Healing, recovery, restoration and other words for “getting better”

Recovered. Healed. Better. Restored. Resolved. Whole. What words do you use when describing positive change regarding traumatic events like abuse, the pain of adultery, or other like experiences? And more importantly, what do those words convey to yourself and others?

Why am I thinking about this? Soon, I will begin teaching an on-line summer class called “Healing Trauma in International Settings.” To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable with the title I chose. Words matter and “Healing” conveys a message. Imagine replacing “healing trauma” with

Trauma treatment

Trauma recovery

Trauma care

Now, maybe I’m being overly sensitive but consider some of these other kinds of problems we face

  • You break your tibia during an aggressive move on the basketball court. Your leg heals and you go back to your basketball playing. Here we use healing to denote that you regained your former capacity to play sports. You are back to normal or near normal.
  • You cut your finger while slicing vegetables. You go to the hospital to get stitches. While you have a scar, your finger heals and you use it again. In time you have only a slight scar to remind you of that day.
  • Your house sustains a fire. You lose belongings. Your insurance company restores your house and replaces your possessions.
  • Your car is stolen. The police recover it and return it to you (with fuzzy dice attached)
  • You have a protracted conflict with a family member. At some point, you have a heart to heart and resolve your differences.

My examples all convey a resolution of a problem where the problem recedes, maybe even disappears. But what about trauma? Is there a form of resolution and healing of rape or sexual abuse or domestic violence where the memories disappear? Should there be? Wouldn’t forgetting these experiences place the person in danger of living in unreality and, in some cases, at risk of re-injury? Here are some important questions:

  • What does healing from an affair look like? How do you know you have “recovered”? What symptoms or experiences would remain?
  • What does healing from a rape look like? What would be expected if you “pretty well recovered”? What is to be expected to not change?

As a counselor I do not want to under or over-sell the recovery process. Victims do find tremendous healing but to assume all vestiges of a traumatic experience go away would be false. Unfortunately, we who have not been traumatized sometimes expect the kind of recovery where victims go back to a way of life and thinking as if the trauma never happened.

If we are honest, we wish to live in a world without lasting consequences from sin and suffering.

We want people to “get over” their pain and go back to a way of life as if it never happened. It would be like asking a person who lost a leg to hope they will run exactly like they did before losing the leg. Indeed, they may run again. But never as fast and never as easy. There will be a stump to care for, a hip to learn new motion, phantom pains to re-interpret, and limits to accept.

This world of limits is one God wants us to live in and one we detest. Our first parents saw the limits of their wisdom and desired to get wisdom on their own. We too love the happily ever after story where humans obtain health and healing apart from limitations. We tell the stories of miraculous healing as if we no longer live in a broken world.

Let us endeavor to tell true stories of healing that glorify God and remind us that we depend upon him for every breath.


Filed under Abuse, adultery, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Healing, recovery, restoration and other words for “getting better”

  1. Dear Phil,
    I appreciate your cautioning those who have not experienced trauma, and encouraging them to refrain from judging those who have been traumatized in life, and whose healing and recovery process they do not understand. I am a trauma survivor, clergy abuse, parental suicide, a long abusive marriage, adultery, and finally divorce. As a Christian, I spent a good deal of my life seeking the magical healing, where God would take away all the pain and dysfunction of my life in an instant. Other Christians judged me for why I didn’t accept “claim” my healing and “live in God’s victorious joy”.
    I am now a Marriage and Family Therapist, in private practice and also working in a mental health hospital, which has an inpatient program supported by the Minrith/Meire curriculum. I personally like the words healing and recovery, because to me they denote a process. Interestingly, as I read your article I realize that I have never used the word healed or recovered to describe myself and probably never will. I continually emphasis to my clients that it took a lifetime to get where they are and it will be a lifelong process to heal. The hope in this is that they will experience relief from the pain, and that it will be in degrees, in leaps and bounds sometimes and at a snails pace at others. Each new healing experience brings a time of joy and discovery, and new hope for tomorrow. I encourage them to believe that the level of pain they are experiencing now, is what has brought them to this healing place and it is a gift which will propel them into a new level of recovery.
    My own personal story is that my “instant healing” came when I was able to accept the pain as my friend and guide, and embrace recovery as a life long process.
    Natalie Mill, MA, MFT http://www.chrysaliscounseling.net

  2. Jess

    I enjoy the semantics of God “redeeming” trauma and “binding up” the traumatized.

  3. D. Stevenson

    trauma care

  4. D. Stevenson

    A related question(s) is “When is a person ready for a formal counseling relationship to end?”

  5. D. Stevenson

    Just to note that some people/Christians tell the traumatized (the violated) that if they aren’t “healed” and “over it” (read – still feeling pain, or anger and desire for justice) then they haven’t “forgiven.” And the violated/traumatized one is now heaped with guilt over their sin of not “forgiving 70×7”

    Is it possible for the forgiveness to be real and yet still feel pain, and/or still feel a form of anger, a desire for justice?)

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