Abuse of power in the church: What is it? What can we do?


On Saturday I participated in a 40 minute webinar hosted by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) along with Dr. Diane Langberg. If you want to watch it on YouTube, here is the link. We defined various forms of power and how it can be abused. We talked about how organizations and systems may end up supporting abuse of power. And we considered some ways in which we can respond to victims. Throughout the year, GRACE will host more of these webinars and delve deeper into the impact of abuse and ways to heal.

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Welcoming faith-sensitive mental health care: An op ed


In June, one national study indicated that 40% of Americans admitted to currently struggling with a mental health condition or addiction. Where will people turn? Many people of faith turn to their church leaders. Others turn to mental health care providers.

In either case, people of faith would like help. They want their clergy to be competent to understand the complex experiences they are having. They want their therapists to respect and even engage their faith questions. While we are doing better training both clergy and therapists, we still have a ways to go.

Here’s an op-ed I wrote and published today discussing our need to improve faith-sensitive mental health care. Take a look. How can we take the next step in improving the care that people of faith are seeking?

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Trauma in America, unveiling a Barna study in a webinar


in 2019, American Bible Society sponsored a study comparing chronic trauma in both churched and unchurched populations. It is out now and you can learn about it on a free webinar on August 6 at 2 pm EDT. I will be one of the guests talking about the implications of the research findings and how pastors and church leaders can be part of the healing path.

Sign up here. If you attend, Barna will give you a discount code if you want to purchase a print or digital copy of the monograph.

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Preparing the church for the oncoming mental health pandemic


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this essay that Christian Post published today. It is a letter to church leaders and suggests 4 ways they can support positive emotional and spiritual care for their congregants.

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Looking for online trauma related resources related to COVID-19?


If you are looking for learning opportunities or materials to use with your friends or church community, check out some of these links:

Learning opportunities:

Beyond Disaster and COVID related materials for use in small groups

The Trauma Healing Institute has a number of resources you may find helpful. Each one below is found here.

  • Beyond Disaster. A small booklet that can be read alone or shared in F2F or online settings.
  • Using Beyond Disaster in Small Groups. A guide to use the BD booklet.
  • 2 lessons related to the distress of COVID-19, one for adults and one for familys with young school-aged children.

For more materials as well as these materials in other languages, check out http://www.disasterrelief.bible

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Beyond Disaster Resources


Today, at 10am EDT, my work

will be hosting a webinar discussing some Bible and trauma informed care for folks during and after a disaster.
You can log in here.


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Corporate Repentance: Turning away from the sins of our forbears?


On this national holiday when we remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, we not only remember his courage, valor, and prophetic words but the reason why he was needed in the first place. There is no need for a legacy of Dr. King except for the legacy of slavery, oppression, segregation. If not for our nationwide refusal to treat our brothers and sister of color with the honor and dignity due them as bearers of the image of God, there would not have been a need for fighting for civil rights and there would not have been a martyrdom of Dr. King.

But that was a long time ago…

For some, the end of legalized owing of slaves marked the end of systemic inequality. But what of Jim Crow and sharecropping that continued the subjugation of a people through legal means? For others, desegregation of schools and the Civil Rights act of 1964 marked the end of systemic inequality. But what of the inequities in the justice system and the disproportionate representation of Black men in prison? What of unjust incarceration? Today, many mark these evils by attending a showing of Just Mercy depicting the work of Bryan Stevenson to free innocent men from death row. You cannot watch this movie and not see that a system was designed to keep some from their inalienable rights.

So, should I repent of sins I did not commit? 

But are we–who did not participate in buying and owning slaves, did not participate in enacting and enforcing color line laws, did not falsely accuse or discriminate against African Americans in the justice system–held accountable what our family and political forbears have done? Ought we to apologize and repent from institutional and corporate sin we did not actively commit? Ought we to make right what was done wrong to others, or to those who ancestors were wronged?

