Category Archives: counseling skills

Counseling Advice From Lady Gaga?


Lady Gaga has a new song about the aftermath of sexual assault. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you likely have heard of Lady Gaga who is known for crazy getups and stunts. Known in my household as the lady who wore the meat dress, she sings these words (I’ve included just a few lines) in the song “Til it happens to you.”

You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together, you’ll be fine
Tell me, what the hell do you know? What do you know?
Tell me how the hell could you know? How could you know?

Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels
Till it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real
(How could you know?)
No it won’t be real
(How could you know?)
Won’t know how I feel

Her message is clear: If you haven’t been raped or assaulted (or experienced any other sort of trauma) you can’t possibly know what it is like. And since you can’t know what it is like, stop giving superficial comfort and advice.

Is Lady Gaga right? Does she offer sound counseling advice?

Yes and no. Yes, we are far too willing to offer platitudes to people in pain and wonder why they get angry and hurt and avoid us altogether. Lady Gaga captures the sentiment of the doubly hurt–first by the initial trauma and second by foolish words. The ancient Greek Aeschylus aptly puts it this way

It is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer

Our quips roll easily off the tongue, but they injure the already wounded. Before you speak to someone and offer your ideas, do your friend a favor and be quiet. Ask them again (and again) to tell you what they experienced (past or present tense). But I don’t think Gaga goes far enough. I would argue that EVEN IF you have experienced the same trauma as the person in front of you, stop thinking that you know what they are feeling and struggling with. You may, but you may not as well. Do not assume your experience is theirs. Listen. More than you think you need to. Assumptions of “getting it” communicate that their pain doesn’t really matter to anyone.

But also, Lady Gaga is wrong (and I get it, this is art not counseling skills training!). It is possible to help others even when you have not had their experience. As long as you approach your work with humility and the heart of a student, you can do much good. You bear witness to their experience through your reflections and observations. You can ask good questions and paint word pictures of trajectories of growth. Do not think that just because you did not have the trauma, you have nothing to offer. Offer yourself (more than your words). If you fail to offer yourself out of fear of not being adequate, you also harm by not giving the present of being understood.

But let Gaga’s anthem be a challenge to those of us, myself included, who speak before listening and who assume rather than learn. We won’t get it. But we can bear witness.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, counseling, counseling skills, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, sexual abuse, sexual violence, trauma, Uncategorized

What does recovery look like after traumatic experiences


After trauma, what does recovery look like? Is it possible to “move on?” How can you when you can never unsee or unremember what happened to you? 

Is it possible to experience joy rather than emotional pain when remembering past or ongoing hurts? If so, just what does that look and feel like for the victim? What can be expected if I am “healed”? Can I be free from the typical experience of trauma (e.g., Hopelessness, despair, anxiety, confusion, shame, anger, loss of identity, feeling stuck but the demand to act as if the trauma did not take place, and spiritual angst over the goodness and love of God)?

As Diane Langberg has so aptly reminded us, “Trauma is the mission field of this century.” Around the world there is much openness to talk about the impact of trauma and to use spiritual practices as part of the recovery process. In Christian language, we talk about healing the wounds of the heart and one of the best programs out there is the Trauma Healing Institute’s, Healing the Wounds of Trauma. This program is based on the strong Christian belief that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures,  is in the business of healing wounded hearts. At the heart of this belief sits two important passages:

Isa 61:1-4 The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives and liberation to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor, and our God’s day of vengeance, to comfort all those in mourning, to give for those in mourning in Zion, to give them a head wrap instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. 

2 Cor 4: 16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart, but even if our outer person is being destroyed, yet our inner person is being renewed day after day. For our momentary light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure and proportion, because we are not looking at what is seen, but what is not seen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is not seen is eternal.  

These two beautiful passages present a picture of recovery. Good news, release, favor, comfort, joy and beauty in place of mourning and oppression. Renewal in the face of affliction. But what does this mean in real life? Does a “double portion” instead of shame feel like to a victim of sexual trauma? What does renewal and release feel like after a natural disaster? 

Prognosis for Complete Recovery?

If you suffer a serious knee injury requiring surgery, you will need time for rehabilitation. But rehab does not necessarily mean you will recover the full range of motion you once had, or that  your knee will be entirely pain free when you are finished with physical therapy. Your prognosis for recovery depends on many factors such as age, extent of injury, physical health prior to the accident, and availability of quality care. Even with the best care provided to top athletes, recovery may not lead to return to top form. For example, an Olympic skier may be able to ski again but not at a quality that allows for competitive skiing. 

