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.
Category Archives: “phil monroe”
Trauma and the Church presentation this Friday night
Filed under "phil monroe", Abuse, Christianity, counseling, Counselors, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, trauma, Uncategorized
A year of living with (chronic) fatigue
There have been a number of popular books about living a particular way for the year. AJ Jacobs’ book about living Biblically or Rachel Held Evan’s book on living biblical womanhood may be the most well known but I think my favorite title in this genre is a The Year of Living Danishly. Maybe it is all that hygge (cozy living) they enjoy. I hope to find out soon in my trip there in January.
This post details a similar genre, though entirely involuntarily so.
On December 31 2015 I found myself being tested, stuck, and interviewed at my local ER. I had been more tired than usual since my trip to Amman Jordan the previous month. I chalked it up to a heavy travel schedule and the end of semester fatigue. I would soon be 50. Was I slowing down? But on that day in the ER, I was having trouble moving my muscles to go up and down stairs. Standing for more than 5 minutes was out of the question. Larger muscles seemed to all want to twitch with a mind of their own. Having traveled to Brazil, DR Congo, Rwanda (twice), and Jordan, the doctors thought I must have contracted something exotic and interesting.
I spent the month of January and February teaching from a stool and spending a lot of time in bed…or at various specialists. The results all came back negative. I didn’t have a known exotic infection. Neurology didn’t turn up anything that would explain my fatigue. I was able to keep working but exercise and basic exertion was next to impossible. I had felt tired before but didn’t know that fatigue makes things like raising your hands or even chewing food to be a chore…or that fatigue makes sleep even more difficult.
After 6 months of seeking mainstream answers and getting nothing, I turned to integrative medicine and began a regimen of massive supplements and treatment for a possible chronic lyme infection. Certainly, my level of fatigue has dropped considerably even if I cannot walk long without fatigue. I can teach for 3 hours and only need to sit from time to time.
So, what have I learned during the last 12 months?
- Fatigue colors everything. Sleep is non-existent. Eating is tiring. Even thinking is a challenge. Memory, mood, and libido are seriously disrupted. Fatigue of this level is all-encompassing and cannot be escaped.
- Planning is nearly impossible. What will I be able to do next month, next week, the next day? Should I cancel that speaking engagment? Should we cancel family vacation? I wouldn’t know how I was going to feel in the afternoon even when I felt great in the morning. I realized how little ability I had to predict my energy, especially last winter.
- Fatigue messes with identity. For 50 years I have done what I wanted to when I wanted to. I have been able to push (even over-extend) my body with little seeming consequence. Fatigue, on the other hand changes how you see yourself and how you relate to your loved ones. Once used to being the one to do things for others, you become the helped. When you feel 80 but you think you should feel like 50, it begins to change your sense of yourself and your place in life. At times I wondered if my career was about to be over. If you make your identity what you can do, fatigue will soon remind you that such an identity is certainly fragile and soon lost.
- Unknown causes of suffering is its own form of suffering. During the months of testing, I regularly had to consider what to do have the next round of “negative” results. Should I keep digging? Even after accepting an “equivocal” chronic lyme infection diagnosis, the treatment consists of medicines/supplements that are not fully supported by mainstream medicine (i.e., double-blind study results). Is it working? (Or better, what part of it is causing the positive results?) Should I continue?
- There is a secret fraternity among fell0w sufferers. Over the last year I have come to know many invisible sufferers. Individuals with chronic pain, fatigue, and/or disease states that limit capacity are quick to empathize. They offer support and help with ease but also with the knowledge that there isn’t a magic bullet to solve the problem. I have felt loved and cared for by many but those who know are the best at understanding.
- Weakness offers an opportunity to trust God anew and to see life with new eyes. When you can only trust God (and not your own strength) you see mercy and grace you might not have seen before. When you can do what you want, you are filled with gratitude.
I would love to say that on December 31 2016 I was able to learn all I needed to learn from my year of fatigue and revert to my former physically capable self. While I am not back to where I was, I am happy to report that I am much improved over last year. I can walk further, stand for as long as I need to, and travel internationally as I have opportunity. And I hope I continue to be more prayerful as I steward what resources I have been given.
Filed under "phil monroe", health, Identity, personal
Conference on Refugees and Trauma, March 15-17
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!
GTRI 2014 Trip: Day 1 and 2
[I’ve been back for a couple of weeks but just now getting to write about this trip. These notes from each day come from my journal and don’t represent all that I did each day.]
Today (July 1), I landed midday at Entebbe airport just outside Kampala, Uganda. Entebbe is on the shores of Lake Victoria. I was met by Justus Rubarema of the Bible Society of Uganda as well as Klero Onuha of the Bible Society of South Sudan. Both men worth getting to know! We waited a bit for Margaret Hill’s plane arriving from Nairobi. Once gathered, we made for the Lweza Conference Centre about half way to the city of Kampala. Lovely grounds. Peaceful. Enjoyed the little monkeys eating flowers and looking for handouts (I had none).