The argument of some is that we ought only to confess and repent of our own sins. We cannot repent of those sins others committed before us. The basis of this argument is that there are no biblical commands (outside of Lev 26:40) to repent for the sins of others. But this view does not take into consideration two important factors:

  1. God’s blessing is tied to community righteousness and community care for vulnerable people. The bible, God’s letters to his people are not written just to individuals, but to whole communities
    • Consider James 1:27 and the litmus test for true religion
    • Consider the warnings throughout the Bible to not tolerate injustice (Hab 1, 1 Cor 5, Rev 2)
  2. Sins come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, including NOT speaking truth and standing for righteousness.
    • Individual sins can com in the form of commission AND omission. The failure to not speak up about past and present injustices is still a failure. (James 4:17)
    • Not blessing those in need with something is condemned (1 John 3:17)

The beginning of healing

When we call things as they are, we begin the process of healing. Have you ever experienced someone who publicly acknowledges that a wrong was done to you or to those you love? How did this make you feel? And if that person represented the institution that did the wrong to you, how would that make you feel? It might not resolve all of your pain, but most likely you would feel like you had entered a new path of healing.

So, let us endeavor to speak up about the wrongs done in this country to our African American brothers and sisters–the ones that were done during chattel slavery, the ones during reconstruction and Jim Crow, the ones during segregation, and the ones that continue today. Let us acknowledge and disavow the actions of those who went before us. Let us show our regret for the ongoing negative impact on our entire community. We all suffer when any of us suffers. And let us repent of our own complicity where we see it. Let us especially repent of our fear and hesitation to listen to the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters and our over-concern for the impact this might have on our own well-being. 

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Come watch a documentary with me about generational trauma as we celebrate MLK’s 91st birthday


Next Monday, January 20, 2020, I will be attending a special viewing of Unchained, a documentary about generational trauma and healing. This showing is sponsored by Quest Movement in partnership with the American Bible Society and the Trauma Healing Institute. Featured in the documentary are two Philadelphia pastors and their stories of trauma and healing. Along with the documentary, there will be opportunity for discussion and a presentation of information about Healing the Wounds of Generational Trauma: The Black and White Experience, a bible and mental health based healing group curriculum.

Register here. The link has all of the details about the event but repeated here for your convenience:

Cost: 10 dollars

Locations (I will be at the Hiway location):

  • Ritz Theater Company
    915 White Horse Pike
    Haddon Township, NJ 08107
  • Hiway Theater
    212 York Rd
    Jenkintown, PA 19046

Time: 9am to noon

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Counselor failures: Choosing the wrong goals


Many moons ago, when I was a young counselor, documentation of treatment was left up to the therapist. Many kept no records at all. Some had hand written notes but were only for the therapist to remember the content or a insight they wanted to share at a later time. But, whether a therapist kept notes or not, it would be rare for the client to know anything about their documented diagnosis (even if insurance was paying) and even less about treatment goals.

With the advent of managed care, documentation of service rendered became a reality. At first these documents (diagnosis, treatment plan, quarterly summaries, termination note) were completed without client knowledge. Later, best practices required therapists to share, at least verbally, diagnoses and treatment plans with their clients. Hopefully, today’s client is a bit more informed as to this better practice and is in agreement with the goals of therapy.

But even when agreement exists as to the high level goal, counselors can find themselves working towards goals the client does not want, or, can be working a different path to a shared goal that doesn’t seem to fit the client.

Setting client goals is an easy thing?

While documentation of goals and objectives is relatively new in psychotherapy, setting goals is not. Client comes in, discusses presenting problem, therapist and client explore desired outcomes. As therapy progresses, goals may change due to circumstances or new learnings. Easy, right? Not so fast.

Shared goal, disagreement about the path

Let’s say I go to therapy to work on a phobia I have to flying. We agree on the larger goal and begin to work. Along the way the therapist wants me to try exposure to flying by getting on a high speed train to simulate the sensation of movement and loss of control. I resist because I do not feel ready. The therapist wants me to push through. I resist more. The therapist can continue to press, whether gently or forcefully, but this disagreement will hinder therapy if we do not get on the same page.