What about the prognosis for spiritual and emotional recovery? Of course, just as in the knee injury example, the answer must be “it depends.” Still, considering the two passages above, words like liberation, joy, release, and renewal shape our imagination for recovery. Do we imagine complete recovery to top spiritual and emotional form, without pain and limitation? It appears to me that we sometimes imagine emotional and spiritual healing without taking consideration the reality of broken bodies and a fallen world. We are not guaranteed a pain free life or faith without distressing questions. In fact, Paul’s beautiful words in 2 Corinthians bear this out. afflicted in every way, persecuted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, always carrying around death, burdened, groaning and more. Yes, he also says not crushed, not despairing, not destroyed, but alive. But both must be considered together at the same time if we are indeed to imagine our prognosis. Recovery means comfort and lament, joy in mourning, perplexed while trusting, dying yet alive. 

Sprouts of Justice and Recovery?

Isaiah describes sprouts of justice and righteousness beginning in the recovery of the oppressed (Isa 61:11). As a gardener, I see sprouts as the beginning of hope. After planting seeds, the tiny sprouts give me hope for a later harvest but that hope is still tempered with the knowledge of the challenge of getting sprouts to develop into fruited plants. I have to be vigilant about bugs, weeds, and drought. I need to cultivate and fertilize or my sprouts will not turn into much. And even if I do everything right, the seed may be weak or the weather may mean I only have spindly or stunted plants that cannot bear much fruit. Yet, the sight of sprouts brings the hope that empowers us to keep at the gardening work. 

So, what are these sprouts of justice and recovery that victims of trauma may first see that encourage hope and further empowerment? Consider some of these: 

  • Capacity to Name Truth and Justice

Recovery begins when oppressed people find words to name injustices done to self and other. For example, a victim of domestic violence may become well aware of the subtle signs of verbal and emotional coercion, long before any physical violence. They become the canary in the mine, aware of poison that others may not yet sense. 

As this capacity grows beyond a mere sprout, the person may be able to speak the truth aloud, even with courage to say it to leaders. 

As naming capacity grows, it moves from awareness of personal risk to capacity to notice and care for the injustices others experience

  • Accepting weaknesses without hopelessness

Part of recovery requires honest reflection of the damage done. Signs of recovery include the ability to recognize limitations and working within capacity without self-hatred (though there may be lament for losses of previously held abilities). When we truly accept the “new normal” we then can stop evaluating daily life from the perspective of who we used to be

As we accept our limits, we can then begin to see the opportunities we do have even within our limitations

  • Identify resilience and new capacities in the midst of struggle

There may be new capacities we never observed before (e.g., the capacity to speak up to power, the ability to withstand rejection, increased empathy for the pain of others). We now notice these resiliences and growth as they stand on their own

Though we will not call the suffering good, we will be able to identify blessings that we have received in spite of and as a result of the trauma experienced 

Be Careful Not to Damage the Sprouts

For those who are not attempting the impossible, to “move on” from trauma and abuse, it is good to remember that sprouts are tender and can be easily damaged with too much interference. You may need to leave a few weeds you see near the fledgling plants so as not to disturb their roots or bruise the green shoots. How do we do this to the sprouts of recovery? We may unintentional limit growth by questioning why the person learning to speak the truth isn’t doing it in a even-tempered manner. Sadly, too often those in domestically violent marriages are told to stop being so dramatic and to calm down when they begin to speak about the truth of the violence they have experienced. Or, we can point out the sins of the victim as if somehow their responsive sins eliminate their right to speak up about the trauma they experienced. Or, we can hear someone accepting brokenness and accuse them of not trusting God for complete healing. 

Nurture recovery as you would a tender plant. It is a scandalous act of grace! By paying attention to safety needs, by bearing witness to trauma, by being willing to lament and to stay connected, we provide a greenhouse for such plants to grow into levels of recovery never before dreamed of. 

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling skills, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd

Free Counseling Journal For Counselors


For my counselor readers, I want to let you know of a free counselor journal. Click here for free access with search capacity. It is published by NBCC and is open access to anyone who wants to try to stay current on counseling literature.

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Criticism of Biblical Counseling: Are Joyce’s Concerns Valid?


