Folks, most of you know I made a move from Directing the Graduate School of Counseling at Biblical Seminary to a new job at the American Bible Society. BTS is now advertising for my replacement: GSOC Director Ad 9-17 FINAL. Please share this and pray that they find the right person capable of leading the counseling programs into their next area of growth. The MA counseling program, if I can say so myself, is top-notch and a rare find for those seeking both licensure and biblical-theological depth.
Category Archives: Counselors
As part of our staff meeting today we watched this video by Diane Langberg. It reviews the 3 stages of typical trauma recovery process plus focuses on the impact of the work on the counselor. Self-care is a common conversation these days. However, a few lines stuck out to me:
Unless we take care of ourselves, we will not be able to bear witness…. Vicarious trauma is not something done to us but a consequence of having empathy…. Evil and suffering also provide an opportunity to expose the weak places in [the counselor]…. Seek out the antidotes to the poison that you sit with…[these antidotes] are not just good coping mechanisms but part and parcel to living the life obedient to God.
[Previously published April 2015 at http://www.biblical.edu. The faculty blog no longer exists there thus re-posting here]
We live in a world shaped by violence and trauma. This week that I write 147 Christian Kenyan university students were killed because of their faith. Such horrific forms of violence shock us. But they shouldn’t given that in our own country violence and trauma are everyday occurrences. While some of our local brothers and sisters face actual death, all of our communities are shaped by soul-crushing abuse and family violence. Take the most conservative numbers we have—1:6 males and 1:4 females have experienced sexual assault before age 18—and realize that a large portion of your friends and acquaintances have traumatic experiences.
In a congregation of 100, 20 of your fellow church members are walking around with invisible wounds of sexual violence on their bodies and souls. And that number says nothing about those walking around with other invisible wounds, such as caused by domestic violence, racial prejudice, sexism, bullying and the like. Were we to include these forms of interpersonal violence the number would likely reach 70!
As my friend Boz Tchividjian asks, what would the sermons and conversations look like if 20 of our mythical congregation of 100 had just lost a house in a fire or a child to premature death? Wouldn’t we be working to build a better understanding of God’s activity in the midst of brokenness rather than passing over pain as a mere hiccup of normal life?
Yet, we continue to imagine trauma as some sort of abnormal state.
Ruard Ganzevoort tells us that, “When one looks at issues like these, we must conclude that our western societies are to no less degree defined by violence and trauma, even if everyday life is in many ways much more comfortable” (p. 13). Thus, Ganzevoort continues, we must “take trauma and violence not as the strange exceptions to an otherwise ‘nice’ world” (ibid, emphasis mine). He concludes that while we have a strong theology for sinners, we have a less articulated theology for victims.
What if we were to read the Bible in such a way to build a theology of trauma for victims? What would it look like? I would suggest that Diane Langberg’s maxim sets the stage quite nicely: the cross is where trauma and God meet. Jesus cries out due to the pain of abandonment by the Father. Since we do have a high priest who understands our trauma (Hebrews 4:15), we can read the entire canon from the frame of trauma—from the trauma of the first sin and death to the trauma of the cross to the trauma just prior to the coming new heavens and earth.
Key Themes in a Theology of Trauma
Reading the Bible through the lens of trauma highlights a few key themes beyond the foundation of a God who Himself knows trauma firsthand in the unjust torture and death of Jesus:
Anguish is the norm and leads most frequently to questions
When more than 40% of the Psalms are laments (and that doesn’t count the primary themes of the prophets!) we must recognize that anguish is most appropriate forms of communication to God and with each other. But we are not alone in the feelings of anguish. God expresses it as well. Notice God expresses his anguish over the idolatry of Israel (Eze 6:9) and Jesus expresses his when lamenting over Israel (Luke 13:34) and cries out in questions when abandoned by the Father (by quoting—fulfilling—Psalm 22).
Despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
Peace happens…in context of chaos
Psalm 23 comes to the lips of many during times of trouble as it expresses peace and rest during times of intense trouble. Shadows of death yet comfort; enemies around yet feasts. Peace happens but rarely outside of chaos and distress. Consider Jeremiah 29:11, frequently quoted to those going through hardship to remind them that God has a plan. He does have one, but recall that the plan was to live in exile among those who see the Israelites as foreigners and second-class citizens!
The kingdom of God in the present does not promise protection of bodies
Try reading Psalm 121 aloud among those who have survived genocide or been raped repeatedly by soldiers. “The Lord will keep you from all harm.” Really? You lost 70 family members? You cannot maintain your bladder continence due to traumatic injury to your bladder? Where was your protection? Our theology of God’s care must take into consideration that He does not eliminate disaster on those he loves. Recall again the trauma wrought on those God chose to be his remnant. They were the ones ripped from families and enslaved by the Babylonians.