Disagreement about the way forward is commonplace in therapy. Sometimes, we therapists believe that our wisdom and insight is best. And, it may be due to the many other clients we have treated with the same challenges. But what the counselor does with resistance tells you a lot about that counselor and their capacity for “withness.” Do they,

  • Check in with the client to see what they are feeling when they resist? (Resistance can be about confusion, disagreement, need for encouragement, concern for consequences, etc)
  • Brainstorm about alternative objectives that might be possible? Sometimes small changes in steps make all the difference.
  • Pontificate about how the chosen path is the best? When we therapists feel defensive we can easily fall back on our expertise as a weapon to convince another that we know best.
  • Ask pointed questions that leave the client feeling shamed? “You do want to get better don’t you?”

Shadow goals

From time to time both therapist and client can work toward an unspoken goal, a shadow goal. Since we are focusing here on counselor failures, let’s consider what kind of shadow goals counselors might begin to pursue. Shadow goals are those that are not verbalized and yet have a controlling influence over the therapist’s words and stance in a session. Here are some examples:

  • Client comes for help with grief over a lost relationship but the therapist wants client to see how she is the cause of the lost relationship
  • Client comes for help in leaving an abusive marriage but the therapist is committed to helping the client stay in the marriage
  • Client presents with a mood disorder but therapist wants client to leave his dysfunctional church
  • Client want to become less dependent on others but therapist wants client to continue to need her help
  • Client seeks treatment for PTSD but therapist wants client to stop being needy or to terminate therapy.

Shadow goals are best addressed in supervision where therapists talk about their clients–and yes, talk about how they feel about clients. As therapists explore their feelings, shadow goals come to the surface and can be acknowledged and addressed. Their presence is not a sign of counselor failure or weakness. They are normal and part of what it means to be human. The only danger is these goals remain hidden and active. As long as they stay hidden (for lack of insight or because of shame), shadow goals will exert control and create confusion on the part of the client and the therapist.

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Counselor failures: A short series


I recently passed my 29th year anniversary of mental health practice and 18th year as a psychologist. I’m not quite old but also have a few years under my belt. When I first began counseling as a counselor in my very early twenties I was fairly committed to proving my value. I wanted to diagnose problems and offer wise solutions. I’m embarrassed to say that I often thought I could do so in the first 15 minutes of a session. Sometimes I was right, but I can say for sure I hadn’t earned the right to speak. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly helpful in those early sessions. Thankfully, I learned that if I was going to be helpful I needed to stop worrying about whether I sounded smart and had something valuable to say and instead spend my energy entirely on the work of listening and understanding the person in front of me.

Not listening to clients might be the first and most common failure counselors make. It can happen throughout a session or for just thirty seconds during a momentary lapse of concentration. While beginner counselors may struggle to listen well, seasoned therapists can lose their edge without even recognizing it.

Not listening can happen by means of trying to dictate goals. It can happen when we therapists talk about ourselves. It can happen when we misdiagnose a client. It can happen when we are bored, or irritated, or caught up in our own world of pain.

This little series is dedicated to therapist failures. We’d rather believe that our mistakes are really client resistance or family interference. But as we own our mistakes, we acknowledge that counseling is a human interaction that requires our willingness to evaluate our end of that interaction. While this series is written for mental health practitioners, I suspect clients will also benefit from this look inside, if for no other reason than to identify when they are not feeling heard.

Some related thoughts previously written

I’ve written a couple of blogs recently on related topics. The first is embedded in my last blog,

I’m going to skip over the large problem of counselors pressing for any change whatsoever. (Suffice it to say that pressing a client for forgiveness, confession, reconciliation, or any other action rarely works and more often causes harm. You cannot heal a trauma caused by misuse of power with more force–even if your goal is good.)

https://philipmonroe.com/2019/11/24/some-thoughts-on-when-restoration-hurts/

I will write more on the problem of choosing the wrong goals for counselees–or the problem of choosing goals in the first place. A few months ago I wrote about the problem of choosing reconciliation as a goal.

Some years ago, I wrote this list of common mistakes made by novice counselors.

Come back for the first post exploring the setting of goals in counseling and how not listening leads to the likelihood of failure.

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