Katheryn Joyce has recently published a long post about the rise of Biblical counseling and the concerns some have about the movement [read it here].

Most people who have thoughts about counseling and Christianity tend to fall into one of to categories: Those who oppose biblical counseling as dangerous and those who oppose the various versions of Christian psychology as shallow and full of humanistic ideology. Very few people try to maintain identity in both worlds. If you have read my “about me” you will find I’m one of those who does accept the label of biblical counseling and Christian psychology (more on this below)

I encourage both proponents and opponents of Biblical Counseling to read her essay. Let me even take the liberty to suggest some starting questions to keep in mind as you read. While the essay may not answer the questions, having them in mind will keep you from solidifying stereotypes of either sides.§ If you are inclined to reject biblical counseling, consider these questions:

  1. Where might I find a more thorough history of biblical counseling and its various permutations?
  2. What main biblical counseling author voices are missing in this piece? [Note that the mentioned ACBC was, until recently, known as NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors)]
  3. What failures in Christian psychology movement(s) led to the need for a biblical counseling movement?

If you are inclined to defend biblical counseling, consider these questions

  1. Even if some of the bad examples of biblical counseling do not represent you or the heart of the movement, what aspects of the movement may support or encourage some of these distortions?
  2. How might you better communicate “sufficiency of Scripture” to outsiders?
  3. Does biblical counseling seek to eliminate symptoms or improve spiritual responses to symptoms? How might it better acknowledge the body when talking about the causes of mental health problems?
  4. Where does fear of “integration” hinder the maturation of biblical counseling as a movement?

Indeed, these questions have already been asked and answers given in a variety of locations. Readers unfamiliar with biblical counseling should start with websites such as this one, CCEF, ACBC, BCC, and the Society of Christian Psychology to find further and deeper readings on related topics.

Where the Concerns are Valid

Not acknowledging benefits from psychological research. Joyce notes that a good biblical counseling session looks a lot like a good professional counseling session. Why? Well, it is obvious that change happens best in the context of kind, compassionate relationships. Why the similarity? While it is true that psychotherapists didn’t discover empathy, it is true that psychotherapy research has expanded our understanding of the best way to encourage trust relationships in therapy. In addition, some of the cognitive, affective, and dynamic interventions developed from these models are used within biblical counseling. I have absolutely no problem from biblical counseling deriving benefit from interventions developed in other models of therapy. I only desire biblical counselors or acknowledge that benefit. It is clear Jay Adams benefited from Mowrer (and said so to boot). We can do the same. We can admit that Marsha Linehan has revolutionized our understanding of how we work with people exhibiting symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

Emphasizing false dichotomies. Joyce quotes Heath Lambert in this piece (near the end),

“I’m concerned [that] if we say, ‘Oh my goodness, people with hard problems need physicians and need a drug,’ we’re going to lose much of what the Bible has to say about hard problems.”

The quote above is in the context of dealing with difficult or serious mental illness. He worries that if the church creates two categories of problems (normal and special), those with serious problems will no believe that the bible has things to say about those suffering with suicidal ideation or schizophrenia. It seems that some biblical counselors take a negative stance on psychiatry and medical intervention because they fear doing so will hinder the work of the Spirit through the bible. I would argue that this dichotomy does not need to exist. I agree that the bible speaks to everyone, whether they are having difficulty or easy problems. I don’t think that use of medications or medical practitioners has to hinder pastoral care. The message that others get when we suggest that medical intervention need to be avoided is that somehow it is less spiritual to seek a medical intervention. This is patently false. Now, not every medicine is worth taking. Some may create more problems then they solve. But that fact should not cause us to lump all professional/medical care into the same category.

Where the Concerns are Overplayed

Heath Lambert gets it right when he claims that all counseling models will fail, due primarily to the quality of the practitioner. Biblical Counselors do much work that is commendable and successful. Joyce’s piece may suggest that most biblical counselors are ineffective and incompetent. This is not true. Matthew Stanford suggest he has never seen a biblical counselor do well with difficult cases. That may be the experience of my friend, but I can attest to seeing biblical counselors working well with people with serious personality disorders, delusions and other difficult mental illnesses. Now, the truth is, these counselors have succeeded because they did not follow the stereotype and reject learning from professional psychology. Further, these same counselors did not take “sufficiency” to mean that they could only use the bible in considering how to respond to their clients.

Take a moment and read her piece. Review the questions above and keep an open mind to both sides of this story.