I arrived at this conference (Community of Practice for Trauma Healing practitioners trained by the Bible Society) feeling fairly awake despite 26 hours of travel time. It may have helped a bit that I was unexpectedly bumped to business class on Qatar Airways from Philadelphia to Doha (a 13 hour leg). I suspect the lay flat seats had something to do with my feeling pretty good. Feeling good, I invited Margaret to go on a small walk around the area and on a quiet road outside the compound. Discussed some of her techniques to help quiet distress in participants where violence and trauma was ongoing (e.g., Bangui, CAR). We discussed the use of the “butterfly hug” as a means to calm. Also, discussed the use of drawing a place “bien etre” rather than a “safe place” since most participants she had did not have such a safe place at the present time. We finished our discussion of how to safeguard the mis-use of these calming techniques so that they would not be mis-represented as being more than they are, techniques used to help someone in the midst of distress.
Ended our day with a meal of rice, bananas, potatoes and chicken. Off to bed in hopes of getting on the right time zone quickly.
First full day of the conference (and FULL it was, 8am to 6:30pm). Attendees are all Ugandan plus Klero from South Sudan. Most are volunteers for the Bible Society, trained to provide healing groups using the Healing Wounds of Trauma materials. Some work with children, some with adults, some with ex-combatants, some with refugees, and some with women with HIV. The purpose of this conference is to add to their knowledge and skill base plus problem-solve as to how to provide more trauma healing experiences around the country—with almost no budget. Most of the country is well-represented including a number from Gulu and also the Nakivale refugee camp. More men than women. A couple of academic types are also present, representing both the Ugandan Counseling Association and the Ugandan Christian Counseling Association. Plus, one nun representing the faculty of a nearby Catholic college.
I presented on an update to listening skills which seemed well-received. This group is very willing to discuss, raise questions, and debate. I like it! It was requested that I offer some counseling sessions after dinner and so I did. Two men requested it and so I got a chance to hear about their ministries, their hearts, and their difficult struggles, both from the past and in the present. One of the things I am seeing here is that Ugandans need the wisdom of Solomon, the heart of David, and the integrity of Daniel, even when trying to deal with so-called Christian bosses. One fun fact is that the power went out right in the middle of one of the sessions. No problem. We could keep talking in pitch-dark! But by the time I fumbled with lighting a nearby candle, a generator kicked on and power was restored.
Some thoughts on international trauma training
In just a few days I will be off to Uganda and then on to Rwanda to do some training with trauma healing workers in both country’s bible societies. In addition, a group of students from our Global Trauma Recovery Institute will join me in Rwanda to learn more about how to help without hurting. In light of this trip, I penned a few thoughts for those who have a heart to do something about the massive trauma needs around the world. Here’s a preview:
Trauma is a hot topic these days. We live in a world where we are aware of terrible traumas happening around the globe in real time. We hear and see tsunamis unfolding, towns being flooded when dikes are breached, mass shootings, bodies strewn about due to ethnic conflict, houses destroyed by errant bombs, and gender violence in almost every corner of the world. While humanitarian efforts to respond to the physical needs of those in trouble are not new, there is a recent push to have charity workers become “trauma informed” so they can also address spiritual and psychological distress.
Trauma is a hot topic not just because we have more evidence of it happening in real time. It is hot because we have better information about the impact of violence and abuse on the human brain, on human interactions, and on the fabric of a society (Mollica, 2006).
Christian counselors, many of whom want to provide cups of cold water to the hurting masses, undoubtedly wish to use their skills to bring hope, healing and recovery to traumatized peoples around the world. But just where should they start?
You can read the rest of my thoughts over at our faculty blog site.
Filed under "phil monroe", Abuse, Biblical Seminary, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda, trauma
From the recent ABS Community of Practice: my talk on resilience to trauma healing specialists.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/90045325″>Philip G. Monroe – COP 2014</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/americanbible”>American Bible Society</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
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!
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.
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.
- 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
- Constituents gain self-esteem/identity from the organization and love of the system is the highest priority; insider status provides immeasurable value
- There is an approved way of thinking, one must take sides for/against; constituents justify dictatorial behaviors of leaders
- No toleration for admiration of competitors
- 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):
- Inflated belief and emotional investment in group superiority
- Required continuous external validation and vigilance against all threats of loss of status
- Perception that intergroup criticism is a threat and exaggerated sensitivity to any form of criticism
- 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.
Classroom advice to grad students: Guest post over at biblical.edu
Our faculty blog at http://www.biblical.edu carries my post today. Check it out to see what 3 recommendations I make to our incoming students as they kick off their MA in Counseling program tonight!