Category Archives: biblical counseling

GTRI featured in an online, free journal


Our Global Trauma Recovery Institute is featured in the most recent issue of the EMCAPP Journal for Christian Psychology Around the World. Pages 172-211 include an overview of GTRI, two essays by Diane Langberg (The Role of Christ in Psychology; Living to Trauma Memories) and one by me (Telling Trauma Stories: What Helps, What Hurts).

The journal also contains an essay by Edward Welch (www.ccef.org) where he muses his development as a biblical counselor, explores the matter of emotions and some of the stereotypes of biblical counseling. The journal also includes a large number of essays about Paul Vitz as well as a number about the Society of christian Psychology.

Take a look!

 

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Filed under "phil monroe", biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Ed Welch, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

Video: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse in Christian Contexts


This video was shot last October during a conference in South Africa cosponsored by the World Reformed Fellowship and North West University. In it I cover these objectives:

  • Understand common practices of offenders
  • Develop policies to hinder predatory behavior
  • Avoid poor reactions to allegations known to compound injury
  • Provide care to all parties

I’m thankful to Boz Tchividjian of GRACE who allowed me to use some of his material since he could not be present to deliver it himself. If you are interested in seeing Boz’ far more eloquent work, check out videos at the GRACE site or, even better, click the link to the right of this entry and purchase the 5 hour video he and I filmed in 2012.

Link for video here. Link for accompanying slides here.

Want more resources? I encourage you to watch the other videos from this conference, especially the powerful one by Jim Gamble that should NOT BE MISSED (Thinkuknow) and another by Diane Langberg: http://wrfnet.org/resources/media

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Video: Making the Church a Safe Place for Trauma Recovery


In October I represented Biblical Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute at a conference co-hosted by the World Reformed Fellowship and North West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Previously I posted the accompanying slides here. Now, WRF has made available the video for this presentation. Presentation runs about 30 minutes plus a Q and A at the end with another speaker.

Main objectives of the video?

  • Understand the experience of psychosocial trauma
  • Make the church a safer place for those who have been traumatized

Link to video here.

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New book of meditations for counselors by Diane Langberg


In our Lives FirstI want to point out and recommend a new collection of meditations designed for counselors and written by Dr. Diane Langberg. This ebook In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors (Kindle version first, Nook version to follow) consists of 40 meditations, each with quotes from some of Dr. Langberg’s favorite authors and with questions for you to ponder.

Dr. Diane Langberg (pictured above in the banner of this blog) is a practicing as a psychologist for the past 4 decades. Regular readers of this blog will know her as one of the leading experts in all things related to PTSD, trauma recovery, and christian counseling. For years she has been writing books and articles as well as speaking around the world on matters near and dear to her heart. For those of you familiar with Dr. Langberg, you may recognize some of the stories and ideas in the meditations. Many of these have appeared in some form in her Christian Counseling Today column or in her lectures.

If you are a people helper (professional or lay; clinical or ministerial) and have ever felt burned out by the work you do, I highly recommend these meditations. As Dr. Langberg tells us, the work must be in us first.

*******

Bias alert: I helped edit this volume. I do not gain any monetary benefit from sales. 

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The power and perversity of labels


English: Photo of Paulo Freire

[Previous version published  in 2006]

That was great!

You are a liar!

We humans have powerful tendencies to label and categorize. It may be something that Adam passed on to us. Notice that Adam got to name the animals as he saw fit. I suspect that being made in the image of God provides us an innate drive to name things as they are?

But what happens when things don’t fit our categories? We either have to expand our definitions or shove square pegs into round holes.

  • The color line comes to mind. Those who are biracial face the repeated question, “What are you?” And the “one drop” rule still is holds power: one drop of African heritage blood in your recent ancestry makes you “Black” in this country.
  • How about those who don’t fit gender stereotypes. I’ve heard the pain of many who were accused of being gay because they didn’t fit someone’s image of a man or a woman. These labels were so powerful that they caused confusion. “If being a man means…(fill in the blank), then I must not be one. Maybe I’m gay.”

The Counselor’s Power to Label

Counselors hold tremendous power when as they label, especially those who represent both the counseling and the Christian worlds. We label right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous. We label idols of the heart. We want our counselees to see themselves and God in proper form. We see how distortions in labels (e.g., God doesn’t love me; I’m incapable of changing) harm and we want to provide healthier labels.