[§ I have written on the relationship between Christian psychology and biblical counseling in the Journal of Psychology and Theology, volume 25, 1997. You can buy that essay here.]

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Trauma education by txt msg? Therapy support by txt msg?


This week I came across Journal of Family and Community Ministries (free subscription required) describing the use of text messages (160 characters or less) to trainees in Rwanda and Kenya. The trainees, having received face-to-face business education, then received one text message each business day for four weeks. 4 of the text messages each week contained a local proverb used to remind and/or enhance the business education they received. Each Friday they received a text containing a multiple choice quiz question to see whether learning was taking place. This pilot study seemed to provide a “proof of concept.”

Having read the article, I began to think about two applications, sustaining trauma healing training and supporting ongoing therapy efforts.

Sustaining Trauma Healing Training

We all know the experience of attending a great training but then finding months later that we have forgotten some important concepts—or can no longer explain them as well as we would like. Life can get in the way and we lose the ideas and skills we wanted to retain.

For the last several years I have been involved in providing conference-based training to counselors and caregivers in Rwanda. Our focus in to “top-up” knowledge and skills related to trauma recovery and other related topics (especially domestic violence, child abuse prevention, addictions, etc.) Each time I am impressed by the quality of the participants and the ability to overcome personal and logistical challenges to do the work they do. But some of our topics touch on pretty new or controversial material that may not be as immediately usable by our participants. One possible solution to this problem would be to use existing proverbs (or modify a bit) and send as reminders of ideas learned. It stands to reason that these short reminders might help solidify learning. In addition, it may also help maintain connections between trainer and trainee as well as trainee and trainee between annual meetings.

Supporting Ongoing Therapy

Most counselors have the experience that their clients “get” a new skill in session only to “forget” it later in the week. What if clients could receive short texts reminding them to practice a skill, or reminding them a thought that they wanted to remember? For example, if a counselor had a specialty dealing with anxiety disorders, clients could choose to sign up to receive a daily text reminder to use common or remember key truths.

Life tends to push out what we are trying to remember. Those who journal sometimes review old writings and remember anew something that they really wanted to retain. A text message might just might provide this kind of reminder and keep the learning fresh and present.

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GTRI 2014: Day 12 Kigeme Refugee Camp


July 12, 2014. Kigeme Refugee Camp to Kigali

For all who travelled with us, our visit to the refugee camp was moving in many ways. We saw deep poverty and yet deep resilien

Heather with her new friends

Heather with her new friends

ce. The following observations are from Heather Drew, a counselor and one of my GTRI students and who begins her tenure as Fieldwork Coordinator in my seminary department today! Please welcome Heather and check out her blog as she is a gifted communicator in her own right.

Today was our last full day in Rwanda. We woke up in Butare, got one last cup of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted at a lovely coffee shop called Cafe Connexions, then rode our bus to a UN refugee camp in Kigeme. Around 20,000 Kinyarwandan speaking Congolese

Kigeme camp children

Kigeme camp children

refugees live in this camp, 12,000 of which are children, we were told. The abundance of children was immediately apparent to us as we were greeted by dozens of sweet smiles peering into our bus, waiting for us to climb out. Some of us took photos of/with the children and showed them the photo (they love that). Stan The children followed us around like we were pied pipers. The parents followed us with their eyes, and greeted us kindly. The camp was made up of rows upon rows of small mud houses with metal roofs – living spaces the size of a small American living room – containing 6-8 (or more) family members each. Our group wove through the narrow, red-dusty walkways between houses, climbing up slippery hills with the help of our small chaperones. They taught us some additional phrases in Kinyarwandan, showed us their beautifully-made and efficient water collection/filtration system, and held our hands. The EUG_7154children who could speak a few words in English were eager to do so. The ones who knew no English spoke to us without any words, showing us their homemade toys constructed with old bottles and broken pieces of things. It made me realize that the less a person has, the more resourceful and creative they become. This is a very prevalent characteristic throughout Rwanda.

At the base of the hill on which the camp sits is a meeting space where our team met with several leaders within the camp who lead trauma healing groups with fellow refugees. We were traveling with our friend Harriet Hill, one of the writers/developers of the Healing Wounds of Trauma material put out by American Bible Society, which this group has found so useful. (This book has been translated into several languages and is effectively used to facilitate around the world.) I had greatly anticipated this day, and in the moment the depth of it was not lost on me at all; here we were sitting in a room with about 50 Congolese refugees who use this book to lead healing groups in one of the most trauma-impacted areas of the world with Harriet Hill, the woman who had a dream over a decade ago to develop the material. It was extremely moving.

