Category Archives: stories

PTSD “A Disease of Time”

David Davies, part of the staff of “Fresh Air” on NPR, has conducted an 35 minute interview with David Morris, a journalist who was embedded in a unit in Iraq and who suffers from PTSD resulting from an explosion he survived. David has written a book, The Evil Hours: A Biography Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you want to better understand the experience of PTSD and its impact on a person, you should listen to this show (or read the transcript). For therapists, Morris discusses his experiences with Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). He also describes the use of propranolol when repeating trauma stories.

Here’s a couple of my take-aways:

  • PTSD is a disease of time.

“…in some ways, PTSD is a disease of time. And a lot of people – PTSD is many things, but one of the things it is a failure to live fully in the present. And I think what happens a lot of times with traumatic – survivors of trauma is they have these compulsive returns to awful events, and they are unable to live in the now.”

  • The best treatment never removes all symptoms of PTSD

“The best we can do is work to contain the pain. Draw a line around it. Name it. Domesticate it, and try to transform what lays on the other side of that line into a kind of knowledge, a knowledge of the mechanics of loss that might be put to use for future generations.”

  • Honest reflections of the impact of PE and CPT (and why so many dropout from PE treatment)
  • Honest admission about the most common “treatment” of PTSD–alcohol (and evidence why so many end up abusing it!)
  • War traumatizes far too many but rape is 5x more traumatizing

[in discussing how helplessness/lack of control is a significant factor in the development of PTSD] “Yeah, the helplessness is one of the main predictors of who’s going to end up with PTSD and who doesn’t. And the idea that you have absolutely no control over your environment is very hard for people to deal with because, you know, you are basically completely helpless and unable to control your destiny and your survival….and that’s one thing I discovered in the book is I thought – you know, we sort of assume that PTSD is sort of the realm of soldiers and veterans, when in fact, the most common and most toxic form of trauma is rape.

…a soldier may have some control over his or her environment. They have a weapon with them; they can move; they can take cover. But oftentimes in the cases of rape, the victim is completely overwhelmed and trapped and cornered. And from the moment the attack begins, they are rendered almost completely helpless, which is interesting. And you see that in the diagnosable rates of who gets PTSD and who doesn’t. Rape survivors tend to have it almost 50 percent of the time, whereas your average war veteran – particularly for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – the rate of PTSD diagnosis is more around 10 to 12 percent. So a rape victim – rape is, in a manner of speaking, five times more traumatic than combat.”


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Filed under counseling, counseling science, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology, stories

DR Congo’s Withcraft Epidemic: 50,000 Children Accused of Sorcery – IBTimes UK

When we hear about abuse within churches these days we often think about sexual abuse by leaders. But there are other forms of abuse that happen in other parts of the world. The following link talks about abuse that happens as a child is accused of being a witch or engaging the demonic world. In our Global Trauma Recovery course, we looked at some of the ways adult women in Ghana are accused of sorcery and who must then flee to witch camps to save their lives. The link below addresses the abuse of children labeled demonic in the DRC.

When you finish reading, you might sigh with relief that this isn’t a problem in the US church. Well, maybe not so fast? If you check out the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, there are equally distressing accounts of abuse and cover-up.

DR Congo’s Withcraft Epidemic: 50,000 Children Accused of Sorcery – IBTimes UK.


Filed under Abuse, church and culture, counseling, Doctrine/Theology, DRC, stories, suffering, trauma

What causes mental illness and do you have any choice?

The common medical assumption is that mental illness is the result of multi-faceted vulnerabilities in combination with stressors. A person may have some vulnerability markers but those alone are not likely to result in mental illness without biologic, social, or environmental stressors “turning on” the markers.

If you want to see this model in action, you should watch a most troubling episode of “Independent Lens” on your local PBS channel. It aired in Philadelphia last night. You can find more about the episode here on their website and watch clips of the show.

The hour long episode follows a 16 year old girl, Cyntoia, facing life for murder. You will see extended conversation with the girl, her adoptive mother, her biological mother (who she never really related to). Her bio mother drank throughout her pregnancy, smoked crack and prostituted herself. Cyntoia was being prostituted and was at a “john’s” house when she shot him thinking he was going to kill her.

You can see that Cyntoia probably meets criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder. Watch her mother for a bit and you can see that she comes by it quite naturally. They both have a similar pattern of speech and attitude. There is a long history of suicide and paranoia in the extended family. Very interesting to see how this young woman talks to the forensic psychiatrist.


Watch and wonder how Cyntoia could have avoided her predicament. She started out with poor genes, alcohol exposure and poor attachment opportunities. She lists 36 people she had sex with (she felt obligated to have sex with those who wanted her). The issues are legion.