But, HOW and WHEN we label may be more important than whether our labels are actually correct. The temptation for counselors is to label too quickly, before the counselee is ready. If that happens, the counselee is passive and the counselor’s label is just one more among a chorus of opinionated acquaintances.  

Take a look at how Jesus interacts with sinners and self-proclaimed holy men. Who is he more likely to label? Who does he engage with deep questions? What are his means for helping others see themselves? Notice how the Pharisees were quick to label what was authentically Jewish and what was not. Notice that the Lord seems less interested in that and more interested connecting to others. He was not neutral about sin. However, he engages others in novel ways to show them the righteous path and their need for a savior.

Who Does the Labeling Matters

I’ve been enamored with the late Paulo Freire, a liberation theologian from Brazil. He describes how unthinking, impoverished, people become empowered when they are given the power to name things (problems, solutions). They do not, he says (in Cultural Action for Freedom), learn by being filled up with words and labels by dominant culture individuals. If this were the case, then counseling would only be a matter of memorizing the right words and phrases. No, counseling is a dialogue where the counselee is an active, creative subject in the process of change. In Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation, (by Freire and Faundez), they say,

I have the impression…that today teaching, knowledge, consists in giving answers and not asking questions.

The same could be said about counseling. It is the asking of questions that encourages us to search for answers. Without questions, we may never redefine the problem. When we counselors label (whether we are talking about DSM labels or right/wrong labels) without engaging  the client in the process, we rob them of their words.

What Can We Do?

Freire suggests a three-step dialogical model that may work also in building an effective counseling relationship: Investigate (ask exploratory questions, examine beliefs, myths, etc.), Name (code and decode, a process of un-naming and naming what is going on), and Problematize (identify problem and solutions).

Avoid the Temptation to Give the Gift of Your Knowledge

Freire says that gifts given by oppressors only perpetuate injustice. If the “gift” of your knowledge perpetuates the divide between the counselor (the healthy/wise one) and the counselee (the sick/naive one), then your gift may only serve to perpetuate their illness. This does not mean you should never speak or offer advice. But ask yourself, “does the way I speak to clients encourage and energize (all the better if in the form of a pushback) or cause passivity?

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The Power of a Counselor’s Words: Guest post over at biblical.edu


I’ve been thinking and musing about the power we counselor’s wield with our words. To be honest, I do so without always being aware of the impact. It is so easy to say, “that’s abusive” to a victim with the idea that I am validating her experience without realizing I have just crushed another part of her life.

So, if you want to read some of these musings and a gentle corrective to those of us who call ourselves biblical counselors, click here to find the blog I posted for October 18, 2013.  [posted prior to leaving for South Africa]

 

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Pastoral Counseling for Sex Offenders: 3 Dos and 3 Don’ts


As the church does a better job in understanding the epidemic of sexual victimization (1:3 women, 1:5 men report unwanted sexual contact by age 18), the church also faces the challenge of understanding how to care for sex offenders in the community. Gone (hopefully!) should be the days where a congregation just ignores offenders and acts as if their sins are in the past needing no further follow-up. And we don’t want to swing to the other extreme of making it impossible for sex offenders to be part of the church community. Rather, the church will best represent Christ to victims AND offenders when it exemplifies the grace of limits to offenders.

The local pastoral counselor (whether in the church or in a para-church organization) will be called upon to participate in the care and counsel of a sex offender. In preparation for this eventuality, every pastoral counselor should embark on their own continuing education. Read books (start with the difficult book Predators by Anna Salter), meet your local ADA who prosecutes sex crimes and find out what is required of offenders after they leave prison, find local clinicians who specialize in treating the various kinds of offenders (e.g., adolescents, adults, Internet based, those who have been incarcerated, etc.)