Leaders/facilitators gave testimonies about the groups and about personal healing, and presented questions they had. One person shared, “We are all traumatized…This material heals us and then we can help others heal.” Another shared, “During the genocide, so many of us – on both sides of the conflict – had hearts like animals. The Bible takes away our animal hearts.” Not all of these testimonies were ones of “arrival,” however. A few shared how they are still in the midst of the long healing process. The truthfulness of this impacted and inspired us.

After their testimony time Phil, Diane, Harriet, and their two leaders were invited to speak. Remarks were encouraging and thankful. Harriet Hill shared how much it meant to her that they have such bravery to share the comfort they themselves have received from Christ. She also shared Psalm 126, words that resonate with their stories. Finally, at the end of the meeting, we shared Fanta and

Zenko with Marianne Millen

Zenko with Marianne Millen

snacks together (a tradition of hospitality in Rwanda), then we said our goodbyes – even to Zenko, our dear new friend, which we were very sad about! – and boarded our bus for a 2 hour ride back to Kigali. I tried to focus on taking in the breathtaking beauty of the country as we made our last drive, because no photo can capture it.

Our final night was spent at East African Villas in Kigali. This was a hotel in Rwanda managed by a lovely Christian man called Ezekiel who was wearing a Georgia Bulldogs shirt when we arrived, which we enjoyed. We rested and enjoyed hot showers (a luxury I will no longer take for granted) during the few hours before dinner. Then we settled together in the dining room, ate our final Rwandan dinner feast, then Phil initiated our final team debriefing & sharing time.

We all shared 3 words that we each felt best expressed what we had learned in Rwanda. Among the things shared: new meaning of “celebrating the recovery of life” and also of “groans that words cannot express,” what it means to embrace Jesus’s invitation to “watch with Him,” the privilege of carrying people’s stories with them, how impactful people’s eyes and testimonies were, how much courage we saw, how much desperation we saw and how that was pointed at God in many cases. It was a much-needed time of sharing. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a dry eye among us.

We ended our night by taking a few group photos on the balcony.

GTRI 2014 Team

GTRI 2014 Team

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GTRI 2014: Day 11, Muhanga to Butare/Huye


July 11, 2014.

We ended the Community of Practice at noon and said our goodbyes. The morning consisted of a short devotional comparing the good and the false shepherd described in John 10. We explored how helpers may end up becoming “hirelings” due to burn-out and

Community of Practice

Community of Practice

loss of vision. After the devotional, our tables each became case consultations with caregivers discussing their hard cases and receiving encouragement, support, prayer, and a bit of advice. In a number of instances, caregivers brought up the issue of those who have mixed parentage (Hutu/Tutsi) and the struggle to deal with their identity. I and others have noted that this group has been far more vocal talking about the different “tribes” where previous groups have rarely even mentioned these groupings. It makes me wonder whether this is unique to this group or whether there is something going on in the country that makes it okay to discuss identity.

After our goodbyes, we traveled south for 2 hours to the university town of Butare. Butare is the home of the National University. First stop in Butare consisted of an ice cream at Sweet Dreams just down the road from the Shalom Guest house where we are staying (known internationally as the project with the female drumming corp). Our purpose here is to meet with Anglican Bishop Nathan Gasatura and some of the pastors/leaders of his diocese to discuss the trauma recovery needs. Bishop Nathan has been a friend and attended some of our previous training. Diane spoke a bit about “talking, tears, and time” and the process of healing through trauma. We had a good dialogue where one question was raised, how can a Hutu counselor help a Tutsi victim (or vice versa)? I was thankful that Baraka Paulette, the new president of the new Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors, was present as she answered in a very beautiful way, putting all at ease. Though our time was short, we squeezed in a bit of singing and dancing in the cathedral.

Before our meeting, a few of us purchased locally roasted inexpensive Rwandan coffee and an espresso at Café Connexion across the street from the cathedral and guesthouse. This cafe was not something most would venture into in the United States. It contained dingy walls, a couch and a couple of stuffed chairs, a shelf full of brown bags of coffee, a large coffee roaster and the center of the room was a small desk with an espresso machine. Yet, this was possibly the best coffee I tasted on the trip. [the return trip the next morning and bag of coffee brought home and now gone supports this opinion!] After dinner, many of us walked down the dimly lit main street in the dark passing the university. It was good to walk and good to deepen relationships with fellow GTRI mates.

