When a woman’s first sexual experience is forced, a look at the impact


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Free webinar on the impact of child abuse on adult mental and spiritual health


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

Register at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/437d661ca5d8d0c434538d7d4481ef37  

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

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing Training Sessions, Philadelphia, October 4-7, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, October 4-7, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wounds of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups for adults.

Already completed the initial training? Then come to the advanced session to deepen your healing group facilitation skills and to learn how to train others to become healing group facilitators. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for parts of the training and would love to meet you there and talk about ways we we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

Register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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Why reconciliation isn’t the best objective


At some point in our lives, we all experience a breach in a relationship. Division happens among friends, family, acquaintances, and members of the same faith. Sometimes the breach we experience is the result of a perceived wrong, sometimes a true injustice. Sometimes we are the ones who are hurt, other times we are the offending party.

Reconciliation a bad objective?

Not convinced? Consider this example. I grow tomato plants. I have the goal of eating tomatoes by early July. I set objectives such as when to plant seeds or purchase plants; when to water, fertilize, cage, etc. But, I cannot set an objective of producing tomatoes. It is not something I can make happen. I can only cultivate the plant in ways I understand will encourage tomato production.

When a breach happens, and you want the relationship restored, it is common to seek reconciliation as the primary objective. I want to argue that reconciliation is a mis-guided objective. Even though we are called to be agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16f), it is not a direct objective that any of us can accomplish. Recall from your strategic planning training that objectives ought to be tangible and obtainable. Objectives are designed to move toward an overarching goal or dream. Since reconciliation requires at least two parties to agree, it makes for a bad objective since we can’t guarantee that the other will be willing, able or ready to reconcile.

Better objectives

If you desire to reconcile with someone after a breach in a relationship, there are some achievable objectives you might want to consider. If you are the offending party, you might consider objectives such as,

  • Offer to hear (face-to-face or through others) of the damage you have caused or allowed due to complicity
  • Acknowledge the impact of your attitudes and actions, the harm done.
  • Make an apology
  • Provide ongoing evidence of repentance…without grumbling
  • Make sacrificial amends, seek to return what was wrongfully taken
  • Avoid pointing out the wrongs committed by the offended party; make no explicit or implicit demand for reconciliation

If you are the offended party, you might consider objectives such as

  • Speak the truth in love
  • Assert need for justice and grace
  • Avoid vengeance taking
  • Acknowledge evidence of repentance; point out evidence of deception
  • Clarify concepts of forgiveness, grace, restitution, reconciliation
  • Ask God for a heart prepared to forgive

When reconciliation isn’t possible

Notice that the above objectives can be met even when the overarching goal of reconciliation fails. There are times when reconciliation is not possible or desirable. Attempts to force the outcome will do significant damage—not only to victims but also to those who foreclose on repentance. Just as forcing a diseased tomato plant to produce fruit may result in the destruction of nearby plants, so also forcing reconciliation when repentance is not present may result in more injustice and deception.

So, the next time you find yourself in a broken relationship, focus first on objectives within your grasp and give back to God the final goal. Be open for him to do miracles but stick to the thing he has placed in front of you. Like the widow who has just enough oil and flour, bake your cake. Let God take care of the bigger picture.

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing training sessions, Philadelphia May 8-11, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, May 8-11, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wound of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups.

If you have already taken the initial training and you would like advanced training to become a healing group facilitator or to become a trainer in this train the trainer program, then come to the advanced session. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for the training and would love to spend the 4 days with you thinking and experiencing how we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

But register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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2019 Global Community of Practice Livestream


The 2019 Trauma Healing Global Community of Practice is fast approaching. The event will be held in Philadelphia, PA, USA from March 12-14th.

This years’ COP will explore the family’s vulnerability to trauma as well as family restoration. Attendees will hear from a wide range of global speakers while networking with peers from around the world. While registration is closed for in-person participation, we will be livestreaming the event and are looking for individuals to host interactive viewing parties. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please click on the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/host-a-live-stream-viewing-party-for-the-global-cop-registration-55242162796 or email Lauren Popp at lpopp@americanbible.org. The eventbrite link above contains the schedule of plenary events. As you watch you will receive information on how to submit comments and questions. So, even though you may not be in person, you can still have participate!

Only a party of one? You can still access the livestream. Click on this link: http://thi.americanbible.org/cop-live

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Advice for church leaders when dealing with abuse in congregant families


Looking for a good introduction and tips to respond well when abuse is alleged or exposed? Dr. Diane Langberg has a great blog as your launch point: http://www.dianelangberg.com/2019/02/recommendations-for-churches-dealing-with-abuse/.