God and his people are in the business of trauma prevention, justice, and mercy responses
The kingdom of God is not for those who have pure beliefs. The kingdom of God is for the poor in Spirit, the persecuted, those who provide mercy and those who hunger for justice (Matthew 5). True or pure religion is practiced by those who care for the most vulnerable among us (James 1:27). Jesus himself is the fulfillment of healing as he claims Isaiah 61 as fulfilled in his personhood and mission (Luke 4:18-21). We his people are the hands and feet to carry out that binding up and release from oppression.
Recovery and renewal during and after trauma likely will not eliminate the consequences of violence until the final return of Jesus Christ
Despite our call to heal the broken and free those enslaved, we are given no promise that the consequences of violence are fully removed until the final judgment. Rarely do we expect lost limbs to grow back or traumatic brain injuries to be erased upon recovery from an accident. Yet sometimes we assume that traumatic reactions such as startle responses, flashbacks, or overwhelming panic should evaporate if the person has recovered. A robust theology of trauma recognizes we have no promise of recovery in this life. What we do have is theology of presence. God is with us and will strengthen us guiding us to serve him and participate in his mission to glory.
There is much more to say about a theology of trauma for victims. We can discuss things like theodicy, forgiveness, restorative justice, and reconciliation. But for now, let us be patient with those who are hurting as they represent the norm and not the exception. And may we build a missional theology of trauma, not only for victims, but also for all.
 Ganzeboort, R. Ruard (2008). Teaching that Matters: A Course on Trauma and Theology. Journal of Adult Theological Education, 5:1, 8-19.
The BTS Graduate School of Counseling has 2 course offerings this summer: a course on addictions and a course on counseling interventions that move beyond talk therapy. Both are equal to 1 credit or 9 CE credits for professional counselors. The addictions course (Jessica Hansford, LPC, CAADC) will be entirely online and delivered over the course of the month of July. The beyond talk therapy course (Heather Drew, LPC) will be delivered live July 21-22 at our Hatfield campus (with pre and post course work due for those who want graduate credit).
If you want to refresh your counselor knowledge and skills, both courses will give you some new ways to engage counselees.
Link above provides course descriptions. To apply, click here.
This weekend, Foundations Christian Counseling is hosting a 2 day conference, Counsel From the Cross at Spruce Lake Retreat. I will be speaking Friday night (8 pm) on “The Cross, the Church, and Trauma: Making the Church a Safe Place for Victims of Trauma.” Use the 2nd link above to register for the day or the weekend.
I love working with counselors-in-training. We get to discuss everything from diagnoses to interventions, ethics to theology, character development to politics. I know I’m biased but along with the population of Lake Wobegon, our students “are all above average.”
That said, there are two extremely difficult counseling skills every student needs to learn–frequently the hard way. To be an effective counselor, you have to be able to conceptualize a person and their presenting problems well (e.g., wrong assessment leads to wrong treatment) and you have to maintain a clinical alliance throughout the course of treatment. Of course, a counselor needs to be of good and mature character. She needs to have a bank of excellent questions to ask, a knowledge of common intervention strategies, and a good ear to hear what the client is trying to express. These things are necessary foundations for the skill of conceptualization and alliance.
When you come to counseling to discuss a challenge in your life you want the counselor to be able to understand and put your situation into proper perspective. You expect them to have some expertise beyond your own–otherwise why go? As you tell your story, it always has missing and disjointed parts. There are dead ends and mysteries that may start out feeling important that in time become less a focus than other issues. Your counselor needs to put the problems you raise into some context. What lens to view the problems should be used?
- Is the conflict between a mother and teen best understood by the lens of enmeshment, Attention-Deficit, autism, sinful pride, depression, anxiety, rebellion or…?
- Is the conflict between a husband and wife best understood as lack of knowledge, demandingness, personality disorder, emotional abuse, etc.
An effective counselor uses multiple lenses to view his counselee and holds those lenses loosely in recognition that first impressions need refinement.
Do you feel heard or pigeon-holed by your therapist? Does your therapist discuss possible ways to look at the problem you have and thus different ways to approach solutions?
Alliance is a hard thing to describe but it encompasses a trust relationship where therapist and client work in concert to explore and resolve a problem. There is agreement on the problem definition and the process of therapy. There are several things that seem to be part of this concept but fall in two key categories: techniques and stance. A good therapist asks great questions that enable a person to feel heard as they tell their story. A good therapist validates the person even if they do not agree with interpretations of the client. A good therapist makes sure that the client knows they are more than the sum total of their problems. Finally, a good therapist checks in with a client to find out how they are experiencing the therapy session and approach. But good questions and feedback are not the full picture of alliance. The therapist needs a stance that reflects being a student of the person; of collaboration over action. It reflects an understanding of pacing and the client’s capacity to process information.
A counselor can understand a problem but if they rush ahead or lag behind in pacing, the alliance will fail. Consider this example. Therapist A meets with a client with a domestic violence victimization problem. It is clear to the therapist that the client needs to move out and that the client is resistant to this idea. The clinician presses the client to leave and challenges her to see her husband as an abuser. While the counselor may be correct, the confrontive and authoritative stance is unlikely to bear much fruit and will either create defensiveness or passivity in sessions. One sure sign of poor alliance is when a therapist is constantly thinking about how to get his or her client to do something.