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GTRI 2014: Day 10, Muhanga


July 10, 2014. Centre St. Andre

Thursday, Day 2 of the Community of Practice with the Bible Society of Rwanda. Already we are seeing deepening relationships. Last night many Americans and Rwandans sat together in the dining area talking and getting to know each other and revealing deep stories, stories of courage, pain, and hope. Precious times.

On day two of the Community of Practice we began with a short devotional considering Jeremiah’s lament. Barbara Shaffer and Carol King led a training and discussion of the problem of domestic violence. This is a new chapter in the Healing Wounds of Trauma materials. We discussed how much of a problem it is in Rwanda, why women stay, and how we can help both victim and abuser.

DSC_0307In the afternoon, we did another teaching (Carol and myself) regarding the problem of suicide. It appears that most Rwandans believe that one who commits suicide is automatically going to hell. In addition, the family is often shunned. This seemed a very entrenched belief and so my raising doubts and questions resulted in very spirited debate. While we also discussed how to help the suicidal person and how to help the family members, I left them with the encouragement not to speak for God and since no verses speak to the future of suicide persons, they ought to be careful to put words into God’s mouth.

We ended this conference day by giving the Rwandans an opportunity to have a session for their own care. We can see the weariness on their faces. Baraka led a care for the caregiver session while the GTRI team met to process what we were hearing and seeing–the heartache and the resiliency.

Monique (R) with Souvenir

Monique (R) with Souvenir

We had the privilege of listening to Monique’s story of surviving the genocide as a teenager and God’s subsequent call on her life. The story is too precious and hard to share here beyond a few words. She survived when family members around her were executed (shot) and fell on top of her. The killers left the pile of bodies, not knowing that she was not killed. Just prior to this event, she had read Psalm 91 and heard God speaking to her about her own future when she read verse 7,

“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” 

She has gone one to become an evangelist for Christ and a helper of the hurting. I can attest that she has a gift that few have. And I will never read that verse again in the same way

As the previous night, many of us stayed up quite late deepening relationships with new and old Rwandan friends. Looking over the dinner area, I saw heads bowed in prayer, attempts to speak in French, cackling laughter, and the sharing of food and drink. Such a beautiful sight.

Tomorrow will end our COP and we will move on south to Butare.

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GTRI 2014: Day 8 Kigali


July 8, 2014

Tuesday. Yesterday was a deep dive into Rwanda for GTRI students. They heard directly from Rwandan caregivers and spent time trying to weigh the genocide and its ongoing impact. Today we begin meeting and interacting with trauma healing and recovery caregivers in a conference setting. At a local hotel about 100 Rwandans gathered to kick off the Bible Society’s trauma healing community of practice and the inauguration of the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce both projects to the public and to invite the media and dignitaries to be present. The Rev. Emmanuel Kayijuka game some opening remarks and an Anglican Bishop offered a brief bible study of John 4:1-3, the woman at the well. He pointed out that she was likely a prostitute and an DSC_0233abused woman, abused by men, by society and desperate. Why else gather water at noon. He also pointed out that after her healing, she became a woman on a mission of healing, seeking social contact for the purpose of evangelism. After these reflections, Dr. Jean Mutabaruka presented a paper looking at the relationship between trauma, PTSD, and complicated grief. He pointed to 12 types of trauma in Rwanda, including sexual/physical/emotional abuse, witnessing violence, discrimination, poverty, etc. At the end, he raised a few general questions regarding the management of the mourning period/process each year.

After the professor finished, both Diane Langberg and I made a few brief remarks in response. Dr. Harriet Hill presented an overview of trauma healing project, in Rwanda and around the world. She showed the latest trailer of a documentary (much about the Congo project) about bible based trauma healing slated to be aired on ABC network this fall. Fun to see people I know in this trailer. David from the Rwandan Bible Society reviewed the progress to date: 2,918 trained people using Healing Wounds of Trauma material. Many of these are able to train others while the rest are better able to care for themselves.