Dos and Don’ts

After improving your understanding of the nature of sexual offending and the available resources, consider these three dos and don’ts in order to avoid some serious pitfalls

  • Do treat them as fully bearing the image of God, just as you would a victim of a sex crime. Your relationship with the offender should not be a barrier to their ongoing growth and sanctification. Do you share the same mercy and grace as you would to someone you may feel more compassion? Do you see them as less human? Your compassion should lead you away from an adversarial or judgmental approach to them (this does not mean you won’t be firm or even skeptical!). Accusations, no matter how accurate, rarely lead to transformation in another. Instead validate their feelings and experiences. They will have lost much: friends, family, finances, standing. While it came at their own hand, you surely want to validate this experience.
  • Don’t treat all sex offenders the same. Recognize differences between adolescent and adult offenders, Internet only offenders and direct contact offenders. You do not want to have a one-size-fits-all approach for supposed fairness reasons. If you don’t have training in understanding these differences, do not assume you already know how to counsel these individuals. Get training, supervision, and consider referrals.
  • Do assess on a continual basis. As with all clients, a competent counselor never stops assessing for treatment readiness, commitment to change and growth, commitment to the grace of restriction, insight and more. Does your client show a growing evidence of empathy towards victims and the community? Does your client evidence a thirst for community supports and accountability (vs. passive acceptance)? Does your client give evidence of being solely focused on personal experience; give evidence of resistance and bitterness that others do not offer blanket trust?
  • Don’t use words, time, or other factors in determining growth and repentance. Far too frequently, churches use the right words, a few tears, and the passage of time to indicate when they reduce oversight over an offender. These are not good indicators of change! In addition, do not confuse repentance with a requirement for reconciliation. Do not neglect the matter of restitution but do not hold requirements of victims to return to a former level of intimacy with the offender. Not all that is broken in this life can be fixed in this life. Do not fall prey to the fantasy that all things are restored and reconnected in this life. Yes, our God can work miracles, but he also gives grace to us to continue with our thorns in the flesh.
  • Do set specific goals. Whenever we provide counseling for chronic issues, it helps to set goals that can be evaluated even as there may be a long road still to go. A competent counselor agrees upon goals with a client. Some of these goals might include (a) growing in empathy for others, being able to sit with the experience of others without bringing up one’s own, (b) deepening Gospel understanding about sin and impact of evil without either despair or superficial repentance, and (c) accepting limits and little trust as a way of life.
  • Don’t be caught off guard by common concerns of the offender. In my experience, offenders often have these questions that repeat on a fairly regular basis: Where can I worship? When can I come to church? Why can’t I worship with my family? When will I be done and be treated like anyone else? Doesn’t [victim] bear some blame? Why does [victim] get to make decisions about my worship? Why am I treated as a leper?  These questions are important and being prepared for them means the counselor can more likely respond with compassion and clarity. This can only better serve the offender and reduce the bitterness that comes from unanswered questions.

 

Additional links to check out:

1. Church Ministry to Sex Offenders 

2. Sex offenders vs. Sex Abusers?

3. Search “sex offender” in search box in the upper left for more blogs on this topic

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Uncategorized

AACC 2013: Narcissistic Leaders and Systems


Today, AACC’s World Conference begins at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. This morning, Dr. Diane Langberg and myself will be running a pre-conference workshop entitled: Narcissistic Leaders and Organizations: Assessment and Intervention. I will start us off with a meditation from 1 Kings 1 (ideas I first heard from a sermon by Phil Ryken last year). We will review current explanations of narcissism as well as an emerging model that may be helpful for those who are trying to move beyond seeing narcissists as only arrogant and exploitive.

Can a system be narcissistic?

Yes. Here are some of the features.

  1. Leader exudes god-like status and does not share power; surrounded by yea-sayers, unwilling to tolerate disagreement, accept mentoring and willing to scapegoat others when failures arise
  2. Constituents gain self-esteem/identity from the organization and love of the system is the highest priority; insider status provides immeasurable value
  3. There is an approved way of thinking, one must take sides for/against; constituents justify dictatorial behaviors of leaders
  4. No toleration for admiration of competitors
  5. Inability to assess own weaknesses

But, here is a most interesting fact: most collective narcissistic systems are NOT filled with individual narcissists! There is something  “in the water” that brings non-narcissists together to develop these 4 features (as written about by Golec de Zavala and colleagues in 104:6 of the the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology):

  1. Inflated belief and emotional investment in group superiority
  2. Required continuous external validation and vigilance against all threats of loss of status
  3. Perception that intergroup criticism is a threat and exaggerated sensitivity to any form of criticism
  4. Intergroup violence can restore positive group image (violence may be verbal as well as physical

Why teach counselors about narcissistic systems?