Meanwhile, Therapist B meets with the same client and explores the ambivalence she has towards her husband and the abuse. Options are discussed, less for movement sake and more for examination of fears and opportunities, hopes and despair. Both therapists have the same sets of good questions, but one is more aware of the pacing of the client and meets her where she is where the other one forces a pace the client is not ready to match. This does not mean a counselor never pushes a client but it does mean they never do that without the understanding and agreement of the client.
Alliance is not a static feature. It grows and shrinks during the course of a relationship. There are ruptures and hopefully repairs. Sometimes a rupture leads to an even stronger alliance if the repair leaves the client feeling cared for and respected. Ruptures are not always caused by the counselor but it is the counselor’s job to notice and to work to resolve.
Do you feel like you are on the same page with your therapist? Do you have evidence (not just fears) that your counselor is frustrated by you? When you have a “miss” in a session, does your therapist acknowledge it and talk about how you are feeling about therapy? If you bring up an rupture, are you listened to?
If you are in the Philadelphia area, I want to give a final shout out for an important conference put on by the American Bible Society’s Mission: Trauma Healing. This will be our 5th (I think) Community of Practice conferences where trauma recovery practitioners meet to learn and encourage each other in the work of trauma healing. If you have never been before but want to hang out with folks doing trench work around the world, this is the place to be. Missionaries, mental health experts, ethnologists, linguists, pastors, humanitarians, and everything in between are the common attendees. This tends to be a rather intimate conference where you get plenty of time to talk around tables with folks doing what they talk about.
This year our conference theme is We are Sojourners: Refugees and Trauma (conference information and registration link). What makes me excited this year is the diversity of presenters. We have well-known psychiatrist Curt Thompson presenting on attachment injuries related to trauma. We have presentations and a documentary unveiling about African Americans in the US (yes! Refugees can live in a land for generations and not be fully “home”). There will be presentations by Diane Langberg as well as presentations by experts on the current refugee crisis from the Middle East.
In addition, there will be this activity on Tuesday night which includes musician Michael O’Brien at historic Christ Church.
Those who have attended before should realize that this is now held in Center City Philadelphia at the office of the American Bible Society and not at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center in the North East.
If you are interested in the wide world and burdened about trauma and refugees, come and meet your family!
[Note: the video-based training described below is available to anyone for free. The information below is for those interested in purchasing continuing education credits after watching the video. If any of the titles interest you, click the link below and start watching right away!
BTS is an NBCC approved continuing education provider. Just in time for those looking for last-minute CEs before renewing their LCSW or LPC this month, please check out our new online offerings. We offer three new trainings:
- Narcissism and the System it Breeds, By Diane Langberg, PhD
- Understanding and Responding to Dissociation, By Diane Langberg, PhD
- Making the Church a Safe Place for Trauma Victims, By Philip Monroe, PsyD
The videos are free for anyone to watch. If you desire CE certificate, the cost is quite nominal in comparison to the usual going rate. Check out the abstract and objectives and follow the links to pay for your CE quiz. Watch the videos, complete the quiz, and we will email you a certificate you can use to claim on your license renewal form.
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.
This is a reminder to Pennsylvania counselors, pastors, and Sunday School volunteers: as of January 1, 2015, Pennsylvanians must abide by a new set of child abuse reporting rules. The majority of the changes have to do with who must report suspected child abuse and how the report will be made. I will give a few of the changes but I encourage you to use this link to get a free training. This link will give you a summary of the changes plus links to each rule.
Who must report suspected child abuse?
1. All therapists and mental health practitioners who learn of possible child abuse of any child, whether a client or not.
Change? Gone is the “child coming before you language.” What this means is that you are now responsible to report all child abuse whether you are serving the child or the family. You may not remove the mandate to report just because it is something you see in your neighborhood or hear about from another (e.g., your mail carrier tells you his grandchild is being abused). Consider yourself a mandated reported in every situation you find yourself in.
2. Anyone who educates and/or works with children. Pastors, teachers, volunteers, are all mandated reporters when they are overseeing children. They cannot just tell a supervisor but must report themselves.
Change? Even lawyers representing churches or other organizations are mandated reporters if they learn of child abuse in the institution. Interestingly, the pastor who learns of child abuse in a confession from an abuser may still have some protections. But, if your denomination doesn’t practice confessions, then this loophole won’t work for you.
3. Licensed practitioners (licensed by PA) must complete 2 hours of child abuse reporting training before next licensure period. For LPCs, that is before end of February 2015. Those seeking licensure for the first time must complete 3 hours in order to be considered for licensure.
Change? New requirement. Must be training approved by Dept of Public Welfare and may or may not count toward their required continuing education requirements. The first link above is one of those approved trainings.
4. Reporting now is done online for mandated reporters (while permissive reporters–everybody else–may still call in).