I could summarize it but I’d rather you just go and read it!

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Philadelphia area Healing the Wounds of Trauma Initial Equipping


Announcing the initial equipping training for those interested in becoming certified in the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum. This will be offered at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, July 18-21, 2018. There are three ways the course is offered:

  • Graduate credit (2 credits, with pre and post course work)
  • Audit (shows up on a transcript)
  • Continuing education (NBCC approved CEs for social workers and professional counselors)

Teachers will be Heather Drew and myself.

For more information, start here. If you are interested in learning this train-the-trainer model of trauma care designed to raise up safe faith communities, this might be the training for you.

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MOTB Presentation: The Role of the Bible in Prisoner Transformation


On June 7, 2018 (6-7p EDT), I will be participating in a speaker series presentation at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. I’ll be offering a brief response to Dr. Byron Johnson who is the main attraction. My focus will be on our trauma healing curriculum and program in jails and prisons. In addition, there will be a response by Prison Fellowship, International.

You can see the details here. I believe it will be aired on Fb Live.

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Signs of over-hyped psychotherapy treatment?


Donald Meichenbaum and Scott Lilienfeld have recently published a short essay entitled: How to spot hype in the field of psychotherapy: A 19-item checklist.† This can be helpful for both counselors and future clients who are both hungry for finding “what works.”

Before giving their 19 warning signs they remind readers of two important factors:

  • General factors in therapy (alliance, therapist skill, client commitment) do account for significant portion of the positive effects of many therapies but this should not be taken to mean that any therapy will work fine. In fact there is evidence that some therapies are harmful.
  • It is helpful to have some self-doubt. Skepticism can be helpful, both in maintaining some humility and self-reflection of what we think works. The authors quote another who suggested to therapist that they should “love yourself as a person, doubt yourself as a therapist.” And to point to the challenge with this, they cite a study of 129 therapists where many therapists rated themselves as effective as 80% of all therapists while no one actually rated themselves as below average. Maybe these therapists live in Lake Wobegon?

Warning signs?

I will not repeat the actual language of their checklist but will give you a summary

  1. Language. How do they talk about the intervention? Revolutionary? Ground-breaking? Do they use psycho and neuro-babble? The authors point out that dropping words like neural networks, body memories, and the like do not substitute for scientific evidence.
  2. Illustrations. Does the “packaging” feel slick? Lots of scientific-looking images (brains, PET scans, etc.)?  Lots of explaining how something works but no evidence offered that it works (beyond anecdotes)?
  3. In-group focus. How much do they refer to gurus, name-drop recognized leader endorsements? Do they offer special certifications that only they offer and special in-group activities that you can only get if you pay for it? Do they slough off critics and criticisms for not being on the inside. You can’t critique us because you didn’t see what only the in-group people see. 
  4. Effectiveness. What evidence do they offer that it works? Anecdotes? Testimonies? Years of experience? Every treatment must start with anecdotes until it can get published research studies. But compare the language used to talk about effectiveness (and also lack of side effects) and the amount of published data. If the volume of data is limited, then the language should be as well. Also, are there any studies done by someone other than key authors and disciples?

These warning signs do not mean a treatment protocol will not work or is not a break-through. Certainly older well-accepted treatments may work less well than the new treatment. Just because the mainstream does not yet accept a new theory or intervention should not be a reason to reject it. But healthy skepticism is still warranted. Be wary of hype and over-promotion. Things that are said to work for everyone rarely do. Solutions to complex problems rarely can be found in a few quick steps or sessions.

Desperation pushes us to find solutions. I was challenged to find a solution to a friend’s mental health concerns. In exploring options we came across an intervention that held our interest. But upon further investigation we discovered it would cost $3,000 up front and take 30 sessions before knowing if it would be effective. A further review found many claims of huge successes and when we asked the practitioner about when it doesn’t work the answers given were clearly defensive. In addition, we could find no one at established university programs offering training and research provided could only be characterized as superficial despite the intervention being around for a nearly 20 years. Bottom line: we went looking for something else. The intervention might work but we didn’t want to risk the time it would take to find out if it would work.

†Meichenbaum, D. & Lilienfeld, S.O. (2018). How to spot hype in the field of psychotherapy: A 19-item checklist. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 49, 22-30.

 

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