New President: Baraka Credit: Heather Evans

The second half of the day included a presentation by Baraka Paulette Unwingeneye about the efforts thus far to form the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. This group of counselors and caregivers have been meeting with us since 2011 and are ready to be birthed. As Baraka said it, it may be like an elephant’s gestation, but now we are near the final month. We had presentations from Narcisse about the needed documents to be filed to make the association official, myself about the benefits and processes to form an associations. Then, those in attendance voted in a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, advisors, and conflict managers. This may not sound very moving, but I assure it was!

Fun too

While we come to Rwanda for serious matters, not everything has to be intense. As our day was ending, we quickly changed from our conference clothes to go out for a bit of shopping: the Simba market for coffee and tea, and another market selling typical Rwandan traditional items (clothes, woven bowls, banana leaf art. I looked and looked for a blue African traditional shirt but came up empty.

This marks our last night at Solace. Tomorrow we move on to the conference proper about 50 minutes or so south in Muhanga (Southern Province). Though we are about to begin the training in earnest, I think I am beginning to relax. A year’s worth of planning is now well under way. Despite a few surprises and schedule changes, most everything is working as planned. No problems with transportation, food, water, housing. Meetings planned have more or less happened.

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GTRI 2014 Trip: Day 3


[These are journal entries from my recent trip To Uganda and Rwanda during the first weeks of July.]

Day 3, July 3

Today was the 2nd and final day of the first ever Community of Practice for the Bible Society of Uganda trauma healing volunteers. Another long day as the program did not end until about 7 pm! Today I presented on an overview and update on the impact and treatment of PTSD. This is a group that likes to ask questions! We discussed the role of demonic in PTSD and how to know the difference. Many of the participants were quite interested in discussing how to educate local pastors in understanding the nature of dissociation. I also participated in teaching the new lesson (added chapter to Healing The Wounds of Trauma material) on domestic violence. In discussing why victims “choose” to stay in DV situations we had some lively discussion about whether the Bible teaches that women must stay. Very productive I think and gave some people a new perspective on the need to bring this hidden scourge out into the light.

The conference ended with reports, public conference evaluations (loved the very direct and loving evaluation of my presentations: have me speak more, have me slow down!), the handing out of the certificates, and final words. One of the most moving items was that I received “thank yous” in every mother tongue present. Seemed like there were at least 30 different languages represented. It was hard not to be choked up. I recognized a few (Arabic, Swahili, Kinyarwandan).

Two take-aways I want to remember:

  1. We need special materials for ex-combatants. First, much of the focus in Uganda has been on child soldiers. But the country is full of adult ex-combatants who were in Amin’s military or subsequent militaries and who now feel disconnected and distanced from current society. Some report that if they get together for sharing with other ex-combatants, they get reported (falsely) for starting a rebel group. One reported being jailed briefly for such a matter. Several told me that they were suffering terribly from being in POW camps and from the violence they witnessed. But most importantly, they noted that much of the trauma healing materials only speak of soldiers as the cause of trauma and so they feel more isolated when they read about or attend trauma healing exercises. No one, they feel, speaks of the trauma of seeing comrades die, of being forced to carry out commands against their will.
  2. Trauma healing volunteers, financing, and the need for View from my roomtangibles. Some of the volunteers believe that they must bring tangibles when coming to do trauma healing work. Words are not enough and participants expect some sort of handout: soap, money for transport, etc. The discussion we had about this ranged from criticism of this part of Ugandan culture and the need to develop a donor rather than handout culture to recognition that this culture has been formed, in part, by well-meaning foreign (Muzungu) NGOs that offer handouts as a means to increase participation in projects. Some volunteers noted they had been falsely accused of pocketing monies intended for participants when they didn’t come with any “gifts.” In addition, many discussed the difficulty of funding the trauma healing groups and the need to find sustainable funding using micro-enterprise.

My day had three other stimulating experiences. First, I was interviewed by a journalist for television broadcast. Supposedly, it aired across the nation this evening, though I did not see it. Second, a woman told me of meeting Joseph Kony about 4 years ago (during the failed attempt to negotiate with him). She said that he was very winsome and crafty. If she didn’t know better, she could have fallen for his lines. I guess this is one of the reasons he is able to stay “missing” by convincing others to help hide him. Finally, I received a text from my wife letting me know that the US government warned of a terror plot at Entebbe airport tonight (about 10 miles from here). I’m planning on being there tomorrow to fly to Kigali. I guess I will evaluate the treat in the am.

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Filed under Africa, counseling skills, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder