer of the essay goes on to describe the landscape of biblical counseling, integrationist counseling, and a new version of Christian psychology before returning to the challenge of what Christian counseling care is available for victims and perpetrators. Of concern in this essay is how the biblical counseling group views the bible’s place in counseling victims of abuse.
Before I make my observations, which will only be a small portion of what could be discussed, I want to give some background. I was first trained by CCEF (mentioned in the article) and worked as a part-time counselor there. I still have many friends at that organization. I’m quite impressed with Darby Strickland’s teaching on abuse in families. I’m acquainted with ACBC (formerly NANC) and know many who have been certified by them. I got my psychological training at Wheaton College and there became good friends with Eric Johnson mentioned in the article and was present for the early days of the Christian Psychology movement. Then, I spent 18 years leading a MA counseling program at a seminary. While this background does not mean I am smarter than anyone else, I repeat here to say I know the people and the conversations well. Over the years I have listened to stories of pain and healing at the hands of counselors from all parts of the professional, biblical, and pastoral counseling worlds.
Here are some thoughts of mine about what problems lie behind the misapplication of spiritual principles in these cases of abuse.
Restoration over protection. When restoration is valued over protection, it can only be for the benefit of the one pressing for restoration. What benefit do they get? They get to feel that God is indeed in control. Why do you think that false prophets told the exiles in Babylon that in 2 years they would be back in the land? Was it to earn money? Doubtful. Was it to appear wise? Maybe. But, most of all, it was likely that in repeating this belief (based on knowledge that God would redeem) they could take comfort now rather than sit in the reality that life was broken and not likely going to be restored in their lifetime.
Misapprehending fruit of repentance. I’m going to skip over the large problem of counselors pressing for any change whatsoever. (Suffice it to say that pressing a client for forgiveness, confession, reconciliation, or any other action rarely works and more often causes harm. You cannot heal a trauma caused by misuse of power with more force–even if your goal is good.) One of the great mistakes counselors make is speaking as if they know the heart of another. In no case is this more true than trying to speak with confidence about those who have a long pattern of deception. Tears, time, nice words are not evidences of a changed heart. It is ironic that those who are caring most about righteousness, who seem to be aware of “bad” fruit of not reconciling with someone who has done harm, appear naive in recognizing that tears and the right words are not evidence of change. For example, if a parent who abuses a child seems wholly focused on return home and to church life, is it possible that they only want the benefits of repentance without the work? Might better evidence be a willingness to die to own desires and to ask, “what do those I harmed most need?” while looking for the answer from others.
I conclude this point noting that those in the biblical counseling tradition have been quite willing to acknowledge the problem of evil and deception in the human heart. It is strange, then that some hold those who resist reconciliation to a tougher standard than they do those who have been harming others in the dark but now claim repentant hearts.
Restoration to what? One disheartening experience mentioned in the essay is when those in power demand that the primary goal of forgiveness is restoration and reconciliation. The essay quotes Heath Lambert, former ACBC head, “the goal in ministry to an abuser–as long as he will receive such ministry–is to see him be restored to his family, and ultimately to Christ.” In Ezekiel 34 God charges the priests of Israel with abusing the people, as shepherds who feed on the sheep. In chapter 44 he announces judgment on these idolatrous priests. He will restore them but only to the work of cleaning up the mess after the sacrifices. They will not be restored to their previous position. Today, the modern equivalent would be for an abusive church leader to be allowed to clean the church and the toilets but not to preach, teach or lead. Lambert is right in desiring to see restoration to Christ but his apparent assumption that the restoration would be to position (family) seems faulty. The goal should be to be present with the perpetrator on their journey rather than focus on the final destination.
Pride is the issue. “…Several victims pointed out the difficulty of knowing when real change [in perpetrators] has happened, and that it was prideful for their counselor to assume they knew the hearts of their abusers.” Pride is one of the greatest sins of counselors and pastors. We think we know the problem/diagnosis and therefore we know the solution. The great trap for spiritual leaders and helpers is that we want to be seen as such.
Do you want to be a leader? Be a servant. In this case, be a student of those you want to help. Learn from them. Stop trying to dictate what they do and how they do it. When we experience pride as therapists we stop asking questions of ourselves, stop evaluating our motives and our hypotheses, stop desiring to learn. This can happen to licensed therapists as well as pastoral counselors. Those who want to work with trauma should ready widely those who have the most experience with trauma–regardless of their religious and philosophical moorings. Those who want to work with people who have abused power ought to learn from those who have worked most closely with patterns of deception. Don’t assume you know something just because you know basic categories of right and wrong. Your pride may be evident to those practiced in deception who will tell you what you want to hear (your greatness) in order for you to do their bidding.
Nothing harms the bible and Christian counseling more than someone with half understanding of basic ideas acting as if their opinions should be taken as pure doctrine. If you are facing a situation where you are wanting either a perpetrator or victim to progress, take a moment and write down what you think their most pressing need is today. Take a moment to listen well and see if they also agree. When pressures mount to get to some destination, resist it. Pray for God to give light to the path today. Let him hold the concern for where the journey ends. For that we can be sure he will be faithful to complete in his timing.
Laura Hawkes and colleagues have published a prevalence and impact study of American women and their first sexual experience. The sample of women between the ages of 18 and 44 (13,000 plus) records that 6% experienced rape as their first sexual experience. On average, the rape took place when the woman was 15 years of age. The perpetrator was, on average, 27 years of age. (For a news oriented summary of this study, go to this story on NPR.
Force (of any kind) + unwanted sex = rape
When you think of the term rape, you may immediately imagine physical violence. And certainly, many sexual assaults and rape are unimaginably violent acts. But, it is important to realize that verbal and emotional coercion may also play a very large role in forced sex/rape. When a person uses their position, status, verbal power, threats of violence, threats of loss of safety, emotional manipulation and the like to get another person to engage in sexual intercourse, this can be defined as rape. If it was unwanted but the person did not physically fight back, it is still considered rape.
Rape of any kind is destructive and traumatizing. For some, emotional coercion adds an extra layer of shame and trauma because either they or others may not consider the experience an assault. “Well, he didn’t hold a gun to my head…” or “I didn’t fight him off…so maybe it wasn’t really an assault.” Common but destructive questions such as, “What were you wearing? Why did you go there” add additional trauma.
What impact might that have on a person?
When forced sex is the first sexual experience, there are a cascade of potential health problems that may plague the victim. Reproductive health consequences loom large as to be expected. Many of these continue long afterwards. Mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and addictions also may become chronic experiences. In what may be often overlooked, chronic insomnia (a not surprising result) can lead to long-term auto-immune disorders and cancers. No wonder we don’t just “get over” something like this.
Discouraged? Yes. Helpless? No.
You can read a study like this and leave feeling discouraged about our society. That would be an appropriate response. And, you may also leave knowing that you can do two things that do make a difference:
- Increase your awareness of and compassion for those who have experienced rape/sexual assault. Your capacity to hold their stories and acknowledge the impact may actually begin to lessen shame and isolation and improve quality of life.
- Be willing to speak up about any and all behavior that minimizes abuses of power, especially as it relates to sexual activity.
To read the official abstract of the study, go here.
Consider joining me September 4, 2019 on a webinar hosted by The Partnership Center: Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, US Dept of Health and Human Services. I will be presenting on the spiritual impact of child abuse on adult survivors.
Part IV: Mental Illness 101: Childhood Trauma and Mental Health Impacts
Wedneday, September 4, 2019 | 12:00 —1:00 p.m. EDT
Trauma ― specifically trauma experienced as children or adolescents ― can significantly impact individuals across their entire lives. In fact, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (@NCTSN) notes that survivors of childhood trauma are more likely to have long-term health problems or are at higher risk to die at an earlier age than their peers. With so many walking wounded souls in our midst, people are starting to ask, “How can I make a difference?” Our July webinar will focus on this important factor impacting many people who are struggling with mental illness concerns – untreated childhood trauma. Our goals are to equip local faith and community leaders with the signs and symptoms of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and provide the proven resources they can incorporate into their congregational and community outreach efforts. Register today for our September 4th webinar, and invite a friend