Even more brutal is to watch the interviews with her adoptive mother who is trying to wrap her head around the facts that come out during the investigation. Watch also how Cyntoia talks about her and to her. Notice that there is love.

Very rarely would you get this kind of information from 3 generations of rape and sexual abuse (and adoptive mother’s story).

Watch the episode and consider this question: just how much choice do some people have? Even with her incredible insights (e.g., “everybody wants admiration, everybody wants to be desired. That is my **** problem too.”), this young woman had 3 strikes against her.

The truth is we often believe people have easy choices to avoid trouble. Cyntoia’s story reminds us that trouble begins generations before some people are conceived.And even when we acknowledge that Cyntoia could have made choices to tell adults about her abuse or to escape her pimp, we are left with the gnawing question, would we have made any different choice if in her place? For the record, I am a firm believer in that we do have choices to make. But some have a whole lot more than others and the roadsigns to better choices are bigger for some of us than others.

Challenging story which also pulls on your vision of redemption, restoration and appropriate punishment for minors who commit murder.


Filed under Abuse, addiction, cultural apologetics, Psychology, stories, suffering

How perspective changes everything

“Your wife has breast cancer…She’ll need chemotherapy.”

The first time you hear that, you only feel the blow of a seeming death sentence. You see your future as a widower flash before your eyes. Doesn’t everyone die who is diagnosed? No. But the anecdotes we carry would say so since we remember the awful stories and forget the great outcomes. You cry and ask God for a different story, a different outcome. Let the diagnosis be wrong.

It isn’t. And so you begin to accept the facts of breast cancer and learn what your story contains. You learn some people have wonderful post diagnosis stories and others have painful stories. You wait for confirmation. You talk with doctors, get the scans done and then talk some more.

After surgeries, scans, and appointments, you begin to accept the chemo path. But, you want a second opinion to be sure. Now, instead of praying for no cancer, you pray for the 2nd Doc to give you clear advice–either to confirm the first doc’s advice or to give something so clear that you know that one of the paths is so obviously right for you.

The second doc confirms every piece of advice the first doc recommends. You have consensus. Funny thing, when you hear that chemo is your best option, you are happy and relieved–not because chemo makes you happy but that it really does seem like the best option. Notice the much different response from the first mention of those words less than 2 months ago.

Perspective sure changes how you hear words. Now, instead of a death sentence, it is a way to work towards a cure. Odd, don’t you think. Yes, but also an answer to prayer.

I suspect many of us have a story like this. Initially we can’t believe what we are hearing. Later, we hear it completely differently based on the things we learn, the options we see before us, and a whole lot of prayer.


Filed under stories, suffering, Uncategorized

Cancer stories

We’ve all heard them. We’ve all told them. Either our own or someone else’s. If you are the person telling the story, you likely are trying to encourage hope and fight in the cancer sufferer. If you are the person listening to the story, you likely want to desperately believe that the miracle or cure story is going to be your story.While the success story of another is momentarily comforting, it doesn’t last.

Truth is, you don’t know your own story, whether you have cancer or not. You don’t know if you will live to be 100 or die tomorrow. Most of the time we don’t think about our mortality. Life is too busy to contemplate morbid thoughts.

Cancer in you or your loved one changes that. You wonder what your story is. You hope it is not like one person’s story and you try to hope that it is like the success stories you hear. But, you just don’t know.

Along with the stories come treatment recommendations and advice. These can be helpful, confusing, contradictory, or downright hurtful. It is true that your doctor matters. It is true that some traditional treatments are very effective and also very damaging. It is true that some have benefited from alternative or complementary treatments. It is also true that people die from both. What is also true is that the plethora of advice adds to the confusion.

Here might be some better things we can do and say:

1. What would you like me to pray for?

2. What is your next treatment decision and who are you talking to?

3. Can I ______ (something specific)?

And if you know the person well, you might ask:

1. What “stories” are you meditating on that you need to stop?

2. What is the one thing that is true for you right now? Or, what manna is God giving you for today?

3. What information would be helpful for your next decision?

4. Let’s talk about something other than cancer…how’s your garden coming?

5. What stories would you like to hear right now?

For counselors out there. It is a good reminder to limit the number of stories we tell our clients. These can encourage. Yes, it is true, people do get over depressions or anxiety attacks. They do repair broken marriages. These stories may encourage the person to take a step of faith. Or, they may cause them to stop, because those stories aren’t theirs.


Filed under counseling, stories

When you sit with endless human depravity…

you can become quite cynical about Christians, christian organizations, etc. is there any church or pastor who isn’t completely hypocritical? Are there churches or boards that handle abused individuals with care? Do any of our leaders actually admit their wrongs and seek forgiveness? Does anyone in a difficult marriage stay and avoid bitterness?