Counselors often interact with church and parachurch systems by consulting with the system, counseling leaders, or advocating for an individual client. It is good to be able to (a) recognize some of the unhealthy egocentric patterns (blind spots) leaders and systems develop, and (b) offer help to individuals and systems that do not get the counselor sucked into the system or unnecessarily alienate the system. I have had the opportunity to work with a significant number of churches and have learned that there are ways to help and ways that I can get in the way, especially if I begin to attack a long held belief system. For example, if parachurch organization A has had a string of CEO/Board conflicts, then I as a counselor may have to navigate some long cherished beliefs about the system when asked to consult on their next hire.

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Why counseling? To be fixed or found?


Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde have written a post that some might find helpful when considering therapy or counseling (I use these words interchangeably). At some point in our lives, we all feel like life is getting out of control. We need help. We begin to wonder if there isn’t someone out there who can help us. But, even as we think these thoughts, we may also think, “what is the point? How can therapy fix this problem?”

Well, to give a partial answer, check out this first post over at Q Ideas. The authors argue that we should all be in therapy. However, they suggest that the purpose of such counseling is not so much to fix our problems but to understand ourselves, to admit our weaknesses, to be “found” or known. Now, these may sound like things that only wealthy people have the time to do. And yet, I would argue that in our isolated, individualized society, the normal communal means of being understood, supported, known, etc. are not often present in our lives.

Three paragraphs in this first post jump out for attention:

Don’t I go to therapy to get fixed? Believe it or not, I don’t advocate therapy because it fixes people. Now, while some forms of therapy help people get past difficulties that stifle them (e.g. panic attacks, major depression, bipolar symptoms), Christians should recognize there is always a deeper and more transformative purpose to counsel and care.

This was the ancient art called curam animarum—the care of souls. And the wisest therapists will foster this process. Now, the vast majority of clinicians practicing today have been trained in fix-it strategies—cognitive and behavioral solution-based processes which are aimed at quick, painless fixes. This is what sells. This is what insurance tends to pay for. But there is a profound difference here—fix-it strategies try to remove pain while deep soul care attempts to learn from it. Sometimes in the process we are afforded the mercy of pain relief. But it is not the goal. And so I counsel people to search carefully, to interview therapists, to ask many good questions.

And then this reflection:

But at the same time, I’m not convinced Christian therapists do this as well as secular therapists at times. Let me explain. Many settle for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” a quick fix approach which stands in stark contrast to the “costly grace” of searching and knowing ourselves, through exploring our stories and examining our motives. This kind of care is, indeed, much more rare. Christian counseling which is reduced to mere Bible memorization, or repentance or a behavioral regimen misses the point.

Fixed and found?

I imagine that the authors would agree that both are possible. Therapy can lead to being fixed and found, to find relief and care for the soul. Therapies that ignore the need for immediate mercy and relief are of little value. I once talked to someone who had just completed a decade of psychoanalysis (3 sessions per week!). His therapist, a well-known analyst had just released him as having completed analysis. My new friend was looking for a therapist to deal with his longstanding panic disorder. I have also seen Christian counselors who have so emphasized discipleship that they paid little attention to easy helps for their addict clients. On the flip side, simple behavior change (now that is an oxymoron!) may provide some relief but miss insight into self and what God is up to in the world. In seeking only relief, we miss out on deepening our relationships with God and others. A superficial life lived may hurt lest, but is it worth living? 

Note at the bottom of the post there is a link to another post about how to choose a counselor. If you are looking for one, consider one who can have difficult conversations with you, one who does not over-simplify the problem, one who cares about your growing relationship with Christ, one who can provide ideas to bring immediate relief, and best of all, one who listens more than talks.

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How one church has taken up the task of addressing sexual abuse


As a christian psychologist, I work with disasters of the church. No one comes to me to tell me how their abuse was handled in a fabulous way. I get to hear all the mistakes. So, it can be tempting for me to believe that no church handles sexual abuse or abuse allegations in a healing manner.

But that would not be true. Many churches do a phenomenal job addressing this problem. Below is a link to a site illustrating how one church handled the topic. This church put a lot of time into crafting an event with aftercare, resources, and prevention plans. Check out this link to see what pastor and counselor Brad Hambrick’s church did: the sermon, video of the after service care, additional resources including other media and policy on dealing with child abuse allegations.

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