The answer, of course, is yes (to the last three questions). But we counselors rarely get the opportunity to hear those stories. Why would anyone pay us or bend our ear to tell us how great something worked out. But we humans have a propensity to collect “look how screwed up the world is” stories. Isn’t that what the news is all about. When I go home to my parents in Maine they actually do have some feel good stories and it feels rather strange and unnewsworthy. Where’s the killings, the rapings, the pillagings? This is news?

And yet it is good to recount stories where humans treat each other better than they deserve, where they admit to failings and refuse to excuse wrongs. Frankly, we must admit these stories aren’t exceptions. They happen all the time but we are blind to them. We fail to record these behaviors because we know how easy it is to not show mercy, to not show humility–because this is how we act sometimes!

So, listen for those vignettes where leaders, parents, spouses, etc. either suffer well or are willing to own up to failings (and then do the right thing about them). These stories are all around. And while they don’t dismiss those where leaders fail us they do round out the picture.


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, stories, suffering

Worldvision AIDS Exhibit

Worldvision has traveling show that you might want to consider attending. Locally, a church in Bethlehem, PA is hosting this 30 minute narrated event next weekend. If you attend (free tix that must be reserved on-line) you will hear the story of one of 3 children as you walk through the event. Was planning on going but the website suggests not bringing kids under 10 and some of the stories should not be heard by those under the age of 13 (due to information regarding sex trafficking, sexual abuse, murder, death, etc.).

Here’s the link:


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, church and culture, sexuality, stories, suffering

Teen Missions Int’l feature in Christianity Today

The print version of February’s Christianity Today arrived at my home. In it is a short story about Teen Missions International(TMI) based in Merritt Island, FL.  I can’t find the article on the web yet, but here’s why I enjoyed seeing the pictures and reading the short story:

24 years ago (1983) I reluctantly agreed with my parents to register for a TMI summer missions team. I would be giving up the summer between my junior and senior years in high-school to go with a group of teens somewhere in the world in order to do construction and evangelism. Why didn’t I want to go? I wouldn’t be able to train for the fall cross-country season and I was intent on being the #2 runner on the team (#1 was impossible since he was the New England regional champ). So, I set limits. I would go only if I got my first choice: Austria. Not sure why that was my first choice having never been to Europe. I would only go if the money I raised came in without me having to do much asking, since I hated sales. Well, I got my first choice and the money “magically” appeared within very short order. So I had to go.

I know that some have significant doubts about the value of short-term missions trips. Is it worth the cost? Who really benefits? And while the concerns are not without merit, I am fully persuaded that the summer of 1983 changed the course of my life. No, I wasn’t on the road to drugs and alcohol. But, the faith of my parents really hadn’t become mine. But by the end, I had begun to mature in my faith and committed myself to some sort of full-time Christian service.

So, what is this TMI, you might be asking. Youth and adults join teams at Merritt Island, FL. You live in tents for 2 weeks in a true bootcamp environment. The water smells like rotten eggs. There are chiggers and mosquitoes. Daily, you do bible study, learn construction skills (e.g., laying brick, mixing cement, digging footers), and train as a team on a serious obstacle course. No phones, no ipods. You wash in a bucket and you flush with a bucket. You wear work-boots all the time. Then after 2 weeks of work and bonding, you gather your army bags and travel with your team to your part of the world for the rest of the summer to do whatever your team intended to do. My team traveled to Austria by plane and train. We were to begin construction of a building for a ministry to addicts (if memory serves). We had all sorts of trouble with the site (mud slides) but accomplished building some of the base structure. We did some evangelism. But the largest construction was to our souls. I went from knowing about Christ to knowing Christ. When you are out of your comfort zone and away from family, you have the opportunity to consider your life, your values, and are primed to hear from the Lord.

There are a million great stories and experiences (e.g., riding the train across Germany at night only sitting on a jump seat, being accosted by a hoodlum in the train station, staying up all night to shoot scenes in a film called, “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers”, bathing in a ice cold stream and using pit toilets in the woods). I won’t bore you with them but they were life shaping. You cannot easily live the same once you see the world from the perspective of another. You cannot easily live the same when you expose yourself to the larger Kingdom of God.

I still have one friend from that summer who drops by this site.  Maybe Don will give his take on the time. Oh, I came back weighing about 25 lbs less due to a food shortage on the team and because of the muscle loss, I was fourth on the x-country team. Disappointing but in the scope of things, not important.

If you ever have the opportunity to send a youth to this (or go as an adult), take the chance. It will change your life.


Filed under missional, stories